Christopher J. Walker reflects on the constant presence of soldiers and police, and the response of international bodies to the military repression in Myanmar.
Editor’s Note: This post is the ninth installment in an ongoing series, Chronicle of a Coup, comprised of reports written from within Myanmar by Christopher J. Walker (a pseudonym), a longtime resident, which together sketch one person’s first-hand account of the weeks and months following the February 1, 2021, military coup. A selection of his reports will be posted weekly, every Friday. A chronological archive is also available here.
Tea Circle is grateful to Christopher for sharing his personal account of life under military rule in Myanmar. Recognizing that his voice is one of many, we encourage other authors to submit their own accounts.
Cat and Mouse | April 27, 2021
I’ve previously written about the presence of soldiers and police, but here I’ll do so in more detail. I think that it might have been about three weeks ago that they were first billeted in our quarter, in a community hall less than 100 metres from my home. A day or two after that the General assigned to oversee our township convened a meeting of the elders of our quarter, most of whom did not show up. We learned later that during the meeting the General informed the few who did attend that there was nothing to worry about. The soldiers and police were our friends. They were only there to “protect” us, and that we should not be afraid to speak with them. You can imagine our profound relief at hearing these soothing words of solace and encouragement.
Not two or three days later all hell broke loose and the mayhem has continued daily until now. Night and day, 10 to 15 soldiers force their way into houses to search and arrest National League for Democracy supporters, as well as anyone taking part in the civil disobedience movement (CDM). Until a couple of days ago the soldiers were largely unsuccessful in arresting those they were seeking, so in some cases they simply chose a random relative or family member whom they held hostage until their intended quarry surrendered. At night they haphazardly go through the neighbourhood, stalking the streets with steel clubs, slingshots and rocks, screaming and shouting, damaging cars, battering house fronts, breaking glass (their favourite target), and indulging in other similar acts of vandalism and criminality. Curses and insults are sometimes hurled back, which makes them even more vicious.
And although I couldn’t see them, I could certainly hear. For 30 minutes they remained right below, the banging and crashing so loud that it sounded as if they were dismantling cars piece by piece.
The next day soldiers tried to remove the steel entrance gates of the adjacent apartment building, where one of my more valuable contacts was hiding. Fortunately they never got in, and despite orders for all residents to open up, no one did. They finally moved on down the street breaking into another building and questioning everyone. After that they carried on terrorizing and breaking windows, including almost all of them in a building where several infants live. At another apartment around the corner from us, a soldier hurled a brick through a window into a family’s meditation and shrine room containing their Buddha image, narrowly missing the tenant who was sitting meditating through the chaos.
During all this pandemonium we spotted an informer who was calling the soldiers’ attention to a suspicious flashlight beam in a darkened apartment. The building’s residents managed to hold them off long enough for some students who were hiding there to avoid capture by slipping away to the relative safety of an abandoned building in a nearby vacant lot.
During the daytime too these same acts of vandalism frequently occur, but the soldiers don’t always advertise their presence by cursing or throwing bricks through windows. Personally, this has the drawback of making writing all the more risky, because I don’t know if or when they’ll show up and, if they do, it doesn’t give me much time to conceal what needs to be unseen. It’s quite unnerving. As well as the downstairs entrance gate, I are now locking a second steel gate in front of my wooden door, which might afford me a few extra minutes should they attempt to break in.
On another note, after more than three months the metered electric bills are being delivered, but we know a number of people who toss them directly in the garbage. In one instance, someone removed all the bills from an entire apartment block and destroyed them. There is additional confusion because, in early February, we scrambled all the apartment numbers and addresses up and down the street, making it almost impossible to know where the bill, or anything, is actually supposed to be delivered. This has been done in many quarters, with a view to making the job of the soldiers and police all the more difficult. If they know the correct address of someone whom they want to arrest, they first have to figure out where it is among all the shuffled numbers. This has worked very well because it often offers enough time for their intended victims to escape while soldiers are searching the wrong apartments.
Five minutes ago we received word that, a few blocks from us, the doctor whom we’ve consulted for years has been arrested for the crime of assisting people involved in the CDM. I have to stop.
Strike, strike, strike! | April 27, 2021
I remember, as I was leaving my elementary school grounds one day, at 8 or 9 years of age, being stopped by some neighbourhood bullies. I must have left school late because, as I recall, I was alone when this happened and desperately frightened. I can’t recollect what they said to me, only how terrified I was. In looking up the hill to the road that I needed to take home, I suddenly saw a bicycle racing down toward us. As it got closer I could see that it was my brother coming to save me! While his bike was still in motion, and even before he reached us, he jumped off and within a second was face to face with my tormentors. He bellowed that, if ever they laid a hand on me, they would seriously regret it. And with that the bullies withered, ran away and never bothered me again. Somehow that’s how I thought the world would always be: whenever an innocent is being oppressed, someone would arrive to put a stop to it.
When I look up that hill today, sadly I don’t see anyone furiously pedalling down. I only see people being beaten tortured, mutilated, burned alive, sexually assaulted, and dying as they fall to the ground.
