Junta’s savagery betrays frustration

The Tatmadaw repression intensifies as it loses ground; its morale is at an all-time low and despite facing desertions, it won’t let go of power 

The war in Ukraine, the new focal point of global concern, has pushed developments in Myanmar to the fringes of awareness from where they hardly impinge on public consciousness. And this is even though the most terrible things continue to happen in that country. On September 29, 2022, a court in Myanmar, in a trial whose procedures were customized to produce spurious verdicts, sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic symbol of Myanmar’s democratic aspirations, to three years imprisonment on the trumped-up charge of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act. Also sentenced with her by the same court and on the same day, was Sean Turnell, associate professor of economics at Sydney’s Macquarie University, who was an advisor to her when she was in office. In a sentence to run concurrently, he was also given three years in prison for violating the country’s immigration laws. Three other former ministers in her government were also sentenced to three years imprisonment on September 29, 2022, for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Aung San Suu Kyi has already been sentenced to over two decades in prison on trumped-up charges including those of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkie sets, violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition, fraud, and five corruption cases. She is being tried on a further seven counts under Myanmar’s anti-corruption laws and can be punished with up to 15 years in jail on each. She can be imprisoned for nearly 200 years if convicted of all the charges, including the above seven, leveled against her.

The purpose is to finish her off politically. Unfortunately, not a squeak has been heard from the leaders of the world’s democracies about her latest round of sentencing. The Australian government has strongly taken up Sean Turnell’s case from the beginning. In the present instance, the country’s foreign minister, Penny Wong has rejected the court’s ruling and called for his immediate release. Describing his detention as unjust and stating that Australian diplomats were denied access to the court’s hearing, her office said in a statement, “We will continue to take every opportunity to advocate strongly for Professor Turnell until he has returned to his family in Australia.”

The latest sentences are a part of Myanmar’s junta’s efforts to continue in power, which it usurped by a coup on February 1, 2021, by the ruthless suppression of opposition at all levels. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), whose name indicates what it is about, 15,683 persons have been detained on political charges in Myanmar since the coup, of whom 12,540 are still in custody. At least 2,324 persons have been killed by the security forces in the same period, though the actual number is thought to be much higher. Among those killed were four pro-democracy activists and leaders, including a former legislator, executed by the Junta, most probably by hanging in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison on July 23, 2022.

With peaceful protests met by the most vicious repression, opposition to the junta has understandably taken the form of armed resistance. Some leaders of the National League for Democracy – the party led by Suu Kyi – activists and representatives of several insurgent ethnic organisatons and minor parties, formed a National Unity Government (NUG) on April 16, 2021. In May 2021, NUG announced the formation of its armed wing, the People’s Defence Force (PDF). According to a report by Richard C Paddock (The New York Times, June 6, 2022), it has a strength of 60,000. Also, the NUG, according to Paddock, claims that at least 14,890 soldiers of Tatmadaw–the official name for the Myanmarese military–died fighting while its forces lost only 1,000 fighters. The Tatmadaw does not give casualty figures but that it is having a hard time is clear from its burning of villages, use of indiscriminate artillery fire, and air attacks against civilian targets.

The Tatmadaw suffers from low morale and desertion. Its weaponry is more suitable for conventional warfare than anti-guerrilla operations; its new generation of soldiers lacks combat experience. It is hugely losing ground. In a recent article published by the Lowy Institute, an Australia-based independent think tank, and titled “A desperate junta trying, and failing, to shore up its legitimacy,” Adam Simpson cites a recent report by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, an independent group of international experts working to support the country’s people struggling for human rights, peace, democracy, justice, and accountability, as saying that the NUG and ethnic resistance organisations effectively controlled over 52 per cent of Myanmar’s territory. Twenty-three per cent were contested and the junta had stable control over 17 per cent.

Simpson adds that while these figures were difficult to verify, it was clear that most of the country was now in open revolt against the Junta. Those fighting for democracy in Myanmar, however, have a difficult road ahead. The People’s Defence Force lacks numerical strength besides heavy artillery, tanks, and aircraft, essential for winning large battles in the plains. The junta will eventually end up in history’s dustbin, but not before inflicting immense suffering on Myanmar’s people.

(The author is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer. The views expressed are personal.)

Source: The Pioneer News