Myanmar: Western measures have had little effect on military junta

New DelhiWritten By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Mar 29, 2021, 11:50 PM IST
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File photo of Myanmar military junta leader Min Aung Hlaing. Photograph:(Reuters)

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The need of the hour is to not make tall proclamations but to adopt a cautious and practical approach, to hold a dialogue with the military generals if needed and persuade them to restore democracy

It's been nearly two months since the military coup in Myanmar and the situation remains tense. Pro-democracy protesters continue to clash with security forces that are showing little restraint in their crackdown.

Sunday (March 28) was the bloodiest day since the coup. At least 100 protesters were killed in clashes with local police. The violence was the worst in Yangon and Mandalay, two of the biggest cities in Myanmar.

The protesters are calling it a 'day of shame' for the Myanmar Army. The army is calling it an issue of law & order. It is accusing foreign forces and local militias of trying to stoke unrest and derail efforts to restore democracy in the long run.

In this back and forth, neighbouring countries are preparing for the repercussions.

On Sunday, the Myanmar Army carried out airstrikes on an area held by the Karen Liberation Army. This is an ethnic armed group that operates in the southeastern Karen state bordering Thailand.

This attack was aimed at curtailing the operations of this rebel group. But it has ended up further perpetuating the ongoing exodus to Thailand. At least 3,000 ethnic Karen villagers have crossed the Myanmar-Thailand border.

They have found refuge in Thailand's Mae Hong Son province.

Thai authorities say they are bracing for a larger influx of refugees in the days to come.

"Please let this be an internal issue for us. We don't want to have an exodus (of refugees) and evacuations into our territory but we will observe human rights too," said Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha.

"How many refugees are expected? We have prepared an area for them to stay first after they cross over. We can talk about the numbers later. We're not going to talk about a (permanent) shelter yet, we're not there yet. This is a matter of the department of national security to deal with," he added.

It's a similar situation along Myanmar's border with India. In the last few weeks, refugees from Myanmar have fled to Indian states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. There are no official estimates on how many Myanmar nationals have come to India.

But reports put the numbers at over 700. The governments in these states are responding by keeping the local sentiments in mind.

A large number of Mizo people and ethnic groups in Manipur empathise with the refugees. And it is reflecting in the decisions being taken by the respective state governments. But this exodus poses a big security challenge for New Delhi.

India has suffered due to a refugee crisis in the past. And due to its proximity to Myanmar, it is again bearing the brunt of internal unrest in the country as western powers situated far away from Myanmar with no proper cognizance of the ground reality ratchet up sanctions on the army junta to prove that they're doing something.

But the reality is that India and other countries neighbouring Myanmar are ultimately paying the price for their decisions.

Decisions taken by western nations like visa bans, arms embargo, freezing assets and cutting diplomatic ties have done little to stop ongoing crackdown in Myanmar or to reverse the coup.

The army junta is far from course-correcting. And the people of Myanmar are feeling the pinch.

Hundreds have died, thousands have been displaced, turned into refugees.

The need of the hour is to not make tall proclamations but to adopt a cautious and practical approach, to hold a dialogue with the military generals if needed and persuade them to restore democracy.