Politics, World, Analysis, Asia - Pacific

OPINION - The day Myanmar's Tatmadaw or armed forces died

Saturday's mass murder left people of Myanmar with no choice, but to denounce their army

Maung Zarni  | 29.03.2021 - Update : 29.03.2021
OPINION - The day Myanmar's Tatmadaw or armed forces died

* The author is coordinator of the UK-based Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia, and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia.


Amid the widely reported and loudly condemned massacre of over 100 unarmed protesters and civilians in Myanmar on Saturday, something historically unprecedented took place. That is, the Tatmadaw, or the country’s national armed forces, died as a national institution.

Indeed, it died in the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of 54 million Myanmar people as evidenced in social media comments, Burmese language news reports, Facebook lives and international news reports and interviews with ordinary citizens and multiple ethnic armed resistance organizations.

Internationally, in a rare public statement, the chiefs of defense services of 12 democratic countries, including Japan and the Republic of Korea, strongly condemned the Myanmar military for its senseless mass murder of civilians to whom all national militaries have sworn to protect.

In a separate move, the chiefs of defense forces of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore echoed this 12-chiefs’ joint statement, which reads: "As Chiefs of Defense, we condemn the use of lethal force against unarmed people by the Myanmar Armed Forces and associated security services. A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting – not harming – the people it serves. We urge the Myanmar Armed Forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions."

It is beyond absurd to read the news reports of its head Min Aung Hlaing telling the annual parade on the Armed Forces Day (March 27) how his troops were protecting the people, while concurrently the men in green uniform were killing with blanket impunity not just defiant anti-coup protesters but also children playing in parks and playgrounds in 44 different cities and towns across the country.

On March 27, 1945, the army’s founding commander Maj. Gen. Aung San delivered a very brief coded anti-Fascist speech to a small band of Burma Defence Army (BDA) in the parade ground at the foot of Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon’s most famous landmark, and joined the Allied Forces in the fight against Japan’s Fascist forces in Burma, and across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

During Gen. Ne Win’s one-party military dictatorship half-century ago, the military leaders misappropriated this Anti-Fascist Resistance Day as the Armed Forces Day having airbrushed the contributions and roles of other historical actors such as Burmese Communists, Socialists and western liberals who forged a broad-based resistance against the common enemy of Japanese Fascist occupier.

In a significant twist of irony, this history of anti-Fascist resistance is repeated Saturday on the streets of Myanmar, and in the social media realm: the hashtag that was trending among Myanmar Twitter users was #AntiFascistRevolution2021 and the un-named Fascists that Myanmar people revolt against are the Burmese Armed Forces, once a source of pride, a people’s weapon against Fascist and British occupiers.

The most galling image that was widely circulated on social media was the screenshot image of the head of this new Fascist occupying force Min Aung Hlaing, in white tuxedo, hosting the dinner party as the entire society reeled from the deep pain and rage over the mass-murder of 114 citizens, the youngest barely 7 years old.

After the day-time parade where Russian- and Chinese-made military hardware such as tanks, fighter jets and missiles were put on display, the military chief hosted this lavish evening occasion attended by only eight military and diplomatic delegations -- all immediate neighbors such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, China and India.

The Russian deputy defense minister also joined the occasion, who flew in from Moscow to receive high honors and a ceremonial sword from Fascist chief Min Aung Hlaing the day before “the Armed Forces Day.” The two were seen on Myanmar TV examining a display of CocaCola bottles filled with gasoline and pieces of cotton as “fuses”, slingshots, and sticks - “weapons” that some of the protesters used to fight back well-trained and well-armed infantry divisions deployed to crush the nationwide protests.

While China is the most important political patron and protector of Myanmar military in international fora, most significantly at the Security Council, Russia, Pakistan and India have played a vital role as trainers of Myanmar military officers in various military sciences including weapons engineering, intelligence, and so on. Perhaps the greatest number of Myanmar's Ministry of Defense has established contracts with its Russian counterpart in Moscow to provide young Burmese military officers with advanced military training in Russia, while Myanmar military academies set up Russian language departments staffed with scores of Russian instructors.

