How to Defeat Myanmar’s Military After the Coup 1

Elected legislators deposed in the February coup have a plan for building a new federal democratic union. We need help.

The people of Myanmar have been fighting for the life of our nation since the military, or Tatmadaw, seized power on Feb. 1. We have been protesting peacefully, risking our lives to protect neighborhoods, cities and towns — fighting not for any one political party, ethnic group or leader, but for freedom and a genuine federal democracy.

This is why those of us who were duly elected to office by the people of Myanmar, and who continue to act for their interests, are now asking for direct help.

Military and security personnel have killed more than 700 people, including dozens of children, and arrested, charged or sentenced more than 3,050. At first, they responded to the protests with wanton shootings, arrests, intimidation and property seizures. In recent days, they have ramped up the violence, deploying automatic weapons and heavy explosives. Last Friday, more than 80 people were killed in the city of Bago alone.

The Tatmadaw is occupying hospitals and schools, and threatening to seize banks. It is bombing rural areas, forcing civilians into caves and shelters or across the border with Thailand.

This is the behavior not of a legitimate government but of an army waging war on its own citizens.

In response, people from all generations, ethnicities, religions, genders, regions and economic groups have united, continually adapting their ways of opposing the mounting repression.

After the security forces ratcheted up the violence, demonstrators momentarily emptied the streets as a form of silent protest or spilled red paint onto roads to denounce the bloodletting. The Tatmadaw cuts off internet access in much of the country? People start distributing old-school printed tracts by hand.

This drive and resourcefulness point to a simple truth — a truth that only the Tatmadaw seems unable to grasp: The people of Myanmar will not accept a return to military rule.

On Feb. 5, just days after the coup, the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (or Parliament) was set up by more than 300 representatives from different political and ethnic parties who won posts in the November 2020 general election. (The Tatmadaw has tried to justify the coup and its decision to dissolve Parliament by claiming, without proof, electoral fraud.) The committee counts 17 members, 15 from the National League for Democracy, which won a vast majority of seats in November, and one each from parties representing two ethnic minorities, the Kayah State Party and the Palaung National Party.

The C.R.P.H. includes a vice president and five acting ministers. I was appointed minister of foreign affairs, and it is in that capacity that I addressed the U.N. Security Council during an informal meeting on April 9.

We, the C.R.P.H., alongside many people in Myanmar, are fighting back against the Tatmadaw by preventing it from consolidating power while trying to establish a unified governing authority. We seek direct help from the international community to accomplish these goals.

The Tatmadaw has outlawed the C.R.P.H., and so we work in hiding, cooperating with the civil disobedience movement that is leading the protests and the strikes, as well as ethnic political organizations, political parties and civil society groups.

We support the strikes by civil servants and private-sector workers, which are paralyzing government functions and economic activity, robbing the Tatmadaw of resources. But these measures are a hardship for many ordinary people, and to assist them, the C.R.P.H. and local communities have created committees to ensure the provision of water and food, electricity, public safety and health services.

On March 31, the C.R.P.H. announced the repeal of the 2008 Constitution, which was drafted by a previous junta, and proposed a Federal Democracy Charter, a road map for building a new federal democratic union of Myanmar — with a military subject to civilian oversight and greater representation for ethnic minority groups.

The document lays out a plan for setting up transitional institutions, particularly an interim government of national unity. Its drafting was the collective effort of the C.R.P.H., various ethnic groups, political parties, civil society organizations and leaders of the civil disobedience movement. It represents an unprecedented show of unity behind a vision for a new Myanmar.

We ask governments, particularly among our neighbors, to formally recognize the C.R.P.H. and its current government as Myanmar’s only legitimate governing authority and to provide us with financial and technical assistance.

The people of Myanmar are ready to take great risks and pay a great price for their rights and freedom. We ask the international community to support them, with coordinated political, financial and security measures.

In the face of the Tatmadaw’s escalating viciousness in recent weeks, we call on the United Nations, in collaboration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to immediately establish a humanitarian corridor to deliver aid into the country. We ask U.N. member states to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar, establish no-fly zones in border areas sheltering displaced people and work with Myanmar’s neighbors to assist any refugees, including members of the Karen minority in Thailand and the Rohingya in Bangladesh.

The Tatmadaw’s drive to take Myanmar back to dictatorship, isolation and poverty reveals its desperation. It has no objective beyond self-preservation and few tools aside from brutality. It has virtually no political base. The military-backed party won just 33 of the 498 seats in contest in Parliament in 2020. Dozens of Myanmar diplomats overseas have publicly refused to work with the Tatmadaw since the coup, most prominently Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations. Hundreds of police officers and soldiers have defected.

Both foreign governments and foreign private businesses can also help undermine the Tatmadaw’s fraudulent claims to power and significantly limit its revenue streams.

We thank the Biden administration for imposing sanctions on military officers and military companies, preventing the junta from withdrawing $1 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and suspending existing trade and investment arrangements “until the return of a democratically elected government.”

The European Union has also imposed sanctions on individuals involved in the coup; we call on other governments to follow suit, beyond simply condemning the violence.

Foreign banks should stop honoring financial transactions involving banks owned by the Myanmar military. We ask companies to heed the example set by the Japanese beer maker Kirin, which soon after the coup pulled out of a joint venture with Myanmar Economic Holdings, a company overseen by Myanmar’s commander in chief.

We are grateful to Britain for initiating the U.N. Security Council’s informal meeting on Myanmar last week. The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar is visiting Asia to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Some ASEAN leaders have proposed an emergency summit. We stand ready to participate in all such diplomatic efforts.

Myanmar has been under military rule for 50 of the 73 years that it has been an independent state. But the country does not belong to the military. It belongs to the people.

Zin Mar Aung, a former political prisoner, is an elected member of Parliament from Yankin Constituency, Myanmar, and the acting foreign minister of the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.

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