Myanmar’s junta extends state of emergency ahead of coup anniversary

Myanmar’s junta on Monday extended a state of emergency order by six months as opponents of the regime prepared to hold a nationwide “Silent Strike” on the eve of the anniversary of the coup and vowed to rebuild the country at any cost.

Early on Monday, the National Defense and Security Council held a special meeting at which junta chief Snr. Gen. Main Aung Hlaing said that “developments in politics, economics and social situations” in the country required that the junta extend the state of emergency, according to a statement released by the council.

Among the developments he listed were “local and foreign destructive forces” working toward “total annihilation” of the country, “terrorist attacks,” unfinished political appointments, and a need for “a genuine and disciplined multi-party democracy.”

Acting President Myint Swe, Lower House Speaker Ti Khun Myat, and other generals unanimously agreed to extend the state of emergency, which went into effect immediately and grants the military sweeping powers to crack down on opponents to its rule.

The order came just a day ahead of the anniversary marking a year since the military seized power from the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup, propelling the country into a political crisis. In the time since, security forces have arrested more than 8,830 civilians and killed 1,500 more, mostly during nonviolent protests of junta rule, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Activists have planned to lead a nationwide Silent Strike on Tuesday that they hope will shut down the country and draw global attention to the junta’s rights violations. But authorities have responded with threats to punish anyone who supports the strike by applauding, honking car horns or playing drums with up to life imprisonment.

Despite the warnings, many people told RFA’s Myanmar that they will proceed with the strike on Tuesday because they refuse to give up on the democratic progress the country made under NLD chief Aung San Suu Kyi. The former state counselor was detained along with former President Win Myint following last year’s coup and now faces 16 charges her supporters say are politically motivated.

“Instead of calling it the one-year anniversary of the coup d’etat, we should call it the anniversary of the destruction of Myanmar,” said Wai Moe, a third-year college student in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon said.

“The disruption in education for students of all grades — from kindergarten to seniors in college — is unrecoverable. Both the youth and the older generations have lost all hope.”

Zeyar Lwin, the leader of one of the many branches of an anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia that have sprung up, told RFA that the nation’s youth are “fighting the regime for their future.”

“Every single person has their own hopes and plans for the future. This military coup has shattered these hopes, dreams and goals,” he said. “Before the coup, these young men had good careers as doctors, teachers, attorneys, Buddhist monks or trainers, but this coup forced them all to join the resistance and they all carry resentment in their hearts.”

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun dismissed claims that the nation’s youth had “lost their future” because of the coup, saying the military has reopened schools and never forced them to join PDF groups.

“If they chose not to return to school and went to the jungle camps, we can’t do anything for them. This was their choice,” he said. “We always welcome them back. We have announced that they will not be punished if they have not committed any crimes. What more should we do to give them a guarantee?”

Decades of military rule

The people of Myanmar are no strangers to martial law, having lived under military regimes for nearly 50 of the country’s 74-year history.

But people who experienced military rule in Myanmar following the country’s 1962 and 1988 coups told RFA that life under the current junta has been the worst of all three periods.

On March 1, 1962, Gen. Nay Win of the Socialist Party orchestrated a coup in Myanmar under the premise that the government had failed to prevent ethnic Shans from splitting from the Union. His regime detained, tortured and killed thousands of Shans, while leading the economy to ruin after nationalizing all major firms in the country.

By 1988, the year of Myanmar’s second coup, the country had become one of the least developed in the world and relied on the United Nations for assistance. When students led a mass uprising that year, the military reacted by taking control of the government and violently shutting down protests, killing as many as 3,000, according to some estimates. But experts noted that even then, the junta received support from friendly nations including China, and the country was able to rebuild.

Political analyst Than Soe Naing said that rule under the previous juntas paled in comparison to that of the current regime.

“Following this coup, the junta has cracked down on the civil disobedience movement and peaceful demonstrators, killing young students. This led to an armed resistance,” he said. “Now, the regime uses the worst techniques to suppress people by killing civilians, burning villages and looting their properties.”

Hla Kyaw Zawl, a Myanmar-based political analyst, called the aftermath of the 2021 coup “the worst of all,” but she expressed confidence that the regime “will not last long.”

“The new regime doesn’t have international support and the people don’t support them either,” she said, adding that even the junta’s allies only support it “nominally.”

Vow to rebuild

Activists and other opponents of the regime said that the people of Myanmar are fed up with military rule and would ensure that last year’s coup would be the country’s last.

“We have returned to the conditions we experienced in the past,” said former college student Paing Ye Thu, describing a life of fear in which citizens cannot express their opinions or disobey orders. “After this military coup, these kinds of feelings come back. In addition, more and more people are struggling to make ends meet. We can no longer sit aside and allow ourselves to be ruled this way.”

Others looked beyond the destruction the coup had wrought on their country over the past year to how they will rebuild when the military is forced to step down from power.

“I believe we will be able to build a new nation after we declare victory so that we can fulfill our personal dreams and ambitions,” said Tayzar San, a doctor who ran a free clinic in Mandalay before the coup and joined the resistance movement shortly after.

“I am sure that after this revolution, we will have a peaceful and livable nation and a political system that ensures human rights and dignity. I hope we will have a peaceful and pleasant life for all generations.”

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