Myanmar - 2021 Coup
Myanmar's military pledged 30 January 2021 to protect the constitution and act according to law, after comments this week from its commander-in-chief sparked fears of an impending coup. Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 75, came to power after a 2015 election win that followed decades of house arrest in a struggle for democracy with Myanmar's junta that turned her into an international icon. Her international standing was damaged after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled army operations into refuge from Myanmar's western Rakhine state in 2017, but she remains hugely popular at home.
On 31 January 2021 Myanmar's powerful military detained the country's leader in a late-night raid, the ruling National League for Democracy said. "I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law," said spokesman Myo Nyunt, revealing that Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders had been detained. He added that he also expected to be taken. "With the situation we see happening now, we have to assume that the military is staging a coup," he added. The military also arrested MPs, political activists and student leaders.
Myanmar endured brutal, corrupt military rule and international pariah status from 1962. Military ruler Ne Win seized power in a coup in 1962 and drove Myanmar, then known as Burma, into virtual international isolation. Ne Win was sidelined in 1988 amid nationwide pro-democracy protests that were crushed by the military, which installed a junta. For the ensuing two decades, Myanmar faced tough international sanctions that took a heavy toll on its economy. In 2011 it began a transition to democratic rule. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, 64, has headed the military since 2011, and is under U.S. sanctions for his role in the 2017 military crackdown that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.
“There’s internal military politics around that, which is very opaque,” said Kim Jolliffe, a researcher on Myanmar civilian and military relations. “This might be reflecting those dynamics and might be somewhat of a coup internally and his way of maintaining power within the military.” The military assigned Vice President Myint Swe, a former military officer, as head of the government for one year. The military removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements to oversee portfolios such as finance, defence, foreign affairs and interior.
Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said new elections would be held, but he gave no time frame. The general faced exposure to international war crimes and genocide prosecution after retirement in July 2021. He pledged to practice "the genuine discipline-flourishing multiparty democratic system" in a fair manner. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has seen two previous coups — in 1962 and 1988. Myanmar was ruled by the military for almost five decades after a 1962 coup. It was governed under a power-sharing agreement between Suu Kyi's civilian administration and the country's generals. Min Aung Hlaing had a reputation for problem solving and he had no evident intention to curb Myanmar's economic progress. Most of the new cabinet members were civil servants, and not military leaders as in the 1980s.
Phone lines to the capital Naypyitaw and the main commercial centre of Yangon were not reachable, and state TV went off air hours before parliament had been due to sit for the first time since the NLD's landslide election win in November, viewed as a referendum on Suu Kyi's fledgling democratic government. Soldiers took up positions at city hall in Yangon and mobile internet data and phone services in the NLD stronghold were disrupted, residents said. Internet connectivity also had fallen dramatically, monitoring service NetBlocks said.
The country's powerful army had repeatedly made allegations of widespread vote fraud in the November 2020 elections, which saw Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) win by a landslide. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had called for a general election re-run with the help of the army, alleging irregularities and "unfair campaigning." the USDP alleged irregularities in the election from poor-quality ballot boxes to voting problems. The USDP itself had secured 24 seats, according to the official results. The election commission said any allegations of irregularities were from a minority of participants. According to international observers, the election went smoothly and without major irregularities. The military, in an initial statement, said the election had been carried out successfully. On 02 December 2020, however, the Office of the Commander in Chief of Defense Services announced that the military is scrutinizing and reviewing the election process across 218 townships and verifying whether the process took place in accordance with the law.
In its statement declaring the state of emergency, the military cited the failure of the electoral commission to address complaints over voter lists, its refusal to agree to a request to postpone new parliamentary sessions and protests by groups unhappy over the election. "Unless this problem is resolved, it will obstruct the path to democracy and it must therefore be resolved according to the law," the statement said, citing an emergency provision in the constitution in the event national sovereignty is threatened.
The detentions came after days of escalating tension between the civilian government and the military after the November 8 election in which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) scored a landslide win. The army handed power to military chief Min Aung Hlaing and imposed a state of emergency for one year, according to a statement on a military-owned television station. Before the coup, Washington, alongside several other Western nations, had urged the military to "adhere to democractic norms" in a January 29 statement that came as the commander-in-chief threatened to revoke the country's constitution.
Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi was the civilian government’s de facto leader and, due to constitutional provisions preventing her from becoming president, remained in the position of state counsellor.
Myanmar's military wrote the Constitution this way so they could retain power. The constitution published in 2008 after decades of military rule reserves 25% of seats in parliament for the military and control of three key ministries in Suu Kyi's administration. The Constitution of 2008 was specifically designed to ensure military power was deeply entrenched and protected. If SG Min Aung Hlaing plans to continue arguing that he is following the 2008 Constitution, he is likely to rely on Section 40(c), which can be interpreted as authorizing a coup under certain circumstances. But Section 40(c) should be read in combination with Sections 417 and 418, which clearly place the authority for authorizing such a nationwide transfer of power in the hands of the president—an Aung Sang Suu Kyi ally who is reportedly now under arrest.
Political tensions escalated when a military spokesman refused to rule out the possibility of a coup, and warned the armed forces could "take action" if concerns about election irregularities weren't addressed. The country's election commission has rejected the army's allegations of widespread vote fraud, although it has conceded there were minor flaws in the process. Newly elected MPs were expected to take their seats in Myanmar's parliament on 01 February 2021.
The coup "signals a return to long-term military rule" according to Hunter Marston, a political analyst and an expert on Southeast Asian affairs. "The coup has irreparably damaged the very limited trust that was built between the civilian government and the military. It also shows that it will require several years or perhaps decades to rebuild the relationship."
"What we've seen is an election ... essentially torn up over electoral fraud allegations that have not been proved," Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told DW. "People are not prepared to go back to military rule. And I think that there's going to be a strong reaction from the international community to really put Myanmar back into pariah status, including facing economic sanctions."
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said Myanmar's military had never submitted to civilian rule and called on the United States and other countries to impose "strict and directed economic sanctions" on the military leadership and its economic interests.
"The military’s actions show utter disdain for the democratic elections held in November and the right of Myanmar’s people to choose their own government," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We are especially concerned for the safety and security of activists and other critics of the military who may have been taken into custody," he said in a statement. The United Nations led condemnation of Myanmar's military after it seized power and detained Suu Kyi along with other politicians. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the developments were a "serious blow to democratic reforms" and urged all leaders to refrain from violence and respect human rights, a UN spokesman said.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) released the following statement today on the military coup in Myanmar: "It is disheartening to watch Myanmar's military leaders parrot the same falsehoods about voting irregularities and election fraud embraced by former President Trump and his associates when they tried to subvert democracy in this country. Actions by U.S. leaders have consequences worldwide, particularly in places where democracy is fledgling and new. It is my fervent hope that the Biden-Harris Administration will not only work to restore America's leadership abroad but reaffirm the strength of democracy and our unwavering commitment to its defense. Those who continue to undermine democracy and the integrity of our elections here at home harm America’s leadership and the security of democracy around the world." In Washington, President Joe Biden's incoming administration expressed dismay at the military's declaration of a state of emergency and the detentions. "We call on Burmese military leaders to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections on Nov. 8," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. The White House said Biden had been briefed on the detentions. "The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar's democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
In Britain, the former colonial power, Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned "the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi". "The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released," Johnson tweeted. Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, led EU reactions on Monday, tweeting that the "outcome of the elections has to be respected and democratic process needs to be restored." French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for Suu Kyi's immediate release, slamming "an unacceptable threat to the democratic process". His German counterpart Heiko Maas said in a statement that "military actions jeopardize the progress made so far towards democratic change in Myanmar".
In Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne called on the military "to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others" who had been detained. India's government expressed "deep concern" and reiterated its support for the "process of democratic transition in Myanmar", while Japan's foreign ministry urged the coup leaders in Myanmar to "restore democracy as soon as possible".
