A new policy liberalizing gun ownership rules, increasingly resorting to indiscriminate airstrikes, the razing to the ground of homes and villages, as well as the recent imposition of martial law in more townships signify an increasingly desperate junta that is failing to take power in the face of stern resistance. Despite these desperate measures, however, the humanitarian toll it is taking for people on the ground only underscores the need for an urgent increase in humanitarian assistance to be channeled through Myanmar’s extensive network of grassroots civil society and community-based organizations.
As revealed by Myanmar Now, a leaked document shows a recent change in policy from the junta’s Ministry of Home Affairs to encourage military supporters to access and own firearms by applying for a license. However, ownership is limited only to those “loyal to the state.” Citing “personal security reasons,” it is clear that this is a policy to arm civilians who are military loyalists, as the military simply cannot win on the ground. It is a desperate measure.
Another leaked document shows that the Myanmar military’s battalion strength is typically down to 50 soldiers, significantly below its usual numbers of around 150-200. Given the lack of success on the battlefield, it is of no surprise that the junta has been increasingly relying on airstrikes in its war of terror to try and annihilate the people’s resistance. This has been a trend since the end of the rainy season, with more aircraft bought from China and Russia. In the past week, the town of Thantlang in Chin State, which had already experienced mass violence in 2021 with the junta burning down two thirds of the town’s houses and 30 public buildings including several churches, has come under sustained aerial attack. The resistance forces had occupied the town’s main police station, and the junta has retaliated using indiscriminate bombing, occurring on a daily basis since February 10. On the other side of the country, in northern Karen State, a Karen National Union statement reveals that the junta launched 57 airstrikes in January alone, dropping over 200 bombs and killing at least 16 civilians, including a two-year-old child. Meanwhile, in northern Shan State, battlefield losses resulted in the junta calling in more airstrikes against the Kachin Independence Army after intense clashes.
In Sagaing Region, it is reported that the junta has burned down an estimated 2,000 homes in just three days last week, bringing the total to over 43,000 in Sagaing Region alone since May 2021. This uptick in arson since the end of last year appears to be worsening, coming shortly after the imposition of martial law in an additional 37 townships in Myanmar. This dispenses with any semblance that the military will defer to civilian governance, and ostensibly gives them power to arrest, charge, and sentence anyone, including the death sentence, bypassing what little is left of the judicial system. Despite these apparent new powers, the reality is that these townships are mostly under the control of people’s resistance organizations and the only way that the junta can make its presence felt is by inflicting horrific violence and destruction, such as the burning of people’s homes. The junta does not govern here, it only destroys.
While the increased use of airstrikes has already become an entrenched pattern, the liberalization of gun law ownership and the imposition of martial law show that devastating airstrikes are not enough for the junta. The people’s resistance, in both its civilian and armed forms, remains resolute, but the junta will only resort to more destructive measures as it desperately attempts to take control of the country.
However, despite the firm resistance of the people, the humanitarian impacts of such desperation are huge. At least 1.2 million people have been displaced in Myanmar since the start of the coup attempt two years ago and up to a third of the country – 17 million people – are in need of humanitarian support according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which present conservative figures of displacement. Despite this, the UN is targeting less people for humanitarian assistance in 2023 compared to last year while UNOCHA itself lacks access to the displaced populations in need. To make matters worse, the junta’s nepotism, corruption, incompetence, and measures aimed to deliberately punish people mean that the economy is tanking as people struggle to make ends meet.
It is thus welcome that the US recently announced $50million in humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar with much of this assistance going to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. However, major funding gaps remain and any future assistance or initiatives of international organizations involved in Myanmar must not be delivered in partnership with the very creators of this crisis. Rather, the networks of Myanmar community and civil society-based organizations, including ethnic health providers, that have the expertise, capacity and trust of the people on the ground, must be the primary implementers of such humanitarian missions. The junta’s cruelty knows no bounds, and it is getting more desperate. International and regional allies of the Spring Revolution must be ready to, in partnership with Myanmar civil society, strategically respond by supporting the essential, locally-led humanitarian resistance that Myanmar needs, particularly through cross-border assistance.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
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Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Oral Reply to Parliamentary and Supplementary Question on Allegations concerning Singapore in the Report of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, 14 February 2023
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