By DVB editor Nay Thwin Nyein
I recently experienced my own difficult journey through internal and cross-border displacement as I fled Myanmar and entered into an emergency refugee process. I was targeted by the Tatmadaw for my profession as a journalist. And, also because of my profession, I passed more quickly through the refugee experience than most. I am grateful to those in the international community that helped me, and to the Australian government for accepting me.
However, this is not what I want to talk about. My case is one of the very few exceptions, for there is now a desperate need for protection in Myanmar – not only amongst those currently displaced, but for the whole population which is now at perpetual risk of displacement. Most citizens do not have the kind of protection that some journalists, such as I, have received from the international community.
I suggest that we must take a bigger picture view of both humanitarian emergencies and the protection afforded to victims which considers all of Myanmar’s citizens as at risk of displacement. Certainly, some areas are now at more immediate risk than others, but the risk is nation-wide. This is how I would like to use my voice today.
So let me start this way.
A few years ago, a book publisher from Rakhine State called me. He had been passed my number by someone, he said, and wanted me to organize a televised debate on the topic of the protection of civilians. Specifically, he wanted the event to address the Tatmadaw’s killing of civilians in Rakhine State at that time. A cousin of the publisher had been killed by the military in a village near Mrauk U, an archeologically important town in northern Rakhine. Shortly before he had called me, some structures in the Mrauk-U archeological zone had been damaged due to fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA) — the civilian death toll was high.
To cut a long story short, I agreed to organize a televised debate in Yangon. Before we filmed, I traveled to Mrauk U to witness the misery of armed conflict: the abandoned villages, the ghost cities, the hopelessness of IDPs and their tears. On my return, we organized a day-long event entitled “The Price of the Mrauk U Conflict”. We considered the event to be very successful in raising national awareness of the issues.
A few weeks later, my friend, the publisher, called me again. He sadly informed me that the conflict had not ceased. Indeed, it had gotten even worse.
Jump now to the time directly after Feb. 1 2021, and the military coup. The publisher, now my friend, was in Rakhine State at the time. Huge protests and the popular civil disobedience movement were quickly spreading all over the country. The junta’s “security forces”, snipers included, were shooting young peaceful protesters in the head. The Tatmadaw, as always, was using excessive force to suppress the opposition. Its troops began to indiscriminately torture and killed innocent civilians, including children and women, whilst burning down villages and towns in Chin, Kayah, and Karenni state, and Sagaing and Magway regions. Within months, the peaceful protest movement had morphed into armed resistance.
My friend, the publisher, called me to compare notes. He was staying in his native town, Mrauk U and told me that, all this while, Rakhine State had remained relatively peaceful. This was not because the Tatmadaw generals listened to our televised debate and changed their minds, he said. It was because the generals understood the power of the resistance of the Rakhine people. The public support behind the Arakan Army — a force of youthful Arakhanese — is colossal and is something that cannot be crushed, cannot be stopped.
Let me make my point clearer: no one can stop the ruthless Tatmadaw and protect Burma’s citizens. Burma’s generals will not listen to logic. The United Nations and the international community’s approach of expressing concern and condemnation will go no way to halting the Tatmadaw’s slaughter of innocent civilians, its burning of villages. However, in Rakhine State, the Tatmadaw is no longer carrying out its arbitrary actions. This is because the AA and the Rakhine people are united, and can now protect themselves from brutal actions of Tatmadaw forces.
So then, who will protect the vast majority of people in Burma’s other states and regions? I would say the PDFs: the People’s Defense Forces. In turn, this is thanks to EAOs who are providing training and resources to newly formed resistance groups. These groups, who have taken up arms to protect their people for many decades, know firsthand that they cannot effectively provide protection with their bare hands. Where will the guns come from? The international community? I think very few people in Burma place their expectation on the international community, despite now seeing Ukraine receiving weapons from the great powers.
But this revolutionary generation understands the reality very well. They have learned from history and have a clear vision for the future.
So, in this context, what can the international community do to support Burma as the country’s citizens fight the Tatmadaw themselves?
- Recognize the NUG as the legitimate government of the Burmese people, so that cooperation and coordination in response to humanitarian emergencies will improve and become more efficient.
- Recognize PDFs as a legitimate force for self-protection forces and help PDF enable to protect the civilians from Tatmadaw’s operations without any limitations and without accountability.
Everyone knows the story of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Tatmadaw is that wolf and has gone around gobbling up sheep for many years now: it devours not only our natural resources, but the livelihood of the Burmese people, the future of younger generations, and our democracy and freedom.
There is an old Burmese saying: “As soon as the doe gives birth to a fawn, a tiger is ready to eat it.” At present, humanitarian assistance to Burma is like this baby deer, and the international community the doe. If we cannot stop the predatory military from devouring all resources provided to the people of Burma, every effort at protection will be like pouring water into the sand — now it is time to stop the tiger!