umbrellaOn Sunday morning, a small group of protesters marched together in Kyimyindaing County, Yangon, waving bouquets of eugenia and roses. They carried a banner stating: “The only real prison is fear and true freedom is the absence of fear”.
These words are those of the ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose sentence by the junta to two years of detention was announced Monday.
Minutes after their rally, witnesses told local media that a military vehicle crashed into the group. At least five people were killed, according to independent outlet Myanmar Now. Those who survived have been arrested – among more than 10,700 people detained since the February coup.
Almost a year has passed since the military seized power in Myanmar. Yet despite the arrests of thousands of generals, including the country’s elected leaders, and the outbreak of terror across the country, opposition to the junta remains widespread.
A civil disobedience movement continues to organize small, peaceful flash mob-style demonstrations, while armed groups carry out guerrilla ambushes across the country. Young people fled into the jungle for training and communities have taken up arms to defend their regions, sometimes in alliance with existing resistance organizations from ethnic groups in conflict with the military.
“Six months ago, people didn’t think armed resistance was viable […] But if you just look at the scale and extent of armed resistance across the country, there are a lot of groups mobilizing, ”said David Mathieson, an independent analyst specializing in Myanmar.
The military, Mathieson added, was most likely bewildered by the scale of the opposition. “They must be wondering, what kind of hornet nest have we stirred up here?” He fought for decades against armed ethnic organizations. Now they are facing normal people, who a year ago would not have tolerated an armed revolt at all. “
Dr Sasa, spokesman for the opposition-in-exile Government of National Unity (NUG), said the public had no choice but to defend themselves. ” [The military] not only destroy our democracy and our freedom, but they destroy every day our dignity as human beings. It’s, like, do or die.
These People’s Defense Forces, whose number Sasa did not specify, could stretch army resources across the country, but analysts say they currently lack coordination. Some have pledged allegiance to NUG, which was formed by elected lawmakers and declared defensive war in September, while others have allied with armed ethnic organizations, or both. Some operate independently.
The NUG has produced ethical guidelines for such groups, although the level of control it exercises over various groups is unclear. “I don’t think they have as much coordination as they claim to have,” Mathieson said. Guerrilla tactics used against the military include assassination of its officials, bombardment of military property, and sabotage of infrastructure such as telecommunications towers and bridges.
NUG says nearly 3,000 junta soldiers died in the fighting between June and November, and 8,000 soldiers and police have defected. The junta says 75 soldiers and 93 police officers were killed between February and the end of October, according to data cited by AFP.
Such numbers should be treated with caution, Mathieson said. While the Burmese generals have been surprised by the rapid formation of the opposition defense forces, they face Southeast Asia’s second largest army, which is supplied by China and Russia. Established insurgent groups are financed by the illegal drug and jade trade, but the newer ones do not have the same financial clout and the same supply of arms.
An arms dealer interviewed by Agence France-Presse said that as Myanmar’s kyat currency plunged in the wake of the coup, the cost of arms rose sharply. In March-April, an M-16 rifle cost about 4 million kyat ($ 2,247), while an AK-47 cost 5 million kyat; now the cost has almost doubled, forcing fighters to rely on homemade weapons and donations.
Far from training camps for anti-coup recruits, communities are finding ways to resist. Many refuse to pay their electricity bills, cutting off the income of a state-backed electric company. Businesses aligned with the military are rejected. A popular Myanmar shopping center, Myanmar Plaza, faces a massive boycott after its security personnel beat young students who were staging a protest.
Orders announced by the military are ignored. In Yangon, some residents are distributing face masks free of charge in defiance of military rules which prohibit the wearing of face coverings near soldiers’ posts.
Flashmobs continue to be organized, despite the constant risk of military violence. Sunday night in Yangon, the clang of metal could be heard through the streets. From their homes, residents banged pots and pans to protest the military and to honor the lives of protesters killed that morning.
Chris Sidoti, of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, said the country was at risk of sliding into protracted conflict unless pressure was put on the military to negotiate. “The democratic movement is determined this time. He won’t back down, he won’t give up, ”he said. The international community should cut money and arms, he said, and make more use of non-military channels to deliver aid. According to the UN, around 3 million people are in need of life-saving assistance.
Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a prominent anti-coup activist, said she receives demands every day from people on strike as part of the civil disobedience movement and struggling to make ends meet. “Even though I can’t help, they say, ‘I’m not going back to the ministry.’ They do [it] because of their political beliefs, then they find a way.