Myanmar’s military vowed to crack down on opposition forces as the nation celebrated its Armed Forces Day, reports Al Jazeera. The leader of Myanmar, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, claimed that his forces would ‘annihilate’ civilian opposition groups and urged ethnic minorities away from supporting militia groups that oppose the Tatmadaw, the country’s military-led government. However, one civilian resistance group, the National Unity Government, prompted people to take part in a ‘Power Strike’, turning off their lights and TVs during the parade broadcast ABC News reports.
The National Unity Government’s call is part of over a year’s worth of protests that have sought to thwart the military’s claim to power. The Tatmadaw seized power on February 1, 2021, in a coup d’état, dismantling 10 years of democratization led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the junta took control, it has battled civilian resistance fighters, largely unsuccessfully. One of the main opposition groups, the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), joined forces with ethnic armed groups that have been battling the government for decades for greater autonomy.
Despite not having access to high-tech military equipment like the Tatmadaw, the PDF has waged a successful resistance for over a year. The group utilizes homemade or rudimentary weapons, as well as aid from local communities and superior knowledge of the terrain, to attack Tatmadaw convoys, patrols, police stations, and military bases. According to Human Rights Watch, over 1,600 people have been killed by Tatmadaw security forces and 12,000 more have been detained. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar found that China, Russia, and Serbia have been transferring arms to Myanmar that could be used against civilians. Japan also retains strong military ties to the nation, providing academic and military training to Myanmar military cadets and officers.
Belarus, India Israel, Pakistan, South Korea, and Ukraine were also reported to have sold weapons to Myanmar since 2018. Russia was an honored guest at the Armed Forces Day military parade in 2021 and was set to be honored again, reports Al Jazeera, with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin making an appearance along with Russian pilots demonstrating new fighter jets that the Tatmadaw recently purchased.
Human Rights Watch reports that over 500,000 people have been internally displaced and that the junta has been blocking aid to populations in need. The displacement has disproportionately affected the Rohingya, a minority ethnic group of Muslims that has been the target of government persecution since the 1970s. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar despite having lived in Myanmar since the 14th century, and in 2017 were subjected to widespread violence as the government executed a campaign to supposedly stabilize the nation’s western region, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Since this violent campaign, many Rohingya have fled the nation, seeking refuge in Bangladesh, where most live in Cox’s Bazar district, home to the largest refugee camp in the world with 900,000 Rohingya refugees. Others fled to neighboring Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Indonesia, although they continue to face persecution in these nations and are often seen as illegal immigrants. Back in Myanmar, the Tatmadaw has destroyed many Rohingya villages and continues to force many out using violent tactics. Additionally, the government of Myanmar has institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya, restricting marriage, family planning, employment, education, freedom of movement, and religious freedom.
The United States, Canada, and Britain announced new sanctions against select senior officers within Myanmar’s army and business leaders that allegedly supply it. This comes just a few days after the U.S. declared the Tatmadaw’s actions against the Rohingya Muslims in 2018 a genocide. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is considering laying similar charges against the Tatmadaw.