Will Police Defecting to the People’s Side Help End the Violence in Myanmar?

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By Quentin Choy

July 15, 2021

July 14, 2021

Earlier this week, I watched clips of what is happening in Myanmar. Following the February coup by the military, police and armed forces killed at least 750 people, including children as young as 6 years old.

In recent days, police officers across Myanmar defected from the ranks, joining the antigovernment protesters. The officers feel that they betray the people of Myanmar by turning weapons against their fellow countrymen.

While the support of armed police among ethnic militias can help fight the government, it may not be enough. China and Russia believe the Burmese military will be successful in defeating protesters. The Burmese military wields deadlier weapons than the protesters who must hide in Myanmar’s jungles.

While Russia is giving weapons to Myanmar’s military, China is wary of the coup’s fallout since business, investments, and geopolitical interests in the country are now at stake.

General Min Aung Hlaing, leader of the February coup.

Myanmar’s Ethnic Groups

Police officers across Myanmar are changing uniforms from police uniforms to militia uniforms. In the dense jungles of Myanmar, far from the cities, ethnic militias train protesters.

Ethnic groups like the Rohingya, Karen, Kachin, Bamar, and Rakhine lived in Myanmar for centuries.

Many of these ethnic militias fought the government for years, engaging with military and police forces.

Hillary Clinton with representatives for various ethnic groups from around Myanmar.

In Myanmar, the military is called the “Tatmadaw.”

The Tatmadaw are responsible for the torture and killing of ethnic groups in the jungles of the remote Sagaing region.

“He was lying on his stomach, with his legs tied with a rope. He appeared to have been tortured. There were plenty of wounds on the body and he seemed to have been dragged on the ground. He had to cut the bindings before cremating the body where it lay because it was too risky to carry it back [home]. I will never accept the rule of such an evil regime. I want to appeal to the international community to intervene in this situation instead of ignoring us during this crisis.”

Resident speaking to Radio Free Asia in “Mass Murder of Civilians in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region Amounts to ‘War Crime,’ Says Rights Lawyer

In temporary camps, trainees receive about 45 days of training before being deployed to fight the government, seeking economic and political autonomy.

Young Rohingya children. Rohingya are displaced within Myanmar and are targeted by the government.

With many ethnic groups scattered in Myanmar, internal conflict existed for decades between various groups. However, following the coup, some of these divisions have softened.

“Myanmar is hugely diverse. When British conquerors arrived in the 19th century, their “divide and rule” tactics pitted ethnicities against each other, deepening old rivalries or creating new ones.”

From The Economist’s “Who are Myanmar’s ethnic militias?

Why Are the Police Defecting?

The majority of police officers resigned out of support for pro-democracy protesters. Democracy is fragile in Myanmar, and it always has been.

The military loomed as a threat in the sprouting democracy, and they have struck, placing Min Aung Hlaing as leader. The Tatmadaw arrested democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and placed charges against her.

Aung San Suu Kyi.

With brutal orders to crush protests given by the military junta, some police officers could not do it. They felt it was wrong to turn the people’s weapons against them, especially if their job is to protect the people.

“We were told that we could shoot the protesters if they gathered in more than five. We could arrest them and shoot them.”

Officer “A” from Sky News report

The military placed bounties for the arrest of defected police officers, and militias have begun to train them. Some officers fled to India, putting the country in a tough, awkward spot.

On the Brink of Civil War

The hopes of improvement in Myanmar look grim. As the military and police increase their brutality, antigovernment protesters will soon become armed rebels.

Sanctions by the west seem to be ineffective, especially with China and Russia believing Min Aung Hlaing’s military will be victorious.

The continued flow of weapons from Russia could increase the brutality of the Min Aung Hlaing regime in strangling democracy out of Myanmar.

China doesn’t care all that much about democracy and protests, but they do care about Myanmar’s stability to safeguard Chinese business interests, investments, and geopolitical stakes.

Due to their proximity, China views the coup as a threat to its regional security and to its economic investments in Myanmar.

While a resolution in the United Nations passed to limit violence by the military, Russia and China abstained from the vote.

The resolution — which did not go so far as to call for a global arms embargo — also demands that the military “immediately stop all violence against peaceful demonstrators.” It was approved by 119 countries, with 36 abstaining including China, Myanmar’s main ally, and Russia. Only one country, Belarus, voted against it.

From the Moscow Times’ “Russia, Myanmar Agree to Bolster Ties

With continued Russian support and Chinese desires for stability, the hope of democracy returning to Myanmar looks pretty bad.

The United States and small, rich democracies don’t hold as much sway over Southeast Asia as they would like.

The international community is also struggling in ending the violence.

Unfortunately, the days ahead look dark for Myanmar as armed conflict seems to make civil war even more inevitable.

Quentin Choy, creator of <em>WeTheCommoners Blog</em>
Quentin Choy, creator of WeTheCommoners Blog

Quentin is a student of Political Science. He became interested in history and politics in 2015 watching the Republican and Democratic primaries as well as the 2016 General Election.

He is from Hawaii and currently attends school in Colorado.

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