Nearly three years after the military seized power in a coup on February 1, 2021, Myanmar remains mired in conflict and chaos. As the country marks the somber anniversary this week, the ruling junta faces mounting pressure at home and abroad even as the path towards a political settlement grows increasingly unclear.
Deteriorating Humanitarian Situation and Civilian Suffering
The coup, which removed the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, unleashed a fierce backlash and waves of mass protests which were brutally suppressed by the military. The junta’s violent crackdowns have led to a full-blown civil war as newly formed civilian militias have joined longstanding ethnic rebel armies in battling the powerful Tatmadaw.
After nearly three years of fighting, the humanitarian toll has become catastrophic:
- Over 2,900 civilians have been killed by junta forces
- 17,500 have been arbitrarily detained for voicing opposition
- 1.2 million people remain internally displaced across Myanmar
Much of the fighting is concentrated in ethnic states like Kayah, Chin, and Karen which border Thailand. Heavy artillery shelling by the military has destroyed villages and forced residents to flee into the jungle, leading the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to accuse the junta of “lashing out indiscriminately” against civilians.
Makeshift medical clinics supported by local armed groups are struggling to cope with treating war wounded and preventing outbreaks of malaria, dengue fever, and diarrhea among displaced communities hiding in the forests.
Growing Pressure on the Embattled Regime
On the anniversary of the takeover this week, a nationwide “silent strike” is being organized which will likely bring the fragile economy to a near standstill. It builds on the success of previous work stoppages which helped drive foreign companies like Total Energies and Telenor to exit Myanmar.
The country’s vital natural gas revenues have also declined by nearly 50% over the past two years due to falling output from fields operated by Chevron and other foreign firms. This has placed significant strain on the regime as it battles simultaneous economic and military crises.
Faced with financial sanctions and diplomatic isolation from Western nations, the junta has had to increasingly rely on allies China and Russia for trade, weapons supplies, and political backing at the UN Security Council.
However, even key supporters appear to be rethinking their posture as the crisis drags on. After playing mediator last year, China recently brokered a ceasefire between the military and an alliance of rebel groups along their shared border. While fighting has eased in areas like Shan State, analysts say China’s shift reflects concern over regional stability and spurring cross-border drug trafficking.
Signs of Progress for the Pro-Democracy Movement
Despite bearing the brunt of Tatmadaw offensives over the past three years, Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government (NUG) and its armed wings show no signs of backing down. As junta chief Min Aung Hlaing used the anniversary to praise the coup in a national address, the NUG stated that the “revolution is on course to victory.”
High-ranking defector General Gun Maw also called on officers still serving to “come join the people” and warned of arrest and prosecution in international courts if they continued following the junta’s orders. Rights groups estimate around 5,000 soldiers have already deserted and provide vital intelligence for rebel forces.
Local militias have also launched some of their boldest offensives yet in regions like Chin State, taking several strategic army bases. The operations showcase improving coordination between ethnic brigades and an influx of new recruits and foreign funding for the anti-coup movement.
Citing these gains, the NUG recently announced a willingness to enter conditional negotiations with the military council it does not recognize. The overture represents a slight softening of its stance, even as most observers remain pessimistic of breakthroughs anytime soon.
Opaque Outlook with High Stakes for Regional Security
While fighting has ebbed in some areas thanks to temporary truces, the coming monsoon season threatens to spark more intense battles in others as opposing camps seek to consolidate gains.
With neither the military nor the sprawling opposition likely to back down soon, Myanmar seems poised for a prolonged period of strife and uncertainty. The country risks fracturing further amidst the unrest, complicating future peace efforts.
The turmoil also endangers neighboring countries like Thailand and Bangladesh now sheltering over one million refugees. Cross-border arms flows and illicit economies also empower drug cartels and militias destabilizing the region.
Three years on, the ramifications of Myanmar’s coup continue to intensify even as the junta’s grip weakens. While the democratic movement charts steady gains, the road ahead remains filled with risks that could alter the country’s course for generations.
Timeline of Key Events
|Feb 1, 2021
|Military seizes power from elected government in predawn raids, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders
|Mar 27, 2021
|Armed ethnic groups form alliance with protestors against the coup
|Apr 16, 2021
|ASEAN reaches “five-point consensus” calling for dialog to resolve crisis; junta later refuses to comply
|Dec 7, 2021
|Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 years in prison on fabricated charges
|Jan 31, 2022
|Nationwide silent strike on one-year anniversary of coup brings economy to standstill
|Jul 17, 2022
|Public execution of 4 activists sparks global condemnation
|Dec 25, 2022
|Military carries out deadly air strikes on KNU stronghold
|Jan 5, 2023
|International Court of Justice allows genocide case against Myanmar to proceed
|Jan 15, 2023
|Armed rebel alliance launches major offensive capturing several bases
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