While some individual member states have initiated minor sanctions with little or no effect, the United Nations has essentially turned its back on the Burmese people. The Security Council deliberates, but its words are devoid of human emotion or urgent concern, and ultimately empty. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) debated for months and finally issued a five-point statement of consensus, and afterward General Min Aung Hlaing, the Tatmadaw’s representative and Murderer-in-Chief, was seen smiling and laughing when he returned home.
This is exactly how people here predicted ASEAN would act, and how the General would react. No more than a few hours after the ASEAN meeting concluded, three more Burmese were shot and killed while peaceably protesting. Myanmar is utterly alone and few seem to care, or care enough to do anything meaningful. The Burmese people, therefore, have no alternative but to continue their resistance, not only throughout Myanmar but now also against ASEAN as well.
To be clear, the struggle is directed against the governments of the ASEAN member states and not their citizens, many of whom have been very supportive of the civil disobedience movement here. When the Burmese people eventually win through, it will take years for the ASEAN region to recover from largely ignoring the current instability that the Myanmar military has inflicted on the region, and for ASEAN itself to regain any credibility. The Burmese people, however, continue to demonstrate their power, and remain on strike, STRIKE, STRIKE!
Senators! Urgent SOS | April 28, 2021
Dear American Senators Booker, Collins, Durbin, Markey, Merkley and Rubio,
I am writing to you this morning from Myanmar. Last night, after yet another day of terror at the hands of the military regime, and just before I passed out in bed from fear and utter exhaustion, your proposed bill, calling for sanctions against oil and gas companies doing business with the Tatmadaw, was brought to my attention. When I awoke this morning I immediately went to the internet (I am among the lucky few who still have access at certain times of the day) to see what I could learn about it. I immediately came across this press release from the office of Senator Rubio.
After reading it 30 minutes ago, I am still in tears. People in Myanmar feel so alone, feel that the world has forgotten them, but it is clear from your press release that not quite everyone has. I cannot begin to thank you for your proposed bill, and feel certain that you will do everything in your power to see that it is quickly passed in the U.S. Congress.
It is unconscionable that oil and gas companies like Chevron and Total are permitted to continue funding this barbaric regime by doing business with them. Every day, money from oil and gas extraction is used to purchase weapons to torture and kill Burmese people. These companies think only of their profits, but fail to see, or choose to ignore, the fact that they are complicit in the Tatmadaw’s unrelenting criminality.
The U.N. meanwhile appears to have fallen comfortably asleep, unencumbered by the anxiety that afflicts the Burmese every night. At its last meeting, members of the U.N. Security Council read statements into the record that were sadly devoid of any sentiment or pressing concern, as if they were reciting the contents of a phone book. They certainly seem not to comprehend the daily horrors faced here.
ASEAN too recently held a meeting, to which the elected representatives of the people of Myanmar were not invited. Sitting among the heads of state was a mass murderer, Tatmadaw General Min Aung Hlaing. Sadly, they lacked the backbone to immediately arrest him for his atrocious crimes against humanity. Instead, they engaged him in an absolutely meaningless confab. At its conclusion he was allowed to return safely home where, as seen in photos, he laughed off the meeting. The next day he blatantly defied ASEAN by stating that he would “consider” their five points of consensus after peace and stability had returned to the country. This is insane.
At least you six Senators have clearly not forgotten Myanmar, and in thinking of your action I can barely control my tears of deep gratitude.
Every day, blameless Myanmar citizens are terrorized by thugs in uniform who break into their homes and steal anything of value. Every day, soldiers continue to kidnap, arrest, beat and torture innocent people. They assault, sexually abuse, and gang-rape women and girls, molest innocent 17-year-old children, toss wounded demonstrators onto open fires and burn them to death. Every day, in numerous other ways, they wantonly commit murder.
And every day, people continue to fight back in an attempt to protect themselves. With no weapons other than their pots and pans, spray paint, sling shots, and the occasional Roman candle, they are attempting to take on a well trained and well armed military machine. In their struggle, the Burmese people desperately need help from others, and wonder why so few in the worldwide community of nations are taking a meaningful stand against these atrocities.
People here are on their knees, begging you, not in your capacity as American Senators but as human beings with a moral conscience, to pursue the adoption of these sanctions as quickly as possible. With every day that goes by, more people will be abused, tortured and killed. According to the old adage, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with the help of every well motivated Senator, this bill can be passed in a single day. We are encouraged by the fact that this bill is bipartisan. Anyone who argues against it should know that they will have Burmese blood on their hands, as does every corporation that persists in doing business with the Tatmadaw. We believe that businesses that continue to engage financially with the Burmese military have surrendered their morals in exchange for profits.
All too often we hear various government officials declare that additional sanctions will only hurt the ordinary Burmese citizen. That is nothing but an empty platitude used to protect commercial interests, while the Burmese citizen is left to bleed in the streets. We cannot think of a single sanction that could be implemented that will hurt the Burmese any more than what they currently undergo each and every day.
I beg you to pursue the passing of this bill, more so with your hearts than as a political matter, and to sanction these corporations with the greatest urgency. Please, please, please HELP! Thank you so much for not forgetting the citizens of Myanmar and their yearning for democracy.
For our safety, I close as
Christopher J Walker (pseudonym) has called Myanmar home for a number of years. He thanks his friend and editor Mathieu Lukas for his assistance in preparing these reports for safe and timely publication.