Armed Civilian Groups In Myanmar Rise Amid Widespread Military Violence

Civilian groups in Myanmar are arming themselves in response to military violence, sparking fears of an impending civil war. The Guardian reports civilian volunteers with guns and other weapons are among large groups who have begun to rise up against the military, training to fight against violence enacted by the country’s armed forces. Conflict in the state has been ongoing for decades as many ethnic armed groups fight for stronger independence.

A coup in the country in February saw the military take control of the country, despite the National League for Democracy party winning the general election. Members of the National League for Democracy were detained by the armed forces, who backed the opposition party and claimed the election was fraudulent. At least 833 people are estimated to have been killed since then, with thousands more arrested and at risk of torture. Until the military releases those from the National League for Democracy and accepts the leader of the country in a peaceful way, civil battles appear set to worsen.

Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken power. Hlaing has received international condemnation and sanctions due to his role in the military’s attacks on ethnic minorities. Battles are now taking place in areas of the country that were previously peaceful, as dozens of new grassroots defence forces made up of civilians push back against military raids, arrests, torture, and killings.

In the eastern region of Kayah State, intense fighting is taking place between the military and the newly formed Karenni People’s Defence Forces alongside the previously established Karenni Army. Myanmar Now reports tens of thousands of people have been displaced as the military used helicopters to bomb civilians, despite them only using light weapons to defend themselves.

In the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project report, at least 58 anti-coup groups have been formed. Ramifications of the conflict can be seen across the country. Parents no longer send their children to schools, as schools are being bombed or set alight while teachers are striking. A wedding in the city of Yangon was targeted, killing four people. A group called the National Unity Government has been formed to train anti-coup forces. They are up against the violent military of approximately 400,000 soldiers who have access to state funding and resources.

More battles are believed to have taken place in the first half of this year than in the entirety of 2020, with increases in reports of attacks on civilians and reports of explosions and remote violence increasing. There are calls for countries to introduce targeted sanctions.

According to Al Jazeera, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plan to visit the country to assess how it can respond to the crisis. With tens of thousands displaced and many others tortured and detained, urgent action must be taken in order to protect the lives of innocent civilians and depose the violent military, who are unlawfully in power.