Myanmar has become a global flashpoint as violence escalates. Here's what to know

Key Points
  • The Myanmar military has shutdown broadband internet services in the latest of numerous crackdowns on protestors since the Feb. 1 coup.
  • On Sunday, more than 100 people died in the bloodiest day since the coup began. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the estimated death toll to date is 536, though the actual number is likely higher, AAPP said.

In this article

A protester stands near a burning makeshift barricade during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon.
STR | AFP | Getty Images

Myanmar has descended into chaos as protestors show no signs of backing down against the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy party head. The protestors have been met with brutal force.

A U.N. special envoy warned of an imminent "bloodbath" if the military doesn't end its brutal crackdown, which has taken the lives of hundreds so far.

In the latest move, the military has shutdown broadband internet services, according to Reuters.

The military is killing peaceful protestors

Local reports from Myanmar, say protestors are getting slain in the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay, currently under martial law. May Wong, a journalist covering the crisis, posted a graphic video of the carnage.

Violence across the country has spread beyond the main cities. A 13-year-old boy was killed near the Thai border in southwest Myanmar.

On Sunday, more than 100 people died in the bloodiest day since the coup began. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the estimated death toll to date is 536, though the actual number is likely higher, AAPP said.

Strong, unified message needed, says Myanmar's special envoy to the UN
Strong, unified message needed, says Myanmar's special envoy to the UN

Violence against ethnic minorities has risen as well. The Karen National Union, a political organization in southeast Myanmar with an armed wing, claimed its Karen people were attacked by Myanmar army fighter jets in late-night airstrikes, according to Reuters. The attack breaches a 2015 cease-fire agreement.

Several ethnic minority groups are now teaming up to fight back against the country's junta. Three forces in the country, including the Arakan Army have vowed to form an alliance and conduct a "spring revolution" if the violence doesn't stop, Reuters reported.

"We have no other options left but to confront these serious threats posed by the illegitimate military junta's army in order to defend our territory, our Karen peoples and their self-determination rights," read a KNU statement from March 30.

The crisis started with a coup to overturn an election

In November elections, Suu Kyi's NLD won enough seats to form a government, but the Myanmar military, citing irregularities, contested the results.

On Feb. 1, the military ousted the seated government, detaining Suu Kyi and other NLD party members. Since then, Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally importing walkie-talkies and a natural disaster violation for breaching Covid-19 protocols.

Most recently, she was hit with an official secrets act charge, the most serious to date. If convicted, the prison sentence could be as much as 14 years. According to a Myanmar free expression website, the law "was created by the British colonial government in 1923 to criminalize the sharing of almost any kind of information held by the government."

Do economic sanctions work?
Do economic sanctions work?

Local media reported more than 600 detainees were released after being charged with various alleged infractions in attempts to appease protestors. Suu Kyi and party members remain behind bars.

Myanmar is no stranger to military rule. The country was run by the totalitarian Burma Socialist Programme Party for much of the last century. The country is also known as Burma.

In 1988, a student-led revolution against the military became a nationwide movement with Suu Kyi emerging as its leader. In 1990, Suu Kyi's NLD won the country's general election, the first since 1960, but the military placed the elected officials under house arrest. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Suu Kyi remained in some form of detention for nearly 15 years. In 2015, in Myanmar's first democratic elections in 25 years, she led her party to victory.

Her international reputation has suffered in recent years after she defended Myanmar military's ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority. But she remains popular among the country's Buddhist majority.

The U.S. and its allies have imposed sanctions

The U.S. and European Union have imposed sanctions on military officials connected to the junta. In addition, the U.S. and U.K. placed sanctions on local companies that provide resources to the military.

In its most recent action, the U.S. suspended a trade deal with Myanmar until the elected government is brought back to power.

Canada and Australia have placed bans on the purchase and exportation of arms to and from Myanmar.

Several other countries including Japan, France and Thailand have suspended aid to Myanmar and have halted business operations within the country.

There are calls for UN sanctions, but China and Russia could stand in the way

The United Nations has yet to introduce sanctions against Myanmar. Several individuals in high-ranking positions have spoken out about the ongoing violence.

The U.N.'s envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, called on the Security Council on Wednesday to take collective action, warning that "a bloodbath is imminent" in Myanmar.

The U.N. in a tweet recommended its employees leave the country temporarily.

A group of more than 130 human rights organizations and nonprofit groups have called for the Security Council and U.N. member states to impose a global arms embargo against Myanmar.

However, Russia and China sit on the Security Council and hold veto power over any U.N. effort to impose sanctions or embargoes.

The Security Council issued a statement in early March which called on the military to exercise restraint and expressed support for Myanmar's democratic transition. However, Russia, China, India and Vietnam requested the removal of the word "coup" and the threat of further action, according to Reuters.

China has been largely neutral as it holds close ties with both the ousted NLD and the military junta. However, Chinese interests would be threatened by sanctions on Myanmar's resources, mining and energy companies, according to the Institut Montaigne, a French nonprofit think tank.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin met with Myanmar Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw in an effort to strengthen ties with the military, according to Reuters. Fomin said Myanmar was a strategic partner and ally, despite clear human rights abuses.