Myanmar Round Up : March 2021
Dr Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

Myanmar's military imposed martial law across several districts in the country after initially declaring it in Yangon’s two districts. The death toll has been steadily rising; the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners stated it had verified more than 510 deaths in the post-coup crackdown. And, more than 2,400 people are in detention.1

Domestic Situation

The ousted leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has further been accused of accepting illegal payments worth USD 600,000 and gold while in government. The virtual hearing for her case was adjourned due to internet problems. The protests continue unabated, likedoctors, teachers, civil servants, actors, singers, civilians taking part in daily protests.2 Recently, 115 Ministry of Information staff refused to work for Myanmar’s military regime and joined the protest movement. The ministry is being controlled by the military-appointed U Chit Naing, a former military officer. He has forced the newspapers to publish pro-military articlesand directed the media not to use the words such as “coup”, “military regime”, and “junta”.3

Despite the violent crackdown, military Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, during the 76th annual Armed Forces Day parade, stated that the military would protect the people. The military also hired an Israeli-Canadian lobbyist to "assist in explaining the real situation" of the coup.4 Recently, fears have been raised about the extension of facial recognition technology to other states in 2021, under the “Safe City” initiative. The rights groups warn that the technology could be used against the protestors. The system is currently active in the capital city Naypyidaw and is developed by Chinese technology giant Huawei. 5

On 05 March, the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) called for abolishing the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and issued a law protecting the public’s right to defend themselves to establish a federal army. 6 The committee also issued a statement condemning all arrests and detentions under Section 17(1) of Myanmar’s Unlawful Associations Act.

On 01 March, the CRPH labelled the Myanmar military as a terrorist organisation. The committee is also making efforts to approach the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar military. It must be noted that Myanmar is not a member of the ICC. However, the CRPH is interpreting article 12.3 of the Rome Statute that created the court. Under article 12.3, Myanmar could declare with the court registrar to “accept the exercise of jurisdiction by the court with respect to the crime in question.” 7

On 11 March, the 10 NCA-signatory Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) held an online meeting to discuss the current situation. The military continues to engage inclashes with EAOs in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Bago Region. The RCSS/SSA issued a statement condemning the military coup and has offered to protect civil servants participating in the protests. The Karen National Union (KNU)’s Brigade 5 captured military bases in Papun district, Karen State. On 15 March, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) captured the regime’s Alawbwam base, located in Kachin. 8 The KNU and some other ethnic armed organisations also rejected the military’s invitation to attend Armed Forces Day.9

On 29 March, the Brotherhood Alliance, which constitutes the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA); Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); and the Arakan Army (AA), condemned the military rule after the civilian death toll rose to more than 510. Since the declaration of the coup, the Arakan National Party (ANP) pledged its cooperation to the military to achieve its specific Arakanese objectives, including removal of the status of Arakan Army’s status as a terrorist organisation; implementation of proposals passed by the previous Arakan State Parliament; unconditional release of political prisoners; and return and rehabilitation of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Arakan State. The military regime repaid the ANP loyalty by releasing Dr Aye Maung and Wai Hun Aung and later removing AA from the list of the terrorist organisation.10

International Reactions

The Defence Chiefs of 12 countries issued a joint statement condemning the military actions. These were - Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Furthermore, the Defence Chiefs of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore reiterated the 12-chiefs’ joint statement.11 In a joint statement of the QUAD leaders, support for democracy in Myanmar found special mention.

The US, Britain and European countries imposed sanctions targeting Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Ltd (MEC). Further, the US suspended the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement trade pact until a democratically elected government is restored.12 Australia has also suspended its defence cooperation programme with Myanmar. Australia suggested that it would redirect immediate humanitarian needs to Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities. It is also demanding Sean Turnell’s release; an economist and adviser to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Singapore’s real estate developer Emerging Towns & Cities Singapore Ltd (ETC) has requested that trading in its shares be suspended and said it would review its contracts with Myanmar government ministries and departments. 13

The United Nations condemned theMyanmar military’s actions, and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) condemned the violence butconcluded without any statement advocating concerted action against the military. China and Russia both used their veto to block any harsh coordinated measures. 14 Moreover, the visit by Alexander Fomin, Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister, to be part of the 76th Annual Armed Forces Day parade demonstrates Russia’s intentions to strengthen military ties with Myanmar. Moreover, eight countries – India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, Thailand, Pakistan, and Vietnam also sent their representatives for the event.15

