Late last month, foreign officials in army regalia toasted their hosts in Naypyidaw, the bunkered capital built by Myanmar’s military. Ice clinked in frosted glasses. A lavish spread had been laid out for the foreign dignitaries in honor of Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day.
That very day, the military, which had seized power on Feb. 1, gunned down more than 100 of its own citizens. Far from publicly condemning the brutality, the military representatives from neighboring countries — India, China, Thailand and Vietnam among them — posed grinning with the generals, legitimizing their putsch.
The coup in Myanmar feels like a relic of a Southeast Asian past, when men in uniform roamed a vast dictators’ playground. But it also brings home how a region once celebrated for its transformative “people power” revolutions — against Suharto of Indonesia and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines — has been sliding back into autocracy.
From Cambodia and the Philippines to Malaysia and Thailand, democracy is languishing. Electoral politics and civil liberties have eroded. Obedient judiciaries have hobbled opposition forces. Entire political classes are in exile or in prison. Independent media are being silenced by leaders who want only one voice heard: their own.
alliance of democracies.” With China and Russia involved, the United Nations Security Council has done nothing to punish Myanmar’s generals.
Covid-19 with them.
A scheduled special meeting on Myanmar by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations offers little hope of action. That consensus-driven group avoids delving into members’ internal affairs. Earlier negotiations among regional foreign ministers didn’t result in a single policy that would deter Myanmar’s coup-makers.
Besides, many of the region’s leaders have no wish to uphold democratic ideals. They have used the courts to silence their critics and met protest movements with force.
But if authoritarians are looking out for one another, so, too, are protesters. In Thailand, students have stood up to a government born of a coup, using a three-fingered salute from the “Hunger Games” films to express defiance. The same gesture was adopted after the putsch in Myanmar, the leitmotif of a protest movement millions strong.
its first commoner president, and Malaysia would shunt aside a governing party bloated by decades of graft and patronage. Thailand’s generals had managed to go years without a coup. Even in Vietnam, the Communist leadership was pushing forward with liberalization.
The most significant transformation seemed to be in Myanmar. The military had led the country since a 1962 coup, driving it into penury. In 2015, the generals struck a power-sharing agreement with a civilian leadership fronted by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who spent 15 years under house arrest. President Barack Obama went to Myanmar to sanctify the start of a peaceful political transition.
Now Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is again locked in her villa, facing possible life imprisonment. Her supporters have been arrested and tormented. Soldiers picked up one of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s followers and burned a tattoo of her face off his arm.
Much of the rest of Southeast Asia is in full-fledged democratic retreat. The leader of Thailand’s last coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is still the prime minister. His government has charged dozens of student protesters, some in their teens, with obscure crimes that can carry long sentences. Thai dissidents in exile have turned up dead.
After a brief interlude out of government, Malaysia’s old establishment is back in power, including people associated with one of the largest heists of state funds the world has seen in a generation. Vietnam’s crackdown on dissent is in high gear. In Cambodia, Hun Sen, Asia’s longest-ruling leader, has dismantled all opposition and set in place the makings of a family political dynasty.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines may enjoy enduring popularity, but he has presided over thousands of extrajudicial killings. He has also cozied up to China, presenting it as a more constant friend than the United States, which once colonized the Philippines.
Protesters in Thailand, who gathered by the hundreds of thousands last year, have resumed their rallies, even though most of their young leaders are now in prison.
As the riot police fired rubber bullets near the Grand Palace in Bangkok last month, Thip Tarranitikul said she wanted to erase the military from politics.
army chief, appears to have underestimated the people’s commitment to democratic change. Millions have marched against him. Millions have also joined nationwide strikes meant to stop his government from functioning.
There is little reason to believe the military will back down, given its decades in power. Over the past two months, it has killed more than 700 civilians, according to a monitoring group. Thousands have been arrested, including medics, reporters, a model, a comedian and a beauty blogger.
But the resistance has demographics on its side.
Southeast Asia may be ruled by old men, but more than half its population is under 30. Myanmar’s reforms over the past decade benefited young people who eagerly connected to the world. In Thailand, this same cohort is confronting the old hierarchies of military and monarchy.