China, however, refrained from condemnation of the coup, urging all parties in Myanmar to "resolve their differences". "China is a friendly neighbour of Myanmar and hopes the various parties in Myanmar will appropriately resolve their differences under the constitutional and legal framework to protect political and social stability," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing. Wang said China, which shares a border with Myanmar and wields considerable influence in the country, was still "furthering our understanding of the situation."
Bangladesh, which is sheltering around one million Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar, called for "peace and stability" and hoped a process to repatriate the refugees could move forward. Singapore's Foreign Ministry also urged all parties to exercise restraint and work towards a positive and peaceful outcome, advising Singaporeans in Myanmar to stay vigilant "in view of the fluid situation".
“The people of Myanmar had their say in November’s vote, and overwhelmingly sent the message that they reject army rule,” said Charles Santiago, the chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and a Malaysian MP. “The military must respect the will of the people and allow parliament to proceed.” Santiago urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, to “immediately use all its diplomatic power to de-escalate the situation and allow democracy to prevail.”
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry expressed “grave concern” at events and urged all parties to exercise restraint and work towards a positive and peaceful outcome. Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines all shied away from criticism saying the military takeover was Myanmar’s internal affair. All four countries are members of ASEAN.
On 04 February 2021, the military issued a directive to mobile service providers on Wednesday, ordering them to block Facebook until February 7. The Communications and Information Ministry alleged that people were troubling the country's stability by using the network to spread fake news and other misinformation. Facebook is popular in Myanmar, and for days since the coup, people protesting the ouster of the democratically elected government used Facebook to organize.
Myanmar's parallel civilian government, the Committee Representing the Union Parliament (CPRH) (The Union Parliament is known as the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw in Burmese) was formed on 05 February 2021 by a majority of the MPs elected in the November general election. They swore themselves in after being prevented from taking their rightful seats in the Parliament in Naypyitaw by the military coup. An announcement signed by the regime-appointed Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Myanmar Ambassador to the United Nations U Kyaw Moe Tun of committing “high treason” for representing the elected parliamentarians’ at the UN meeting in New York.
Police fired gunshots into the air and used water cannon and rubber bullets on 09 February 2021 as protesters across Myanmar defied bans on big gatherings to oppose a military coup that halted a tentative transition to democracy. At least three people were hurt by rubber bullets in the capital Naypyitaw, a doctor said. Witnesses said police fired guns into the air in Naypyitaw as a crowd refused to disperse on the fourth straight day of protests. One witness told Reuters demonstrators ran away as guns were fired into the air. Police had earlier fired water cannon at the protesters, who responded by throwing projectiles.
There were more reports of arrests on 11 February 2021, including the deputy speaker of the parliament’s lower house and a key aide to Suu Kyi, taking the number of coup-linked detentions to more than 200, according to monitor Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Security forces have used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against the protesters, with isolated reports of live rounds also being fired. Police also ramped up their harassment of the NLD with a raid on its headquarters. But demonstrators again marched peacefully in Naypyidaw — the capital and military stronghold — as well as Yangon, the largest city and commercial hub.
A lethal attack on anti-coup protesters in Myanmar sparked fresh UN condemnation of the country’s new military regime on Sunday, as mourners held a funeral for a young woman who has become a national symbol of resistance to the junta. Authorities gradually ratcheted up their tactics against a massive and largely peaceful civil disobedience campaign demanding the return of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Saturday 20 February 2021 was the deadliest day so far in more than two weeks of nationwide street demonstrations after two people were killed when security forces fired upon a rally in Mandalay, while a third man was shot dead in Yangon. Myanmar’s foreign ministry accused the UN and foreign countries of “flagrant interference” in its internal affairs. “Despite facing the unlawful demonstrations, incitements of unrest and violence, the authorities concerned are exercising utmost restraint through minimum use of force to address the disturbances,” it said in a statement.
"Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life," said a statement on state-run broadcaster MRTV on Sunday. The Myanmar junta warned anti-coup protesters against inciting "riot and anarchy" and said they risked "loss of life" as thousands of people took to the streets again on Monday with tensions soaring over the deaths of four demonstrators in recent days. "Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life," said a statement on state-run broadcaster MRTV on Sunday.
