On Monday 1 February, Myanmar’s army took control of the country, detaining democratically elected leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who had won a landslide election victory in November. This includes President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.‘There are no reports of violence, but we hear of some demonstrations taking place. We hear the military are not out in force but they have taken over the airport and key places.’ shares Veena O’Sullivan, who oversees Tearfund’s work in Asia.
A one-year state of emergency has been declared, and a curfew is currently in place, with the army patrolling streets.
‘While we don’t know too much about what is happening outside Yangon [the largest city], it’s been unfolding slowly that phone connections and the internet were shut down, but has since been restored, so people in the country have been struggling to find out what is going on. They were asking on the streets if anyone knew why the phones weren’t working. Banks were closed, and ATMs were inaccessible.’
The country was under military rule until 2011. There have been strong responses from the international community, including talks on sanctions. However, history shows that this could have all kinds of impact for the most vulnerable people in the country.
Tearfund has reached out to its staff and local partners, who are safe. ‘Our Myanmar team has plans in place to support one another and we have daily check-ins to ensure they are well,’ shares Veena.
‘We will need to see how the situation unfolds, and it’s changing all the time,’ says Veena. ‘It’s hard to know what to prepare for, so we are just preparing for all kinds of scenarios.
‘This can feel really scary. Some of the younger members in the team haven’t experienced the brutality of a military take over in the past, so for them it’s a shock and it’s happened really quickly. For older members in the team who have been through this before, it brings up memories of how the country was, and that is a different kind of fear.’
Crisis upon crisis
This crisis has come at a time when fighting has broken out afresh between different ethnic groups across the country. Groups which have been largely peaceful since the military government ruled more than a decade ago, until now. Myanmar is also facing a difficult time with the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s estimated that one million people in conflict-affected areas in Myanmar needed humanitarian assistance before military rule was established again this week.
‘Conflict was spreading in pockets across the country. Meanwhile we were busy with our coronavirus response, targeting the most vulnerable and those who had been displaced. The coup makes this a really difficult situation for us to deal with, and for our partners to face.’
‘We would love your prayer support for peace. Peace sounds like an extraordinary thing to ask for, but I think we have to ask the extraordinary of an extraordinary God.’