Myanmar’s Struggle for Freedom Three Years After the Military Coup

Myanmar’s Struggle for Freedom Three Years After the Military Coup

Three years after the failed military coup in Myanmar, there is genuine hope within the country for democratic resistance. By the end of 2023 and into the beginning of 2024, Myanmar reached a turning point, with significant successes achieved by the revolutionary movement, particularly on the battlefield. For the first time since the coup, there is a growing possibility that the resistance movement may prevail against the military dictatorship.

Three years after the military coup, approximately 17.6 million people in Myanmar are facing a humanitarian emergency, and 2.6 million people are homeless. The military has been responsible for the deaths of over 4,500 people, including about 500 children. In addition, more than 26,000 individuals have been detained, with 20,000 still languishing in prison.

While the struggle in Myanmar is tragic, marked by a great deal of brutality and significant loss of life, it is also deeply inspiring. The previously deeply divided nation with various ethnic groups has united against the military, which illegally seized power on February 1, 2021. Likely driven by a combination of the military’s significant electoral defeat (in the form of a pro-military party, composed of formed generals) and the personal aspirations of coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the military arrested most of the country’s civilian leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and halted all democratic processes, in order to install a new government, a military junta under the name State Administration Council (SAC). At first, the people of Myanmar faced daunting odds. However, they persevered, and now, three years later, we see the balance of power beginning to shift in their favor.

The prospect of overcoming the junta seemed bleak in the aftermath of the coup, as the military seemed poised to violently suppress the initially non-violent protests that eventually escalated into armed defense. For the first two years, the resistance movement struggled to survive, clinging on despite the military’s vast advantage, eventually reaching a tipping point where the coup leaders could not quash the resistance, yet the resistance could not overcome the junta.

The year 2023 brought a change to this situation: the first half of the year saw an improvement on the side of the revolutionary forces compared to previous years but without major victories. It was only in the second half of the year that the situation changed significantly. With Operation 1027, named after the date of its start – October 27, 2023 –it seems for the first time that the revolutionary forces may eventually emerge victorious.

The duration of this process, however, remains uncertain and will depend on a number of factors, including internal, regional, and international dynamics. Key external players that can influence events in Myanmar include China, Thailand, and India, three neighboring countries. China deserves special attention because it has been extensively involved in Myanmar’s affairs for decades and is known for its ability to turn violence in Myanmar’s border regions on and off like a switch, depending on China’s needs. Moreover, the 2017 Operation has had a strong impact on Myanmar’s relations with China.

For months, China’s central government pleaded with the SAC to crack down on cross-border cyber scam syndicates run primarily by Chinese criminals from guarded compounds on the Myanmar side of the border, controlled by local warlords, but to no avail. Then came the solution for China in the form of Operation 1027, essentially greenlighted by Beijing. In the short term, cracking down on scam centers took precedence over peace on the border. Publicly, China called for a de-escalation of the conflict.

In October 2023, the Three Brotherhood Alliance, composed of three ethnic armed organizations joined by the people’s defense forces, known as PDFs (armed units formed post-coup to resist the military regime and recognized by the National Unity Government, the parallel legitimate government formed by representatives elected in the 2020 elections), launched an operation with a dual objective: to eliminate the scam syndicates operating in the region and to confront and defeat the military dictatorship. The first objective led to the liberation of numerous compounds, with the return of the enslaved, mostly Chinese, to their homes. The second objective resulted in unprecedented battlefield losses for the Myanmar military. The second outcome was unexpected by China, as the Myanmar military suffered unprecedented battlefield losses, highlighting the effectiveness and impact of the operation.

Operation 1027, which is still ongoing, has emerged as the most significant threat to the military regime since the coup. The alliance has successfully blocked the junta’s access to the northern part of Shan State, seized key cities and town in the region, and gained control of the Myanmar-China border, thereby disrupting the lucrative border trade (which had previously funneled cash into the hands of the junta). Throughout these developments, China mediated talks between the military and the alliance (with the primary goal of averting a prolonged disruption of border trade). However, the negotiated ceasefires have been tenuous, with numerous instances of breakdown.

There is an interesting dual dependency and influence at play. Operation 1027 was made possible by the broader resistance movement in Myanmar, as the junta has been under attack by a national uprising in various towns across the country over the last three years. This further stretched the junta’s already thinning forces. In turn, Operation 1027 not only capitalized on this weakening of the junta, but also served to significantly strengthen the revolutionary forces in other parts of Myanmar, such as Chin, Kachin, Karen, Sagaing, and Magway. The revolutionary forces in these areas accelerated and began to occupy military bases. As a result, the army suffered losses as several bases fell and many soldiers were detained.

While serious battles between the military and the resistance movement continue, one thing is certain: there is no turning back at this point. At present, everything in Myanmar revolves around the removal of the junta’s cruel rule and, more broadly, the removal of the military’s influence from the country’s political landscape. The entire population shares the belief that the continued existence of a military junta in society is untenable. A return to a compromise situation in the form of a hybrid regime, similar to that of the 2010s, in which the military wields significant political power alongside the civilian government, is not a realistic solution for Myanmar’s future. While the people of Myanmar believe that victory is within reach, it remains to be seen how long this process actually takes – it could be years before we see a real change. But for now, we can look at it through a lens of hope.

The article was originally published by Reset Dialogues.


Kristina Kironska
Kristina Kironska

Advocacy Director

Key Topics

Aung San Suu KyiMin Aung HlaingMyanmar Military CoupOperation 1027MyanmarChina


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