Guest Column

Myanmar’s Ethnic Groups Must Unite to Topple the Military Regime

By The Irrawaddy 31 August 2022

On August 26, BBC Bangla covered the Chin refugees living in India’s Mizoram State. BBC reporter Subhajyoti Ghosh visited several refugee camps and reported that nearly 31,000 Chin, who are ethnically related to the Mizo people of Mizoram, have fled Chin State for neighboring Mizoram since last year’s coup in Myanmar.

Moe Tallui, a primary school teacher in Myanmar, is one of the refugees who is facing an uncertain, precarious future. He is one of the many millions of Myanmar people whose future and dreams have been destroyed by the Myanmar military.

Similar tales of dashed hopes can be found in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. The Myanmar military’s 2017 campaign of ethnic cleansing in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State resulted in 760,000 Rohingya fleeing Rakhine for Bangladesh.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar on August 16. One Rohingya teacher told the commissioner how she had excelled at school in Myanmar and had a dream of becoming a doctor. But after being forced out of her country by the Myanmar military, she has instead spent the last five years in a refugee camp. “I still get emotional at night when I think of my dream. My Buddhist friends are now physicians in Myanmar,” she told Bachelet.

Typically, the purpose of a nation’s military is to defend the country from external threats. Since the coup, though, the Myanmar military has been targeting and killing its own people. The military continues to act as if it is a state within a state, despite supposedly being the servants of the people, hungry for power and ready to slaughter its own people to achieve that end.

History shows us that this desire for dominance originates with one person or group, such as the coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who then manipulates others to further their own interests.

Since the military takeover, the junta has killed at least 2,249 people, detained another 15,000 and burned down over 28,000 houses. The victims of the violence include many Bamar, the majority ethnic group in Myanmar and traditionally the people who make up the ranks of the army. The barbarity on display is beyond comprehension.

The hopes of the Myanmar people are being shattered by the violence of the military. Students are unable to continue their studies adequately. Teachers who support the Civil Disobedience Movement have been detained or even killed. Some educational institutions have been torched by the military regime.

Around 800,000 people have become internally displaced since the coup, with no idea when they will be able to resume their regular lives. To scare the population and break the links between the armed resistance and civilians, aid workers have been killed. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that the junta routinely commits substantial and severe violations of international humanitarian law, including crimes against humanity and war crimes.

With the military continuing to conduct raids in the Bamar heartland of Sagaing and Magwe regions and in Chin, Karen and Kayah states, the human rights situation is deteriorating all the time. Air and artillery strikes are increasingly being used against civilian targets: villages and the residential areas of towns. And now that clashes are breaking out in Rakhine State between the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military, the last region of the country that was relatively peaceful is now in danger of becoming home to armed conflict.

Rohingya communities have regularly found themselves caught in the middle of battles between the military and the AA, as well as being specifically targeted by attacks. There are still 600,000 Rohingya residing in northern Rakhine. The majority of them spend their days in camps for the internally displaced, where international organizations are prohibited from operating because of limitations put in place by the Myanmar military. If new battles start in Rakhine, the locals may end up in a similar situation to the civilians in Sagaing and Magwe regions and Chin, Karen and Kayah states.

So how can the Myanmar people get rid of the military that eats its own like a cannibal and which is causing the whole country to fall into ruin? There is only one solution and that is to eradicate all forms of inhumanity from the institution. A united Myanmar can destroy evil in any of its institutions. The moment has come for the Bamar, Kachin, Karen, Shan, Karenni, Arakanese and all the ethnic groups in Myanmar to band together and overthrow the tyranny of military dictatorship.

Myanmar’s beauty becomes apparent if you picture it as a united country. In every region of the nation, people from many different ethnic groups coexist. Equality amongst all peoples and religions is a stated goal of the civilian National Unity Government. Perhaps one day, Myanmar’s wealth of natural resources may enable the country to develop into an economic power in Southeast Asia.

The creation of a united Myanmar will lead to the realization of the Myanmar peoples’ aspirations. We hope that the people of Myanmar will unite to fight against the military oppressors by channeling their sorrow for their lost brothers and sisters into strength. Only then will they achieve victory and regain their freedom.

Sandip Roy from West Bengal is a political analyst on South & Southeast Asia