The general who led a coup in Myanmar just over 4 months ago criticized foreign interference Wednesday, days after the U.N. General Assembly approved an arms embargo resolution, and as new ethnic militia began fighting his military amid the country's deepening crisis. As Nick Schifrin reports, the fighting in Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, exposes the country’s increasing fragility.
The general who led the coup in Myanmar criticized foreign interference today, days after the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution calling for an arms embargo.
It comes as a new militia has begun fighting his military.
As Nick Schifrin reports, the fighting in Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, exposes the country's increasing violence and fragility.
In Myanmar's central heartland, government troops left scorched earth. Last week, residents say soldiers torched the village of Kin Ma. Now its residents and thousands of families around the country are hiding in forests, scared of the military ruling junta that's hunting them down.
Army forces have injured thousands and killed more than 800 protesters. And in Mandalay this week, a regime soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade into a house full of protesters.
But, increasingly, the resistance is responding with more force. In cities, protesters build barricades to protect neighborhoods from government soldiers, and around the country, ethnic militias attack army checkpoints. Increasingly, their soldiers are civilians from cities who journey to ethnic-controlled territories to join the fight.
For decades, ethnic minorities in Myanmar have fought repression and political persecution by central authorities who deny those minorities full rights. And now that fight has new political momentum.
Ko Aung Myo Min, Human Rights Minister, National Unity Government:
We may be different in religion, ethnicity, but we are human beings, and we must respect the identity of the people.
Ko Aung Myo Min is the human rights minister in Myanmar's opposition National Unity Government. It works in exile, or in hiding, and was created in response to the February 1 coup that deposed an elected civilian government and installed army leader Min Aung Hlaing.
The National Unity Government recently released a historic policy paper that calls for Burmese to have equal rights as citizens regardless of ethnicity.
Ko Aung Myo Min:
That is our bottom line approach, make sure that everyone is equally entitled citizenship, to stop all kinds of violations, to stop all kinds of corruptions and power abuse.
The statement focuses on the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a largely Buddhist Myanmar. In 2017, a military campaign that a U.N. panel said had genocidal intent massacred thousands of Rohingya civilians.
More than 700,000 fled their homes. For the first time, the National Unity Government statement acknowledges violence and gross human rights violations inflicted upon Rohingya by the thuggish military. It calls for repatriation of Rohingya refugees and Rohingya birth citizenship.
Everyone born by the citizen of Myanmar are entitled to become a citizenship of the country.
But Rohingya activists say that is not enough.
Wai Wai Nu, Rohingya Activist:
Unless they acknowledge Rohingya as their own ethnic nationality group, the apartheid and discriminations and treating Rohingya as second class will never end. Citizenship alone cannot address this issue. That's what we all need to understand.
Wai Wai Nu is a former political prisoner. She thinks the National Unity Government needs to use this unstable moment to envision a future, more stable Myanmar, where Rohingya are protected with individual and collective rights.
Wai Wai Nu:
What they have to acknowledge is, Rohingyas are bona fide citizens of the country as a group. We are insistent on the National Unity Government to acknowledge Rohingya as an ethnic nationality group, and assure rights under the federal union.
That would push a future civilian government to defend the Rohingya more than in the past. In 2017, civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi defended the military.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar State Counselor:
Surely, under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.
Do you expect a future government to hold them more accountable, frankly, than Aung San Suu Kyi did in the past?
Accountability must be ensured in the future.
But, right now, the military faces little accountability, and the violence across the country since the coup threatens the state's very stability.
A massive civil disobedience movement and national strike paralyzed the financial sector. Crowds line up outside banks because of caps on withdrawals. The U.N. expects half of Myanmar's 55 million residents, to fall into poverty within six months. And the World Food Program says 3.5 million more people will face hunger.
If the international community, the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council does not stop the military by taking actions, the country, we are at the brink of collapse.
The Biden administration has imposed eight rounds of sanctions on military officials and military-owned enterprises, including its profitable gems business.
And, in a rare move last week, the U.N. General Assembly condemned the coup and called on countries to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar.
Volkan Bozkir, President, U.N. General Assembly:
A system built on brutality and bloodshed will not survive. It is not too late for the military to reverse the negative trajectory on the ground, exercise restraint, and respect the will of its own people.
But there is no sign of military restraint or respect. And that means ethnic and economic fissures will continue to grow in the fight for the heart and the future of Myanmar.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
Layla Quran is a general assignment producer for PBS NewsHour. She was previously a foreign affairs reporter and producer.
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