ASIA/MYANMAR - Violence and poverty in a never-ending conflict

Friday, 14 June 2024 human rights   civil war  

Yangon (Agenzia Fides) - Myanmar is the most violent place in the world, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). The international, non-profit and independent organization collects, classifies and analyzes data on conflicts in all countries and territories of the world. The civil conflict, which began in February 2021 when the army overthrew the democratically elected government, has claimed at least 50,000 lives, including at least 8,000 civilians, and displaced about 2.3 million people (UN data), according to ACLED. It is a conflict that Pope Francis does not fail to mention in his appeals for peace: "Let us not forget Myanmar and so many other countries at war," he urged in his last general audience on June 12.
While the broad resistance front has achieved significant successes in the border areas (which are also strategic for trade), the center of Myanmar and the big cities remain strongholds of the military. Seven months after the infamous "Operation 1027" - an attack by the "Three Brotherhood Alliance" and its allies - the bloody conflict continues. Operation 1027 captured dozens of strategic positions and forced around 4,000 soldiers to surrender. The offensive spread from Shan State to Karenni State and then to Arakan State and Kachin, Chin and Karen States.
According to an analysis by the Myanmar Peace Monitor, while the resistance has achieved strategic successes, it does not have a coordinated alliance under the National Unity Government (NUG) as many had hoped. That is, the opposition front against the regime is fragmented between the People's Defense Forces (PDF) and the ethnic armed organizations that continue to fight with the one common interest of overthrowing the junta. There is neither a coordinated command structure nor a solid political agreement. In recent months, resistance forces have captured a total of 55 cities, but claims that the military controls less than 40% of the country seem to distort reality: in fact, central Myanmar, from the Irrawaddy Delta to Mandalay, remains under the firm control of the junta. In Naypyidaw, Yangon, Mandalay and the main cities, life is "normal", even if electricity supplies are reduced to a minimum. The ongoing conflict is having a serious impact on the economy and increasing poverty. In its latest "Myanmar Economic Monitor", the World Bank forecasts that Myanmar's gross domestic product will grow by just 1% in the financial year ending March 2025. The situation has deteriorated significantly over the past year since the junta seized control of many of the country's key border crossings and overland trade routes to China, Bangladesh and India. Displacement, job losses and loss of income have undone much of the progress made so far in reducing poverty, the report said, pointing to "a very weak economic outlook that will provide little relief to Myanmar families in the short to medium term." In addition, conscription, introduced by the junta in February to replenish the army's increasingly depleted ranks, "has increased migration to rural areas and abroad and widened labor shortages in some sectors of the economy," the report said.
Since the coup in 2021, the international community has imposed economic sanctions to limit the ability of military generals to enrich themselves from natural resources and the companies they control, but the military evades these sanctions by selling timber, mainly to India and China. The military's mismanagement has led to an economic crisis for a large part of the population, with poverty rates set to double compared to March 2020. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights notes, almost half of the population now lives in poverty and the rural population is at risk of starvation as the military continues to restrict access to areas affected by violence and conflict. To make matters worse, key supply routes and waterways are blocked across the country, preventing aid workers from reaching 17.6 million people in need. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 14/6/2024)