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It’s been nearly a year since a military coup rolled back Myanmar’s fragile democratic progress. With few international efforts for help, citizens at home and abroad have soldered on to fight for their rights. Special Correspondent Kira Kay and producer/videographer Jason Maloney report in collaboration with the Bureau for International Reporting.
Yesterday the united nations security council held closed-door hearings on what to do about the spiraling violence in Myanmar, the result of a military coup last February that rolled back the country's fragile democratic progress.
But as special correspondent Kira Kay and producer/videographer Jason Maloney report, there are few clear international efforts to help Myanmar so far, which has led citizens to fight mostly on their own — both from within their country's borders and in exile.
This report was produced in collaboration with the Bureau for International Reporting.
On the river that creates the border between Thailand and Myanmar, also known as Burma, a nightly ritual plays out. Monks and local volunteers on the Thailand side, watched by the Thai army, deliver food, water and medicine to the river bank. It is then fetched by the displaced people who are sheltering on the Myanmar side of the border. Their villages inside Myanmar were attacked by their own government in mid-December. thousands are now uprooted. It is just the latest development in a year of turmoil and violence for Myanmar, following a coup by its military that has now become a civil war between the junta and its citizens taking up arms. To show us the humanitarian crisis first hand, volunteers took us to the border.
The fighting started in the Lay Kay Kaw area.
15th of December.
15th December, yeah. And then after a few days, the military used airstrikes. So they burned all the villages around this area, so they had to flee. And the battle won't stop 'till today.
I think we are hearing some gunshots. It's still really close, what's going on in this area.
I heard the sound from this side. Oh Sh!x.
This woman managed to make it into Thailand with her six-month-old granddaughter, after fleeing aerial bombardment.
I want to crush the army into little pieces! This is because of the suffering we have faced.
Myanmar had been a military dictatorship for decades, but in 2012, facing global condemnation and dwindling coffers, the country changed course and cautiously opened to the world. They released democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and allowed her to run for a seat in parliament. I was given one of the first journalist visas to join her on the campaign trail. It was as if the gates had opened, with thousands of Burmese flooding the streets to greet "mother Suu" in person. Over the decade, Myanmar blossomed: young entrepreneurs sat in tech hubs pitching their ideas to funders shuttered universities reopened exiles returned from overseas to open newsrooms.
But this opening also allowed the rise of Buddhist nationalism and intensified anti-Muslim violence, particularly against the Rohingya minority, that left 10,000 dead and a million more displaced, and effectively stateless. Through this transition the military never fully released its grip, blocking 25% of parliament seats and reserving some top ministries for themselves.
Still, Aung San Suu Kyi's party scored consecutive landslide wins in 2015 and 2020 nationwide elections. The constitution barred her from being president, so she created a new equivalent title for herself, called state counselor. The military resented her success, says Phil Robertson of human rights watch.
Every time Aung San Suu Kyi is on the ballot, the military gets a drubbing and I think they've decided they're tired of it.
Claiming election fraud, the military sent troops onto the streets on February 1, 2021. Aung San Suu Kyi has not been seen since. This is the last photo of her from a vaccine clinic visit, a few days before.
Will we ever see her again?
The junta has been working double-time to manufacture charges against her. And these charges all combined, which are being heard before a kangaroo court, are likely to result in a long-enough prison sentence for her that we will not see her again. If the Myanmar military has its way.
The people took to the streets, in massive protest, refusing to easily give up the freedoms they had enjoyed over the past decade. Doctors, teachers and bankers walked off the job to cripple the country, raising the three-fingered resistance salute from the hunger games. The military responded with brutality: activists say 1500 people have been killed, almost 12,000 arrested. leaders of this resistance are in hiding, including former politician Nay Phone Latt.
Nay Phone Latt:
We cannot say it is safe, you know. Because everywhere is dangerous. I have to do it. I have a family, I have children. We have to fight for our future and our next generation.
A respected writer, we first met in 2015 as he registered as a first-time candidate. He now reflects on what went wrong, including Aung San Suu Kyi's strategy of wooing the military, even defending them in international court for their attacks on the Rohingya.
We will try to work together with them and we will try to persuade them and we will try to change our country gradually. That is what we think. But it's not successful, you know.
I don't know why they did it. I don't understand, I can't understand. Are they happy now? I don't think so. The coup, it destroyed everything, everybody.
Yeah, everybody lost.
To counter the military control of the country, a shadow government has sprung up in exile.
Aung Myo Min:
National Unity Government of Myanmar is a legitimate government who won the 2020 elections.
Aung Myo Min is the minister of human rights in what calls itself the national unity government, or nug. Some are still inside Myanmar, others are scattered across four continents, they don't even tell each other where they are. They are trying to convince the world to recognize them.
We are behaving like a government. We are meeting with the different governments as a legitimate government. Even at the UN, the credential of our representative proves that. But we really want to go beyond the "quasi" legitimacy status, to the "full" legitimate government status.
Meanwhile, the street protests inside the country have turned into actual combat, with young people taking up arms and training in the jungles, in September, the NUG followed their lead and declared a defensive war against the military junta, they say so they can bring discipline to the combat.
Every defensive forces should comply with the international standards not to commit any kinds of atrocity, like the military. How to avoid the public places; religious and cultural buildings; how to treat a prisoner of war and how to protect women, children, disabled and elderly.
The NUG is also rewriting the constitution to remove the military from government and, it says, addressing Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to protect all her people.
You can see that there's a sign of the weaknesses of the policy, especially with the minority groups. They should have done something better.
Does that include the Rohingya?
Yes. We acknowledged and noted these atrocities against Rohingya have been taking place.
What about citizenship? What about the right to vote?
Thank you. This is also mentioned in our Rohingya policies.
But a return home seems a long way off for Aung myo min and the country's thousands of other displaced people. The military is ratcheting up its brutality, allegedly burning women, children and aid workers in their vehicles, and sentencing to death popular musician-turned-politician zayar thaw, for allegedly plotting armed attacks. The US government has imposed sanctions on leaders of the military, its ministries, and some of its businesses, including gems, timber and construction. But bills in congress to further punish the military sit unpassed.
I don't see the pressure yet coming from the international community, at least of the sort of volume and with the pressure on the key points, to make the Myanmar military change course. We need to see action on an international arms embargo. We need to see tough sanctions on some of the biggest money earners for the military junta. And that means oil and gas.
U.S. company Chevron has just announced it will pull out of Myanmar, after facing intense pressure from activists. Citizens are calling for more sanctions, even if it hurts them too, says Nay Phone Latt.
They will pay any cost to take down the military junta. That is the decision of our country, not only one people, two people, three people, that is the decision of all of the people.
Exiled human rights minister Aung Myo Min says that after a decade of strong support, the world, and particularly the U.S., should not give up on Myanmar.
People will say that everything moved back to zero. But I don't agree. The support of the United States for the strengthening of the civil society is very, very positive. Because of that support, whole generations are very committed for the course of human rights and democracy. So it's not useless. Please continue your support to the people of Myanmar.
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