• Matt Roser

Two Months into Myanmar’s Coup

Updated: Apr 5

The death toll in Myanmar as a result of the ongoing military coup has grown to over 500,

confirmed early this week by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), with

over 100 killed in just one day last Sunday. The AAPP also reported that the official statistic

could be much higher.


Myanmar’s junta overthrew the elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi over two months ago on

February 1 st. In a joint statement from the defence chiefs of 12 nations, including the US, the

UK, Germany and Australia, the countries “condemn the use of lethal force against unarmed

people by the Myanmar Armed Forces”. The official statement also included a plea to cease the ongoing violence and for the Myanmar military, formally called the Tatmadaw, to “follow

international standards of conduct” in protecting rather than harming the people they serve.

At a press conference in February, General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of Myanmar’s junta,

stated that power was seized after alleged electoral fraud and that 40million of the countries

54million people were in support of the coup. Another military official stated that “our

objective is to hold an election and hand power to the winning party”.


Despite the claims of the majority supporting the coup, the days following the arrest of the

leader Aung San Suu Kyi saw protests throughout Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands

taking the streets to object to the forceful decision of Myanmar’s junta. Crowds held up signs

during the protests that occurred on 22/2/2021, labelling the uprising the “five twos

revolution”, an echo of the 8888 uprising of August 8, 1988.


During the military coup that took place 33 years ago, thousands were killed, imprisoned and

tortured by the Burmese (Myanmar’s former name) military. The bloody putsch installed the

prior military junta that would go on to rule the nation for the next 22 years, ending the student-led revolution that sought to overthrow a notoriously vicious dictatorship. Born out of

the last coup was Myanmar’s political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and

their leader, and current elected leader who remains in custody, Aung San Suu Kyi. She was

the general secretary from 1988 to 2011 and played a vital role in Myanmar’s transition from the military junta to a democratic society.


The current military leader, Min Aung Hlaing is facing previous charges from the UN and

human rights groups due to abhorrent war crimes by the Tatmadaw against the Rohingya

Muslims as well as other minorities groups. Due to the limited communication and access to

the country, politicians and analysts alike are worried about the military’s ability to hold

power and prosecute the elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi for charges that many believe to be inaccurate.


(Myanmar protesters holding pictures of their elected leader Aung san Suu Kyi)


In retaliation to the coup the US and the UK, among others, have imposed sanctions on

numerous military personnel, as well as punitive trade bans as a means of economically

pressurising the Tatmadaw. However, western countries' leverage is of less concern to

Myanmar, as the biggest trading partners and investors, come from Asian countries; the

conflict within Myanmar is somewhat overshadowed by an ongoing fight for power within

the region between the US and China. The Chinese position on the coup is being called in to

question by the US; however, the Chinese are seemingly unwilling to use their influential

position over the nation to disable the coup and physically blocked a UN Security Council

statement in early February that sought to condemn the use of military power. Furthermore,

some allegations coming from Myanmar, not supported by official evidence, acclaim the

Chinese government to be enabling the coup.


Meanwhile, internal protests continue to rage on with a recent ‘garbage strike’ that found

activists over the country piling garbage throughout the countries streets as a means of civil

disobedience. Furthermore, three of Myanmar’s armed ethnic rebel groups released a joint

statement that underlined their cooperation with protesters and the intent to fight back should

the bloodshed continue.


Should the coup come to an end, however, “the commander-in-chief has shown that this is

not an emergency where at some point power transitions back to the elected government,”

says Melissa Crouch, a professor of law specialising in south-east Asia. “This is a coup where

pre-existing institutions are remade, new people are brought in, and the state is shaped to

conform to the desires of the military.”

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