On 02 March 2021, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to make a breakthrough in a virtual foreign ministers' meeting on Myanmar. While united in a call for restraint, only four members - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore - called for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees. "We expressed ASEAN's readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner," the ASEAN chair, Brunei, said in a statement.
Thirty-eight people were killed in Myanmar on 03 March 2021 as the military quelled protests in several towns and cities, the United Nations said, the most violent day since demonstrations against last month's military coup first broke out. Police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds with little warning, witnesses said. The bloodshed occurred one day after neighboring countries had called for restraint in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Demonstrators in Myanmar continued to protest on the streets against last month's military coup, undaunted by bloodshed in which at least 38 people were killed by security forces. The Civil Disobedience Movement has extended to people around the world, all demanding the restoration of democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government. Over 1,700 people have reportedly been arrested and detained the number rising by the day.
At least seven people have been killed in Myanmar 11 March 2021 after security forces opened fire on anti-coup protesters, according to witnesses and local media. The violence comes after the United Nations Security Council called on the military to “exercise utmost restraint” in its response to peaceful demonstrators and rights group Amnesty International accused the military of adopting battlefield tactics against peaceful demonstrators. The human rights group said the weapons include light machine guns, sniper rifles and semi-automatic rifles. It added that those involved in the shootings were “unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity” elsewhere in the country.
Myanmar’s military government accused deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi of accepting illegal payments. The military spokesman, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Thursday that Aung San Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments worth $600,000 as well as gold while in government.
Arson attacks on 14 March 2021 against 32 Chinese-invested factories in the Hlaingthaya area of Yangon prompted China's strongest comments yet on the turmoil gripping its neighbor, where many people see Beijing as supportive of the coup. China's Global Times newspaper said "vicious attacks" caused damage worth $37 million and injuries to two Chinese employees. Its embassy urged Myanmar's generals to stop the violence. Anti-China sentiment has risen since the coup, fuelled by Beijing's muted criticism of the takeover compared with Western condemnation.
Security forces shot dead at least 20 people on 15 March 2021 in addition to the 74 killed a day earlier, including many in a suburb of Yangon where Chinese-financed factories were torched, according to advocacy group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). At least 184 people have been killed by the security forces in the weeks of protests, the AAPP said. Myanmar state broadcaster MRTV said martial law had been imposed in parts of Yangon, the country's commercial hub. The martial law announcement stated that military commanders in Yangon would take over administration of districts, including the courts.
Intensifying its calls to restore democracy, Myanmar's parallel civilian government, the CPRH, said it will seek to give people the legal right to defend themselves while calling for "revolution." This came as state broadcaster announced that a leading figure of the CRPH, known as Dr. Sasa who is also the special envoy to the UN was charged with high treason which can be punishable by death. Dr. Sasa had been connecting with foreign diplomats, UN officials and other junta opponents. Remaining defiant, Dr. Sasa called on the international community to take action before it is too late.
Myanmar security forces opened fire at a funeral 28 March 2021, witnesses said, as people across the country gathered to mourn 114 people killed the previous day in the worst crackdown on protests since the military coup. There were no reports of large-scale protests in Yangon or Mandalay, which bore the brunt of the casualties on 27 March 2021, Myanmar's Armed Forces Day. At least six children between the ages of 10 and 16 were among those killed. Protesters call the victims "Fallen Stars". U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said the junta should be cut off from funding, such as oil and gas revenues, and from access to weapons. "Words of condemnation or concern are frankly ringing hollow to the people of Myanmar while the military junta commits mass murder against them," he said in a statement.
Myanmar’s military, which overthrew the country’s elected government through a coup in February this year, declared a month-long cease-fire in the country Thursday. In an address to the nation, military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the army has declared a unilateral ceasefire until April 30 in order to continue peace talks with ethnic armed groups in the country and to peacefully celebrate the Buddhist festival of Thingyan from April 13-16, which culminates on Lunar New Year Day. “Ensuring public order by the army against activities that disrupt the functioning of the government is outside of the cease-fire,” he said, noting an exception to the truce.
