Charred villages. Beheadings. Clinics attacked. The images and testimonies coming from Burma for three years attest to the violence that has raged since the military coup of 1er February 2021. But since last October, the conflict seems to have entered a new phase, and the junta is losing ground.
The story so far
November 13, 2020
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party wins the elections.
1er February 2021
The military seizes power, alleging electoral fraud.
October 29, 2023
Three powerful armed groups join forces to launch an offensive against the junta.
“After three years of drawn-out fighting, and there with the successive victories (of the rebel groups), I think that the military junta feels that it is in a fairly pivotal moment since the coup d’état,” estimates Jean-Pierre. François Rancourt, political scientist attached to the Human Rights Observatory of the University of Montreal.
Burma has dozens of rebel armies, from different ethnic groups, who have been fighting the military since they overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The generals accused the Nobel Prize winner of electoral fraud, unsubstantiated allegations.
An alliance of three of these groups launched, on October 27, an offensive called “Operation 1027” against the ruling junta. This Brotherhood Alliance attack on military positions shook the regular army, creating dissension and defections.
“I believe that Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the junta, is under significant pressure from several fronts, not only from the National Unity Government (the government in exile) and ethnic armed groups, but also from within even military forces,” judges Erik Kuhonta of McGill University. In the region where the Brotherhood Alliance carried out its operation, a ceasefire was concluded under the aegis of neighboring China, to the advantage of the insurgent coalition.
The most violent conflict underway
Burma is currently the scene of the most violent conflict in progress, according to a ranking of 50 countries produced by the NGO ACLED, which also notes its “fragmentation”, with small militias installed in various places in the territory.
In three years, nearly 3 million Burmese have been displaced – including 800,000 since October, according to UNHCR. The number of deaths remains difficult to verify, but is estimated to be several tens of thousands.
The country is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Access to medical care is problematic. In one state of the country, Rakhine (as the regime calls Arakan State), Doctors Without Borders has been unable to maintain the services of its 25 mobile clinics for 9 weeks. “These are clinics that provide basic health care,” explains the humanitarian representative of Doctors Without Borders in Canada, Jason Nickerson. Across the state, especially in rural areas, we see about 1,500 patients a day. »
Aid workers face restrictions on movement, arrests and detentions from parties taking part in the conflict, UNHCR noted in its 2023 report.
Human rights violations
Over the past three years, many organizations have raised the alarm about human rights violations. “The junta still uses fire in areas where it has land access, sometimes in a symbolic way, for example by setting fire to villages that have already been burned, to show the population that it can continue to sow fear, explains Matt Lawrence, projects director of Myanmar Witness, joined by videoconference. They also continue to treat resistance in a particularly brutal manner. »
Based in the United Kingdom, the non-profit organization investigates human rights violations, notably by cross-checking images from Burma: comparison with satellite imagery, study of the type of damage to determine the means used, cross-checks. Modern techniques, combined with older ones, such as the positioning of shadows to determine the time of an attack. These investigations are passed on to the UN, in the hope that they will be used as evidence in court one day.
The photographs are often distributed by the younger generation, who are adept with technology, notes Mr. Lawrence.
These young people grew up in a Burma different from that of their parents and grandparents, who experienced insurrections after the country’s independence in 1947, fueled by tensions between ethnic groups, and the coup d’état which allowed the military to take power, from 1962 to 2011. The arrival of democracy did not completely put an end to abuses against minorities, particularly against Rohingya Muslims, but it did provide a breath of hope.
Organizations such as Amnesty International have called for an investigation into possible war crimes committed by the Burmese junta. But rebel groups have also been singled out for possible violations. Last December, Human Rights Watch denounced the forced labor and recruitment of children for combat by the Burma National Democratic Alliance (MNDAA), one of the members of the Brotherhood Alliance.
With Agence France-Presse