By Duncan Bartlett for the Dhaka Tribune

The generals who have staged a coup in Myanmar claim they intend to impose a state of emergency for one year.

This would be a disaster not only for Myanmar, but also for the region.

A robust international effort is therefore required immediately to try to ensure that repressive laws are repealed and all political prisoners are released unconditionally.

The military’s role in Myanmar’s affairs goes far beyond security and defense. The UN has said the military campaign against the Rohingya included mass killing, rape, and arson, and was carried out with “genocidal intent.”

In 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh; fear of the army is preventing their return. If the military tightens control, it would only further Rohingya misery and increase the pressure on their patient hosts.

Bangladesh and Myanmar’s other neighbours have a lot to lose from the outcome of the coup, but they cannot act alone to overturn it.

A robust and coordinated international response is required. This should include a global arms embargo, agreed through the Permanent Security Council of the United Nations.

The UK already has its own arms embargo, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said the US “will take action against those responsible” if the military’s moves are not soon reversed.

China has previously opposed international intervention in Myanmar. 

However, China has urged all sides to resolve their differences, so behind the scenes, it needs to warn the coup leaders of the crisis they have created.

If the military doesn’t budge, the US, UK, and the EU should quickly impose sanctions on Myanmar. This would have a big impact on its economy. A similar military coup in Thailand in 2014 stalled social and economic progress for years.

Since the coup, the military has tried to silence the press and shut down debate. This is typical of authoritarians who lack legitimacy and support.

Given both the security situation and the health risks linked to Covid, it is dangerous for international correspondents to get inside Myanmar to see what is happening. 

However, there is nothing wrong with concerned individuals, organizations, and governments speaking out. We know from past experience that the military does sometimes bow to pressure. Indeed, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest following an international campaign.

She is once again being held on trumped up charges. Admittedly, her role in the Rohingya crisis has tarnished her reputation, but she still should be freed and treated as an elected leader.

Min Aung Hlaing is not the people’s choice. He has miscalculated by seizing power. He has put himself and his nation at risk. Now is the time for the international community to make that clear to him.

Duncan Bartlett is the Editor, Asian Affairs, and a Research Associate at SOAS China Institute, University of London.

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