Tuesday, May 17

Why it matters. One year after the coup, where is Burma?

On February 1, 2021, the army ended a decade of democratic transition in Burma, in a coup that overthrew Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. But a year later, the resistance in the country is not weakening, which pushes the military junta to intensify its repression.

To mark the first anniversary of the putsch on Tuesday, activists called for silent strikes. But authorities have warned such actions could now amount to high treason, a crime that carries the death penalty.

Where is the repression?

According to a local NGO, since the coup, nearly 1,500 civilians have been killed and nearly 12,000 arrested. There are also cases of rape, torture and extrajudicial executions. Not to mention several recent massacres of villagers, which have been attributed to the military. On Monday, Nicholas Koumjian, head of the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Burma, said more than a thousand people may have been killed, in circumstances that could qualify as crimes against humanity or crimes of war.

Finally, more than 300,000 civilians have been displaced, some fleeing to India and Thailand.

Meanwhile, pockets of rebellion are multiplying. The anti-junta front, led by citizen militias backed by ethnic factions, is gaining momentum in the region of Sagaing (center), and Kayah State (east), where the army has carried out airstrikes , emptying the capital, Loikaw, of a large part of its inhabitants. Further south, opponents have taken refuge in territory controlled by Karen insurgents and sporadic clashes are taking place. In the north, a faction of the Kachin ethnic group said last week that it was ready to “cooperate with other groups to establish a federal democracy”.

And the conflict is here to stay. “Neither side is in a position to deliver a fatal blow to the other. The stage is set for months, even years of violence,” said Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group.

What is the situation of the country?

Politically, the National League for Democracy (NLD) of former leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been shattered. The 2020 legislative elections, which she had won, were canceled by the army, which argued massive fraud during these elections. Several officials of the electoral commission were arrested, accused of having rigged the ballot. The junta has promised new elections in 2023, a prospect deemed not very credible given the current chaos.

Economically, on top of the pandemic, inflation is galloping and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost. The World Bank expects near-zero growth this year, after an estimated contraction of 18% in 2021. Observers also note an upsurge in illicit activities in the region, led by synthetic drug trafficking.

What becomes of Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, has been detained since the coup, in a place where she has been held incommunicado for a year and where she must remain for the duration of her trial. His lawyers are prohibited from speaking to the press and international organisations. The former leader is the subject of a multitude of charges: violation of a law on state secrets dating from the colonial era, electoral fraud, sedition, incitement to public disorder, corruption. She faces decades in prison in total.

In recent weeks, Aung San Suu Kyi has already been sentenced by the junta to six years in prison (which she is serving under house arrest). On Monday, she was charged again, this time accused of pressuring the electoral commission during the 2020 legislative elections.

The former President of the Republic, Win Myint, was charged with the same count. Several relatives of Aung San Suu Kyi have already been sentenced to heavy sentences: the death penalty for a former parliamentarian, 75 years in prison for a former minister, 20 years for one of his collaborators. Others went into exile or went into hiding.

What is the international community saying?

In coordination with the United Kingdom and Canada, the United States on Monday imposed financial sanctions on seven individuals and two entities “linked to the military regime”, including the country’s top judicial officials, Attorney General Thida Oo, the President of the Supreme Court Tun Tun Oo and the head of the anti-corruption commission Tin Oo. London, for its part, announced that it had placed Thida Oo, Tin Oo and the chairman of the electoral commission U Thein Soe on the sanctions list.

However, the lack of results from the international community, focused on Afghanistan, Yemen and Ukraine, is glaring. The non-binding Security Council resolutions, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) plan to renew dialogue and the targeted sanctions of several Western powers have not shaken the regime.

International groups are leaving the country (like the French TotalEnergies), but these departures should hardly affect the generals, who have comfortable incomes coming in particular from the opaque trade in precious stones.

While several NGOs have called on the United Nations to adopt an arms embargo, China and Russia have so far refused. Beijing, which invested billions of dollars in Burma before the putsch, plays on two tables: dialogue with the junta and maintain contact with the NLD.


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