"It’s time for the international community to act with dispatch."
At the rate Myanmar’s current military rulers are killing unarmed protesters and committing crimes against humanity, it is clear that the time has come for the international community to act with dispatch and consider the use of force against them to stop the bloody carnage.
Last week, on April 9, security forces gunned down 82 anti-coup protesters in the city of Bago, 65 kilometers northeast of Yangon.
Unrest also erupted in the town of Tamu, near the Indian border, where protesters fought back when soldiers tried to tear down makeshift barricades erected to block security forces. Two civilians were killed when soldiers started randomly shooting, with protesters retaliating by throwing a bomb that exploded and overturned a military truck, killing more than a dozen soldiers.
Both the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council have expressed grave concern over the coup d’etat in Myanmar last February 1 that effectively ended the country’s transition to democratic rule after many years of military dictatorship since the 1960s.
The Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia have also come out with strong statements condemning the coup d’etat but the military rulers have ignored these and calls for dialogue between them and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which Myanmar is among the 10 members.
Other countries have also called for the imposition of economic sanctions and even an arms embargo on Myanmar, which has one of the biggest standing armies in the region.
The military rulers appear to be unfazed by all these. They are even saying that they are used to sanctions in the past and can very well ride out whatever the sanctions the global community can throw at them.
The key reason why the military rulers do not want to hand over control to a civilian government is that they do not want to lose their economic power.
Myanmar’s military, called the Tatmadaw, began its involvement in business after the coup launched by Ne Win in 1962. For years, military units were required to be self-sufficient and encouraged to develop stakes in local enterprises to fund their operations. As a result, two military-run conglomerates were established in the 1990s as the government began privatizing state industries. The two organizations— Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL)—have since become a key source of wealth for the Tatmadaw, with stakes from banking and mining to tobacco and tourism. MEHL also operates the military’s pension fund. Several military leaders and their families hold extensive business interests as well. Substantial revenues from their sprawling business interests could explain why the Tatmadaw generals want to hold on to power for as long as they can.
But the military clique now in near-total control of the country must contend with a widespread civil disobedience movement that started with peaceful street protests and banging of pots and has now evolved into a nationwide resistance.
The peaceful protests by various sectors—professionals, civil servants, youth and students, women, among others—have gathered in strength since February. They have persisted in openly defying the police and military sent to disperse them.
Of late, the civil disobedience movement has begun to adopt a policy of active defense, with some protesters now using improvised weapons to defend themselves against abuses and atrocities by security forces.
With the number of those killed by the military now more than 700 and likely to increase in the days ahead, observers believe the situation could escalate into a full-blown civil war especially since the armed groups organized by indigenous peoples in the countryside fighting for self-determination have started to unite and now offer armed resistance to the powerful and well-equipped Myanmar military.
The mounting bloodshed has earned the ire of Myanmar’s 20 or so armed ethnic groups, who control territory mostly in border regions.
Last week, in northern Shan state, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic rebel group, mounted a pre-dawn attack on a police station. Local media reported more than a dozen police officers were killed, while the TNLA said the military retaliated with air strikes on its troops, killing at least one rebel soldier.
The military rulers have ignored the clamor for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) that swept the elections last November.
The Tatmadaw has said they would hold elections within two years. But elections held under the auspices of the military are likely to be rigged in favor of their candidates, with the political opposition given no chance to openly take part in free and fair elections.
If diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions and an arms embargo do not work, and the Tatmadaw refuses to go back to the status quo before February 1 and continues to kill unarmed protesters, perhaps the only remaining option is for the international community, under the aegis of the United Nations, to consider organizing a multinational peacekeeping contingent that will force the military to go back to the barracks and stay there.
This is not interference in the internal affairs of Myanmar, but a humanitarian effort to save innocent lives from a ruthless, murderous regime.