Demonstrations against military rule continued in Myanmar on Easter Sunday 04 April 2021, with many protesters using Easter eggs to aid their movement. Eggs bearing slogans such as “Spring Revolution” and “We Must Win” as well as drawings of a three-finger salute were in the hands of thousands of protesters across Myanmar Sunday, in a nod to the Christian holiday. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Myanmar, has tallied 557 deaths and more than 2,750 arrested since the protests began.
In the central city of Bago, the death toll rose to 80 from a ferocious assault on 09 April 2021 by security forces with rifle grenades and machine guns as they cleared barricades built by anti-junta protesters, leaving piles of bodies in pagodas and on school grounds of the ancient city, protest leaders said. "They did not provide medical treatment to the injured. The number of deaths due to bleeding has increased, and total fatalities have risen to more than 80 today,” the protester said. A Bago resident said bodies remained piled up at a monastery in the city’s Ponnazu ward.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based Myanmar NGO, says that as of 10 April 2021, 701 people have been killed and a 3,012 people had been detained by the military regime.
Opponents of Myanmar's junta on 16 April 2021 announced the formation of a national unity government, which includes ousted lawmakers, members of ethnic minority groups and figures in the anti-coup protest, according to a video statement read out on Public Voice Television. A second post named the heads of 15 senior posts in the national unity administration with the country's deposed president, U Win Myint, and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi retaining their pre-coup posts. It also named heads of various ministries in opposition, from defence and home affairs (interior ministry) to a "ministry of international cooperation". The unity government's minister of international cooperation, Dr Sasa, who goes by one name, said he had "humbly accepted" the responsibility of his new post.
The launch of the parallel government by the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), comprised of lawmakers ousted by the military coup in February, came as anti-coup protesters staged a “Silent Strike” that emptied the streets of major cities on the final day of the Burmese New Year holiday. The CRPH -- whose name comes from the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the Burmese term for the lower house of parliament – was outlawed by the military regime, but enjoys support in Myanmar and abroad. The group is thought to operate near Myanmar’s borders with India and Thailand.
Myanmar’s junta on 17 April 2021 announced it pardoned and released more than 23,000 prisoners to mark the traditional Thingyan New Year holiday, but it wasn’t immediately clear if they included pro-democracy activists who were detained in the wake of the military’s seizure of power in February. The releases were announced on state broadcaster MRTV, which said that junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing had pardoned 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported from Myanmar. He also reduced sentences for others. The move comes as daily protests against the Feb. 1 ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi continued, as did the use of deadly force against them.
Leaders in Southeast Asia said 25 April 2021 they had reached an agreement with the military leader of Myanmar to stop the violence in his country. The leader of the Myanmar junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, was in Jakarta for the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The leaders of ASEAN, at the summit, wanted a commitment from him to restrain his security forces, which are estimated to have killed almost 750 people as they cracked down on protesters. According to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the general did not agree explicitly to stop the killing of protesters. But ASEAN did reach a consensus on stopping the violence and holding dialogue among all parties, to be facilitated by a special envoy from ASEAN.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar (AAPP), security forces had killed more than 769 people across the country since the coup. Nearly 3,700 people had been arrested, while nearly 1,460 were at large but facing arrest warrants.
Myanmar's National Unity Government (NUG), the shadow government formed by ousted lawmakers, says it has set up a People’s Defense Force” (PDF) to protect civilians from military attacks. In a statement on 05 May 2021, the National Unity Government stressed it was exercising the authority given to it with the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in November elections, and had a "responsibility" to end the military regime's violence as well as the decades-old civil war. The NUG statement called the PDF a precursor to a “Federal Union Army” which would team up the majority ethnic Bamar militia with Myanmar’s many armed ethnic rebel groups to fight the well-trained Myanmar military. The ethnic groups have been supporting anti-coup dissidents by providing shelter and training, but many powerful ethnic armies have sat out the conflict so far, and some remain distrustful of the NUG, which is made up of representatives of the government they were fighting before the coup.
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