Myanmar’s saga of misery continues

DAYS OF DISQUIET A protester waves the National League for Democracy flag while others take part in a demonstration against the military coup in the city of Yangon, central Myanmar on Feb. 22, 2021. AFP FILE PHOTO

ON Feb. 1, 2021, the military in Myanmar seized power from the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, plunging the country into a period of turmoil.

The military junta disassembled the structure of democracy and replaced it with a regime highlighted by oppression and a total disregard for human rights.Two years on, the prospects of reinstalling democracy in Myanmar are more remote than ever. The junta, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, continues its iron-fisted rule, impervious to warnings of sanctions from the international community and multilateral agencies.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners claims that 2,940 civilians have been killed since the military's power grab and 17,572 have been arrested. Last year, the junta sentenced the 77-year-old Suu Kyi to a total of 33 years in prison, ensuring the pro-democracy icon cannot return to political power.

An anti-government movement continues to badger the authorities, defying the risk of arrest, torture and even death. On Wednesday, the streets of Yangon, the country's biggest city, were left deserted after the movement called for a “silent strike” to mark the second anniversary of the coup.

The prognosis for Myanmar is dire. The junta has announced that the state of emergency that was supposed to expire at the end of January would be extended for another six months, as the situation “has not returned to normalcy yet.”

Ending the state of emergency would have opened the door to new elections, but the military rulers are keeping that door closed for now.

What Myanmar observers find alarming is that the violence has stepped up as anti-government forces are beginning to fight back. In the cities, soldiers arrest and torture urban guerrillas, who retaliate by bombing and assassinating targets associated with the military.

In the countryside, the army has been burning and bombing villages, displacing hundreds of thousands of people on a scale approaching civil war, observers said.”The level of violence involving both armed combatants and civilians is alarming and unexpected,” said Min Zaw Oo, a political activist in exile. “The scale of the killing and harm inflicted on civilians has been devastating, and unlike anything, we have seen in the country in recent memory.”

As the conflict escalates, international efforts to put the squeeze on the junta to agree to concessions have intensified.

The US has announced new sanctions that target specific personalities with links to the military, specifically officials of the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, the government's prime revenue-generating firm.

Canada and Britain have clamped down on companies supplying aviation fuel to the military.

Australia has focused on 16 members of the junta “responsible for egregious human rights abuses” and two military-controlled conglomerates.

Foreign ministers of 22 European countries and the European Union issued a joint statement that called in part “on all members of the international community to support all efforts to hold those responsible for human rights violations and abuses to account; to cease the sale and transfer of arms and equipment which facilitate atrocities; and to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of Myanmar's people, including its most vulnerable communities.”

The international clamor for sanctions only magnifies the disturbing reality that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which Myanmar is a member, has not done enough to help restore democracy in that country.

“Myanmar's military is committing atrocities while Asean countries and others just stand on the sidelines,” said Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch's Asia director. “It's not enough to condemn the junta and hope it will change its conduct or move toward democracy: stronger actions are needed.”

Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and other Asean members have acknowledged that the bloc failed to persuade the junta's leader to agree to the Five Point Consensus to deescalate the crisis in Myanmar.

Then-Malaysian prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had proposed a new “refined” agreement “based on a clearer framework, time frame and end goal.”

That is the task Asean must focus on. If need be, the bloc must not hesitate to suspend Myanmar's membership in the regional association.

Unless there is a concerted, decisive action to tighten the vise on the junta, it will continue to thumb its nose at its critics.

And Myanmar's saga of misery will go on.

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