The pro-democracy protests in Myanmar are accusing China of providing support to the Myanmar military and using the country for its strategic gain. During the month, around 32 China-owned factories were burned in several Yangon townships. However, few allege that the Myanmar military carried out the factory attacks to justify protesters’ crackdown. 16 On 11 March, even though China signed a UNSC statement condemning violence against protesters, the internet is filled with anti-China sentiments with people urging boycott of Chinese products. 17

The military attacks have led to a regional problem of people fleeing the violent situation to displacement camps and neighbouring countries. In an interview with Reuters, Mark Farmaner, Head of Burma Campaign UK, told that people had been forced to return to the Ee Thu Hta displacement camp on the Myanmar side of the border. Reuters published a video shot by a Karen villager showing refugees boarding boats under Thai soldiers’ watch. Later, Thailand was accused of pushing back the people at its border; however, Thailand authorities denied such claims. 18

India-Myanmar Engagements

In the closed-door consultations at the UNSC, India has condemned the violence in Myanmar and urged the military to exercise maximum restraint and release the detained leaders. In a weekly conference, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, also condemned the use of violence and stated that India believed in the rule of law and thereby, democracy must be restored in Myanmar. 19

Since the declaration of the coup, the situation along the borders has been vulnerable since several refugees are entering India and demanding asylum. 20 The10 March orders from the Ministry of Home Affairs directed the state governments in the North-East to block the entry of people from Myanmar and deport them; Mizoram Chief Minister, Zoramthanga urged the central government to review its policy. Mizoram had already started providing relief to the people escaping the Chin state in Myanmar. Since the violent attacks by the military, more than 300 people have entered Mizoram. Earlier in 2017, during the military operations against Arakan Army in Chin state, hundreds of residents had fled the country to enter Mizoram. The Chin National Army (CNA), an ethnic armed group in Myanmar, has also requested authorities in Mizoram to give them political asylum.

The political analysts in both countries have argued that India must provide asylum to the refugees feeling violence in the country as eventually India will have to civilian government in power and serve the people’s interest. Chin State is vital for India’s flagship Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP). 21 The projectcontinued its operations to meet its completion deadline despite problems at the borders. Commandant Colonel Bejoy R, Commandant of the Assam Rifles battalion at Lunglei,stated that out of the eight bridges on the Indan side, work on seven bridges is in advanced stages. The final stage of the road network involved a total of 33 bridges.22

In another significant development on the Rohingya crises, the Supreme Court of India reserved an order on a fresh plea seeking directionsto not detain and deport Rohingyas to Myanmar under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Centre argued that India could not be the "capital" for illegal immigrants. 23 During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit to Bangladesh in March 2021, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested India, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, to play a “strong role” in the early repatriation of the Rohingyas back to Myanmar.


There have been voices against the military within the country and the military system itself. In-depth interviews of four soldiers claimed the military as an undemocratic institution thattreats the protestors as criminals. They have deserted themselves from the country since the coup. 24 International condemnation and targeted sanctions have increased worldwide, though it is unable to make a dent in military operations. In its recent statements, India has also given its support to democracy and voiced concerns over violent crackdown on protesters. However, the reactions arenot universal. China and Russia are strongly supporting the Myanmar military against the will of the people.

Until recently, the Bamar public did not hold the Myanmar military accountable for the abuses against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Kachin, Shan, Karen, and Rakhine states. But, since the coup, the Bamar majority are uniting with the ethnic minorities voices and demanding to hold the military accountable for its actions. There have also been demands to set up a federal army. This societal shifts towards ethnic unity is a sign of increasing inclusive democratic values in the country. However, the military isadopting the divide-and-rule policy to break the unity of the Bamar people and ethnic minorities.

After verifying more than 50 videos from the ongoing crackdown, Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab confirmed that the Myanmar military appears to be implementing planned, systematic strategies, including the use of lethal force. 25 Despite the internet and mobile shutdown, the social media accounts show resistance against the military rule, with hashtags such as #AntiFascistRevolution2021 or #WhatshappeninginMyanmar. Following the coup, Google and Viber said they were reviewing recent advertisements run by a Myanmar military-backed telecommunications firm. To curb the spread of misinformation, TikTok, used by the military to threaten the protesters,has started banning some accounts. Further, YouTube removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its guidelines.

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