Myanmar is on the brink of “state failure” as the military regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors and other civilians creates a “hard stop” on economic activity that will drive millions into poverty, a prominent conflict-monitoring watchdog warned the United Nations (UN) Security Council Friday.
“This is not hyperbole or rhetoric. It is my sober assessment of a likely path forward,” Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar with the International Crisis Group, warned the 15 council members at an informal meeting.
Despite the junta’s determination to impose its will through bloodshed, he said, people continue to strike and demonstrate in the streets, arresting a significant portion of the country’s economic activity and spooking investors.
“Army violence is not effective at convincing scared bank staff or truck drivers to return to work. Violence cannot restore business confidence,” Horsey said. “A military rampage on the streets and in the homes of Yangon and Mandalay and other towns appears a desperate attempt to terrorize the population into submission; instead, it has created chaos. Various forms of violent urban resistance to the regime are also emerging.”
More than 600 people have been killed by security forces since a Feb. 1 military coup unseated the government led by de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-profit human-rights group. Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said authorities have “increasingly resorted to heavy weaponry such as rocket-propelled and fragmentation grenades, heavy machine guns, and snipers to kill demonstrators in massive numbers.”
The actions of the regime are not just morally reprehensible, he said, but they are also “extremely dangerous,” creating a situation where the country becomes “ungovernable.” And while the “precise contours” of state failure are hard to predict, its trajectory has been “alarming.”
The banking system, Horsey said, has been at a “virtual standstill” for the past two months, which means businesses can’t make or receive payments, individuals cannot access cash and payrolls aren’t being processed. Supply chains, too, are breaking down as most imports and exports have ground to a halt and customs staff and port workers go on strike. Containers are backed up at the docks, domestic haulage has mostly stopped and imports of essential agricultural inputs have slowed, Horsey said.
Not to mention, at least 40 Chinese-invested factories have been smashed, torched or vandalized amid a growing wave of anti-Chinese sentiment. Coupled with Myanmar’s human-rights record, economic recovery could be long and arduous.
’We expect the coup to damage Myanmar’s economic recovery plans and erase foreign investor interest,” Kaho Yu, principal Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk-management firm, told Sourcing Journal. “Alongside the Rohingya crisis, a troubling human rights record, safety concerns and political uncertainties in the wake of the coup will make it hard to source in Myanmar due to worsening [environmental, social and governance] risks.”
The coup, Yu said, has “placed Chinese projects directly at risk and threatens Beijing’s economic interests in the country.” China may resume efforts to integrate Myanmar into its “economic orbit” once the turmoil dies now, but the current political uncertainty will certainly result in major business disruptions.
’While Chinese companies in Myanmar are reportedly pulling out non-essential staff, it remains unclear if the military government will honor or renegotiate the Chinese projects and agreements previously approved by [Aung San] Suu Kyi’s administration,” he added.
Meanwhile, Horsey said, Myanmar’s health system is hanging on by a thread, with many hospitals either shuttered or annexed by soldiers as operating bases. With several ethnic armed groups breaking old ceasefires as they’re drawn into renewed conflict with the army, armed violence is also on the rise.
“It needs to be acknowledged that much of Myanmar’s natural wealth is in the hands of unregulated actors,” Horsey said. “Over recent years, the civilian government has had little success in asserting its control over them. If the center implodes as a result of the army’s misguided and heavy-handed response to the protests, criminal economic forces could be unleashed that would be impossible to contain.”
In short, the “glue that has long held the fractured country together,” Horsey cautioned, is “coming unstuck” and there is “every justification” for the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the regime.
“The world faces the prospect of chaotic state failure in a country with myriad armed groups, a large and well-equipped military that is unlikely to capitulate, and a huge illicit economy backed by transnational criminal organizations that will exploit the situation as they have done for years,” Horsey said. “All this will have immediate consequences for the region, and will have an impact on international peace and security.”
Zin Mar Aung, who serves as acting foreign minister for a group of ousted lawmakers known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or CRPH, told Friday’s meeting that UN member nations must increase political, financial and security measures against the Burmese military “until the military’s violent attacks on civilians stop and Myanmar returns to the rule of law under civilian and democratic rule.”
Myanmar’s envoy to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, reiterated that “strong and urgent” action was needed from the Security Council and urged the declaration of a no-fly zone to prevent further bloodshed caused by military strikes on civilian areas. “Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” he said. “Time is of the essence for us. Please, please take action.”
Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital of Naypyitaw Friday that protests against its takeover were flagging since “people want peace” and that it would hold “free and fair” elections within two years. He also said that the country was returning to normal and government ministries and banks would soon resume business as usual.
“The reason of reducing protests is due to [the] cooperation of people who want peace, which we value,” Zaw Min Tun said. “We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them.”
But Zin Mar Aung said the military has ramped up armed violence in the past two weeks in ethnic states such as Karen, Shan and Kachin. Before Friday’s meeting, military forces deployed live munitions, including rocket-propelled grenades, to attack civilians in Bago Township in south-central Myanmar.
The Security Council has unanimously called for a reversal of the military coup in Myanmar, condemned the junta’s violence against peaceful protesters and appealed for “utmost restraint” by the military. It has also expressed support for Myanmar’s democratic transition and the “need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and uphold the rule of law.”
Requests that military leaders allow the UN special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, to visit without preconditions have so far remained unheeded, it noted.
On Wednesday, Dr. Sasa, a special envoy of Myanmar’s ousted civilian government to the UN, warned that a civil war was nigh if the international community failed to stop the Burmese military from seizing power and killing civilians.
“The bloodbath is real. It is coming, more people will die. I am afraid,” Dr. Sasa said on CNN. “It is the time for the world to prevent another genocide, another ethnic cleansing, another massacre, so the world has the power to stop it before it’s too late.”