Five Months After Coup, What Has Myanmar Junta Chief Accomplished?

By The Irrawaddy 1 July 2021

Thursday marks five months since Min Aung Hlaing seized power in a coup. Nearly 900 civilians have been killed and thousands have been detained by the junta so far.

Shocking crimes have gripped the country for the past five months. Young activists taking to the streets against the military regime have been shot in the head. People have been tortured to death overnight in military custody, in some cases the bodies not even returned to relatives. Children around the same age as Min Aung Hlaing’s grandchildren have been shot dead. Villages have been set on fire and in one case elderly people were burned alive when junta forces torched their houses. Passersby have been shot at random.

People carry the body of an anti-regime protester shot dead by regime soldiers in Yangon in March. / The Irrawaddy

Many of the youths who would otherwise have become the country’s driving force have been killed. The crimes began toward the end of February and are continuing. It should be noted that all these things happened during the first 150 days of rule by the military regime, which claims its seizure of power from the democratically elected government was simply intended to bring “honesty” back to democracy in Myanmar.

In his public comments, Min Aung Hlaing has declined to cite the number of civilian fatalities recorded by independent sources, saying only that nearly 300 people have died.

All dictators murder

Myanmar has seen three coups since 1962. When General Ne Win, who can be called the godfather of military dictators in Myanmar, seized power in 1962, fewer than 20 people died in five months. But as of Thursday, nearly 900 people have been killed in the five months since Min Aung Hlaing staged the third coup in Myanmar’s history.

In fact, when Ne Win seized power in 1962, he did not meet the kind of strong opposition that Min Aung Hlaing is facing now. People only murmured criticisms in teashops, barber shops and markets at the time, and there were no mass street protests, strikes by government employees or civil disobedience movement.

But all dictators are essentially the same. Four months after his coup, he had the historic Yangon (then Rangoon) University Students’ Union Building dynamited to suppress the university students who opposed his regime. Throughout his military rule under the Burma Socialist Programme Party, he responded to protesters with brutal crackdowns.

The military killed thousands of people including students in a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 that saw military dictator Ne Win’s downfall.

However, Myanmar remained under military rule as General Saw Maung seized power on Sept. 18, 1988. The state-run newspapers reported that a total of 681 people—342 women and 339 men—were killed from Sept. 18-26.

Democratic forces estimated that some 3,000 people were killed throughout the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Those figures do not include the hundreds believed to have died behind bars, during interrogation and in labor camps.

Myanmar army troops charge at unarmed demonstrators in Yangon in September 1988. / Science Photo Library

What else has Min Aung Hlaing has done apart from kill people? He is arresting everyone who opposes him, and has issued warrants for those who have fled. As almost the whole country opposes him, it is not strange that people of different professions ranging from beauticians, artists and doctors to university professors and primary school teachers are on the wanted list. The regime has been forced to recruit teachers, as many are refusing to work for it. Public hospitals are short of doctors and nurses, and the public is waiting to see how Min Aung Hlaing plans to deal with the new wave of COVID-19 infections.

For all the people it has killed and detained, the regime is still unable to exert total control over the country. What is different between the military regime of Min Aung Hlaing and its predecessors is that this junta is facing armed resistance in towns. Shooting military-appointed administrators dead is something unprecedented in Yangon. Thanks to Min Aung Hlaing, such scenes are no longer new in the commercial capital. A policeman on patrol was shot dead in Yangon two days before the military takeover turned five months old. The coup can hardly be called a success.

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