Protesters across Myanmar call for the release of political detainees and the restoration of democracy.
Photo: Roel Wijnants, Flickr

Chronicle

An inclusive democracy is needed to curb the spiraling conflict in Myanmar

The recent military coup has re-ignited and exacerbated some of Myanmar's long-running civil wars, pushing the country deeper into crisis. Pro-democracy resistance groups in the urban areas and rural ethnic insurgencies stand united in their war against the military regime. An inclusive democracy is necessary for long-term sustainable peace.

Myanmar is at risk of spiraling into a full-blown conflict and civil war following its recent brutal military crackdown, which has led to over 800 civilian deaths and countless displaced people. Peaceful protesters have been swarming the streets of Myanmar's biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, in defiance of the February military coup that toppled the country's democratic government. The military, also known as the Tatmadaw, placed the country's elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, undermining Myanmar's transition to democracy. This not only rekindled unresolved ethnic conflicts between the military and numerous ethnic armed organizations fighting for autonomy in the borderlands, it also triggered a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a grassroots movement formed by professionals and civil servants who seek to disrupt central state functions and infrastructure. Opponents of the coup across the political spectrum seek to restore democracy and to prevent the military from gaining further control of the country's administration office. 

According to local media reports, the military has reacted to the pro-democracy opposition with bloody crackdowns, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate firing on protestors, civilians, and children. Meanwhile, many of Myanmar's border regions, including the Shan, Karen, Kachin and Chin states, have transformed into fierce battlegrounds of resistance. Thousands of the country's most vulnerable communities have fled across the Thai border or are internally displaced. 

The ongoing violence poses a particular threat to vulnerable groups and Myanmar's development process. Civilians cannot access food or other vital supplies, while aid access is severely limited. This is further exacerbated by the disruption of transportation and supply chains across the country. The near paralysis of the banking sector and widespread limits on cash availability, in addition to rising food and fuel prices, are a further looming threat to the poorest communities. It is estimated that over 12 million children and young people in Myanmar have not had access to organized education for over a year. This severely impedes on their personal development, psychological wellbeing and future opportunities. 

Myanmar's history is tainted with political instability and ethnic conflict. Minority ethnic groups have long been marginalized and face discrimination and structural racism. In the past, the military has used this to its advantage, framing these groups as a threat to national unity. For the first time, ethnic groups in the rural districts are united with the urban dissidents in their common goal to establish a real federal democracy. While a coordinated campaign and real unification of the ethnic groups with the majority ethnic Burman people will take time, an inclusive democracy, grounded in the rule of law and human rights, is essential for long-term, sustainable peace in Myanmar. 

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