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Myanmar: Tatmadaw escalate the killings

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The Tatmadaw, the mass murderers who rule Myanmar, are escalating the death toll on their own people. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the country’s main human rights organisation, says it has verified the killing of 459 civilians but that the true figure is likely much greater. On 27 March, at least 40 people were killed in Mandalay, and at least 27 people in Yangon. Police even killed people in their own homes, including a seven year old girl, shot in the stomach, one of 20 minors, between the ages of 10 and 16, killed since the coup.

In addition, the air force, fearing a coalescing of the unarmed civil disobedience protests with the armed rebels of the minority ethnic groups, has started bombing villages in the eastern state of Karen, sending thousands fleeing across the border into Thailand. Three of these armed groups, including Rakhine State’s Arakan Army, have jointly demanded the military stop the killing.

Meanwhile, whilst the slaughter continued in other cities, in the capital, Naypyidaw, the country’s murderer-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was addressing the military parade to mark Armed Forces Day, with representatives of the Chinese and Russian military conspicuously present. Birds of a feather…, as they say. "Russia is a true friend” the coup leader noted, something to which the Syrian butcher, Bashar al Assad, would testify.

There is now a very real possibility that the Tatmadaw will repeat the gruesome mass slaughter of 1988 in which up to 10,000 perished. On Saturday, March 27, alone there were 114 deaths, many by deliberate shots to the head, fulfilling an explicit threat by the army “You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back”, the army announced via its MRTV news channel on Friday.

Yet, on the days following, crowds still came out in large numbers in Yangon, Mandalay and dozens of cities and towns across the country. There are widespread strikes by government workers, which have hamstrung the non-military functioning of the state. Peaceful demonstrations are also giving way to a more determined resistance in urban districts such as Hlaing Thar Yar and South Dagon. Pictures have emerged of protesters using slingshots, Molotov cocktails, even firing homemade guns from behind sandbag barricades after coming under fire from security forces.

Al Jazeera interviewed a twenty year old leader, code name ‘Fox’, of one of the small groups organising this fighting resistance. He said he and his group demonstrated peacefully until the military started killing their friends: “That’s when we decided we would fight back”. However, he also reported having to go underground when police captured one of them and used names on their mobile phone to hunt down the rest.

The protest movement has also spread to regions populated by Myanmar’s 30 per cent minority nationalities. The General Strike Committee of Nationalities, a protest group, issued an open letter on Facebook for rebel forces in these regions to help those standing up to the military saying, “It is necessary for the ethnic armed organisations to collectively protect the people”.

On the weekend of March 27-28, serious clashes took place near the Thai border between Tatmadaw forces and guerrilla fighters from the Karen National Union, KNU, as jets bombed one of their base areas. The military have never accepted even the slightest degree of autonomy for minorities and have clearly torn up ceasefires negotiated with the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Tens of thousands of Karen have lived in refugee camps in Thailand for decades after repeated bombing by the military.

The continued general strikes by rail, bank, factory, shop workers and civil servants have crippled the economy. Financial transactions have come to a halt after the majority of staff walked out at large private banks, such as KBZ and Ayeyarwady. Even the military's own Myawaddy Bank reported its cash reserves were low and limited cash withdrawals to US$355 a day.

The increased barricading and self-defence of key districts and, wherever possible, the arming of the demonstrators, combined with the general strike and a united front with the minority nationalities, could divide the generals and crack the discipline of the army. This is the only hope, but it is not a forlorn one; there are many reports not only of security personnel deserting to India but of joining the protest movement.

To maximise the resistance to the Tatmadaw, the democracy movement amongst the Bamar majority must openly recognise the right of self-determination of the other nationalities as an essential plank of their own programme for democracy.

What is certain is that non-violence or "moral force" will not tame the brutes that lead the Tatmadaw: nor will it break the discipline of the soldiers and police. These forces need to realise that the movement can win, is winning, and that they should join it, or they will have to answer for their actions to popular justice. Then discipline will crumble. The support of workers from neighbouring countries and around the world is also important. This should centre on workers' action to stop arms shipments and military cooperation, financial transfers or trade with the junta.

The crucial issue, in Myanmar as in the many spontaneous popular revolutions over the last two decades, is that the movement against the dictatorship, led by the youth and the workers, needs an organised political expression far bolder than the National League for Democracy and its tainted Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She and her government repeatedly indicated continuing support for the military as a national institution. In 2017, she shamefully refused to condemn the forced displacement of 723,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh and the detention of another 130,000 in squalid camps in Rakhine State.

The massive and heroic resistance to the coup in Myanmar, just like the mass popular uprisings in Egypt, Syria and a series of other countries over the past decade, shows that the military and the police forces are agents of tyranny over the very people they are supposed to defend. They need to be broken up and dissolved in the process of revolution and replaced by popular militias. Likewise, the big capitalists, both foreign and domestic, must be expropriated and the country’s industries, banks, agribusinesses, mines, etc. combined into a planned system of development, controlled by the workers' and peasants' organisations.

Last, but not least, should the revolution of 2021 tragically fail to break the power of the military and end with tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands fleeing into exile, the need for revolutionary communist organisation will be even more acute. It can be built by a huge layer of young militants like ‘Fox’ if they can draw the lessons, reject the cul-de-sac of a patriotism built on the Bamar majority ethnicity and pacifism and adopt the programme of permanent revolution, that is, an uninterrupted struggle from democracy to workers' and peasants' power in Myanmar and internationally.

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