On March 27, 2021, the military in Myanmar established a new daily death toll record when 114 lives were lost in their brutal crackdown on demonstrations following their February 1 coup against the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The protestors shown below are clearly in harm’s way as the state-run MRTV broadcast warned protestors that they could be “shot in the head” for defying the army. Sadly, children have been caught in the many rounds of military gunfire. Nonetheless, the protests continue.
The irony of the March 27 death toll rate was that some 100 miles to the north, away from the shooting in Yangon in the “safe haven” of the military-created capital of Naypyidaw, there was a massive Armed Services Day celebration. The historical holiday recognizes the attack by Aung San leading Burmese forces against the Japanese army during World War II. That military move against the Japanese ultimately brought independence to the former British Colony. Unfortunately, Aung San was assassinated not long after the Union of Burma was created. The “Union” was a reference to the many different ethnicities and separate cultures of the tribal country. Aung San is shown below and, yes, he was the father of now-imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi.
There is a striking similarity between the father and the daughter in all respects ranging from their facial characteristics to their total sacrifice for their country. The image below of Aung San Suu Kyi was taken in 1989. Shortly after that, we saw her speaking to supporters from a ladder in her garden as she was under house arrest. A significant portion of her life has been spent in either prison or a bit more relaxed house arrest. She certainly is one of the most renown modern political prisoners, having been either in prison or house arrest 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010. Shockingly, she is back in the position of being a sequestered freely elected leader.
While protestors were being openly shot in Myanmar on Armed Services Day, General Min Aung Hlaing, show below, was secure in Naypyidaw surrounded by his troops and representatives from some sympathetic countries such as China, Russia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. By coincidence, a close trading partner and neighbor, Thailand, fit the Myanmar model perfectly as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former general, seized control of the government of Thailand following a coup to remove an elected civilian government. Prayut is facing tremendous social unrest in Thailand and is quite familiar with the dangerous power of the people.
Russia took advantage of a situation that will most likely evolve into an increasing bloody suppression by sending their Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin to lay the groundwork for arm sales to Myanmar. As the protester death toll has grown to over 700, it will likely be a drawn-out process. Moreover, a number of the varied ethnic groups that formed the original Union of Burma, have built substantial armed forces in their own right. We could question how some of this activity was funded through the drug trade. However, there has never been any love lost between the ethnic minorities and the “Tatmadaw” or army of Myanmar. By the way, in case it is not obvious, Fomin is the stern Russian flanked by chubby henchmen behind him who are most likely in the Russian diplomatic corp which is an oxymoron.
The most extreme weapons of the protestors are home-made compressed air pellet guns which are only one step up from bows and arrows. Nonetheless, the counter-coup people exhibit no fear and their conviction speaks volumes even if the Russians begin marketing their hordes of weapons to the Tatmadaw. The Russians not only see an opportunity to clean out some armored warehouses but to displace the high level of control the Chinese have built in Myanmar by financially supporting the corrupt military.
I used to hate going to Naypyidaw as it was something out of an Orwell moment reflecting an empty capital city created to be at a safe distance from the bulk of the country’s population. Even the 100-mile road from the former capital of Yangon only has one exit and there are high curbs on either side of the highway. Therefore, an attack other than by air would be very difficult. Maybe the Russians should jump sides and peddle some old MIG aircraft to the freedom fighters. We know the Russians have no difficulty with rules and relationships.
Sadly, it appears that the violence will continue to escalate and there will be no happy ending for a long time. The western world pummeled Aung San Suu Kyi’s reluctance to take on the military in their slaughter of the Rohingya people though she clearly recognized the fragility of her position versus the military. It is likely that western sanctions will be placed on the military leadership but sanctions may force them further into the control of China and Russia. The only certainty is there will be a growing level of deaths and funeral processions such as that shown below. One faint hope remains that General Min Aung Hlaing, who professes to be a devout follower of Buddhism, might respond to encouragement from a senior Buddhist Abbot and “refrain” from killing his own countrymen.