Updated: April 30, 2021 8:53:22 am
The statement of the Myanmar Army chief and head of junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, that he would consider the ASEAN plan for an end to the crisis brought about by the coup he led on February 1, but only after “stability is restored”, is ominous. By now, it is apparent what the junta means by restoring stability. Its soldiers have shot down more than 750 people, mostly peaceful protestors against the coup, some of them teenagers. In at least three border states, armed groups of ethnic minorities which were hoping to reach agreement with the newly elected civilian government on a federal Myanmar, have backed the pro-democracy protests. Determined to make an example of them, the Tatmadaw (the name for the Myanmar military) has taken to aerial bombardment in the Karen and Kachin states. This show of air power is a step up in the brutality that the Tatmadaw has shown itself capable of inflicting on the people of Myanmar. The danger is of a widening civil war-like situation if more ethnic armed organisations rise up against the army. That may affect states with which Myanmar shares porous borders, Thailand and India particularly. In the Chin state, members of a militia raised by the Chin people have clashed with soldiers, and many belonging to this ethnic group have taken refuge in adjoining Mizoram. There has been violence between pro-democracy protestors and security forces in Sagaing region, adjoining Manipur.
The ASEAN plan is far from ideal. Hammered out by consensus between all members of the group, it speaks of a “constructive dialogue” between all parties for a peaceful resolution, for mediation by an ASEAN special envoy and a visit by the envoy to Myanmar. It does not demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and the word democracy is not mentioned in it. Still, the plan can help in getting the Myanmar military to stop violence against the people. ASEAN and its allies, including India, should be putting more pressure on the Myanmar junta to accept the plan.
A new generation in Myanmar has come of age in the decade-long thaw in military rule, and it wants nothing less than full democracy. Younger pro-democracy protestors want to scrap the 2008 Constitution which was drafted and voted in by the military and its constituents that year, and has written in a hybrid military-civilian system. The world will be failing Myanmar if it stands by and allows a brutal military to crush this generation and its hopes and spirit.
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