As a matter of fact, Myanmar’s coup regime is confident, with good reasons, of the unconditional support from Myanmar’s immediate neighbors – all of them authoritarian and/or military-controlled autocratic regimes – and global powers such as Russia and China.

Against loud and repeated worldwide condemnations of the military junta these dodgy external actors sent their representatives to lend the increasingly isolated murderous regime in Naypyidaw political and diplomatic support, recognition and endorsement.

There is then little wonder that Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, “Deputy Senior General” Soe Win, simply shrugged off the warning from the UN delivered by UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener when she spoke to him on the phone on Feb. 15. Obviously, Myanmar military leaders did not think much of UN’s “severe consequences” for its unprofessional and murderous handling of the unarmed civilian protest movement against the universally unpopular coup of Feb. 1. Without any concrete threats of accountability for Myanmar military’s crimes against humanity being committed day and night or even written condemnations rang hollow without any effective actions, inconceivable without veto-abstention from Russia and China.

Lamentably but not-un-expectedly, the international community – specifically the Security Council, regional blocs such as the Association of South East Asia, or pro-human rights global powers – have not been able to come up with the kind of coordinated intervention, including militarily, to end the national defense force of a UN member state, terrorizing its citizenry, day and night over the last nine consecutive weeks.

A silver lining – if that – several of the leaders of Myanmar’s best armed ethnic organizations such as Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army - South (RCSS) and Arakan Army openly talked of joining forces to attack the common enemy, namely Myanmar’s former national armed forces.

Gen. Yawd Serk, Shan leader and chair of the RCSS, captured the prevailing public sentiment when he told Reuters on the country’s Anti-Fascist Resistance Day, “we need to join hands and hurt those that are hurting the people.”

Already the Karen National Liberation Army, the oldest ethnic armed movement (drawn from Karen minority group which launched its armed revolt against the central state just months after the country’s independence from Britain in 1948), captured a military stronghold of Myanmar troops killing a dozen and taking 15 surrendered troops as prisoners on Saturday.

Today the junta launched air strikes against the Karen villages along the Thai-Burmese borders in retaliation for their humiliating defeat while the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing was giving his self-laudatory annual parade address to the thousands of troops in Naypyidaw.

Given the mass-murderous acts against even its own ethnic majority Bama and Buddhist population, it is simply inconceivable for these men in general’s uniform “to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions”, as jointly exhorted by chiefs of national defense services from 12 countries.

At home, Myanmar’s majoritarian Burmese and virtually all ethnic minority communities speak now in unison when they say loudly and unequivocally the central national defense force has morphed into nothing but a cross between mafia and a fascist-like occupier.

As the clearest sign of the looming all-out civil war, young protesters -- known as Generation Z -- have after nine weeks of sustained defiance concluded that their peaceful protests in the face of such inhuman, but well-armed occupier, are not going to achieve what the country needs and now clamor for a federal democracy in an inclusive society.

Under their new rallying slogan “No Federal Army, No Federal Democracy” hundreds of them are already undergoing military training under the patronages of different ethnic armed organizations, and preparing for what everyone knows as the inevitable urban guerrilla war.

Their call for the founding of the Federal Army has been met with welcome endorsement from the society at large and equally important the existing armed resistance groups across the country, which control vast territories particularly in the country’s borderlands.

Myanmar military had traditionally based its national defense strategy on the doctrine of (supportive/patriotic) People’s Defense. But its terroristic handling of pro-democracy protests over the last two months have beyond repair turned the entire country against it. Foremost on the Burmese public mind is to fight, defeat and dismantle the Tatmadaw.

Fittingly, many Burmese reclaimed March 27 as Anti-Fascist Resistance Day, and mock Saturday’s military parade in Naypyidaw as Tatmadaw Athuba or the Funeral of Myanmar’s once nationalist defense force.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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