The United States has introduced trade sanctions against Myanmar in the aftermath of security forces killing thirty-eight protesters on Wednesday. Specifically, the sanctions will be made up of export controls against Myanmar’s Defense Ministry, and a trio of corporations that have close ties to the military. As the military continues to escalate the situation on the ground in Myanmar, the US sanctions signal that Washington is moving to set an example for the international community to follow. The State Department has also called on China to use its close relationship with Myanmar to restore calm and return the civilian government to power. The chances of Beijing doing this are remote, however. In February, China blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a condemnation of the coup and at the moment, China has more pressing issues to deal with.
Inside of Myanmar there is growing anxiety about what the weekend will bring. Activists and protest groups have defiantly promised to continue demonstrations even in the face of security forces firing live ammunition at protesters. Meanwhile, as Myanmar braces for a potentially violent weekend, the military government is indifferent about blowback from the international community over the February coup. ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived,’ Myanmar’s deputy military chief Soe Win informed the UN envoy to Myanmar last month. It will be interesting to see if the military government’s stance changes following the bloody day of protests this week.
This weekend has seen the crackdown in Myanmar intensify. Police and security forces confronted peaceful demonstrators at protest sites across the country. The use of lethal force has been reported by the UN human rights office, which claims to have received the information from highly credible sources. In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, a large demonstration was confronted by police. The police charged at unarmed, non-violent protesters and when the protesters moved to reassemble, the police started using more heavy-handed tactics, according to an Al Jazeera journalist who witnessed the scene. Reports of police opening fire at other points in Yangon were soon published on social media outlets. Although most news outlets were unable to confirm the claims, or number of casualties, the UN human rights office has reported that at least 18 protesters have been killed over the weekend.
On the geopolitical front, Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations was fired by the nation’s military rulers after a speech he gave at the UN General Assembly on Friday. Tun urged the international community to use “any means necessary to take action” against the military to “ restore the democracy.” Tun concluded his remarks by saying he was representing Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.
Protests blossomed in Myanmar on Monday despite stern threats by the military government to use lethal force against citizens who join a nationwide general strike. Businesses, factories and markets were closed in response to the call for a general strike across Myanmar. On Sunday evening, the military government made a public announcement on state television. “It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.” The government also blames criminals for inciting violence during past demonstrations which led the deaths of three protesters at the hands of security forces.
Reports, photographs and video from Monday’s protests show crowd numbers in the tens of thousands across Myanmar’s largest cities. The police have moved in to break up a number of anti-military demonstrations and have arrested upwards of 200 people. The military appears to have held back on its promise to use lethal force, but the reason for that decision remains a mystery. It’s very possible that increasing outside scrutiny is compelling the military government to restrain police and security forces.
An example of the growing foreign attention on Myanmar is the US warning that it will seek “against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released this statement on Twitter. A State Department spokesperson released this follow up statement on Twitter shortly thereafter. “We call on the military to stop violence, release all those unjustly detained, cease attacks on journalists and activists, and respect the will of the people.”