Regional defenders of democracy, including the besieged dissidents of nearby Hong Kong, have formed what they call the Milk Tea Alliance online, referring to a shared affinity for the sweet brew. (Twitter recently gave the movement its own emoji.) On encrypted apps, they trade tips for protecting themselves from tear gas and bullets. They have also bonded over the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on young workers, in countries where income inequality is growing wider.
“The youth of Southeast Asia, these young digital natives, they inherently despise authoritarianism because it doesn’t jibe with their democratic lifestyle. They aren’t going to give up fighting back,” said Mr. Thitinan of Chulalongkorn University. “That’s why, as bad as things may seem now, authoritarianism in the region is not a permanent condition.”
In Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, protesters have faced the military’s rifles with a sense of an existential mission.
“I’m not afraid to die,” said Ko Nay Myo Htet, a high school student manning one of the barricades built to defend neighborhoods. “I want a better life for the future generation.”
Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.
Government-sponsored massacres became less frequent too. But a wave in the 1990s were mostly in countries that, like Myanmar, had histories of civil war, weak institutions, high poverty rates and politically powerful militaries — Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
Though they largely failing to stop those killings as they happened, world leaders and institutions like the United Nations built systems to encourage democracy and avert future atrocities.
Myanmar, a pariah state that had sealed itself off from the world until reopening in 2011, didn’t much benefit from those efforts.
The country also missed out on a global change in how dictatorship works.
A growing number of countries have shifted toward systems where a strongman rises democratically but then consolidates power. These countries still hold elections and call themselves democracies, but heavily restrict freedoms and political rivals. Think Russia, Turkey or Venezuela.
“Repression in the last couple of years has actually gotten worse in dictatorships,” Dr. Frantz said. But large-scale crackdowns are rarer, she added, in part because “today’s dictators are getting savvier in how they oppress.”
Only 20 years ago, 70 percent of protest movements demanding democracy or systemic change succeeded. But that number has since plummeted to a historic low of 30 percent, according to a study by Erica Chenoweth of Harvard University.
Much of the change, Dr. Chenoweth wrote, came through something called “authoritarian learning.”
New-style dictators were wary of calling in the military, which might turn against them. And mass violence would shatter their democratic pretensions. So they developed practices to frustrate or fracture citizen movements: jailing protest leaders, stirring up nationalism, flooding social media with disinformation.
Capt. Tun Myat Aung leaned over the hot pavement in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and picked up bullet casings. Nausea crept into his throat. The shells, he knew, meant that rifles had been used, real bullets fired at real people.
That night, in early March, he logged on to Facebook to discover that several civilians had been killed in Yangon by soldiers of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known. They were men in uniform, just like him.
Days later, the captain, of the 77th Light Infantry Division, notorious for its massacres of civilians across Myanmar, slipped off base and deserted. He is now in hiding.
“I love the military so much,” he said. “But the message I want to give my fellow soldiers is: If you are choosing between the country and the Tatmadaw, please choose the country.”
ousting Myanmar’s civilian leadership last month, setting off nationwide protests, it has only sharpened its savage reputation, killing more than 420 people and assaulting, detaining or torturing thousands of others, according to a monitoring group.
On Saturday, the deadliest day since the Feb. 1 coup, security forces killed more than 100 people, according to the United Nations. Among them were seven children, including two 13-year-old boys and a 5-year-old boy.
In-depth interviews with four officers, two of whom have deserted since the coup, paint a complex picture of an institution that has thoroughly dominated Myanmar for six decades. From the moment they enter boot camp, Tatmadaw troops are taught that they are guardians of a country — and a religion — that will crumble without them.
They occupy a privileged state within a state, in which soldiers live, work and socialize apart from the rest of society, imbibing an ideology that puts them far above the civilian population. The officers described being constantly monitored by their superiors, in barracks and on Facebook. A steady diet of propaganda feeds them notions of enemies at every corner, even on city streets.
The cumulative effect is a bunkered worldview, in which orders to kill unarmed civilians are to be followed without question. While the soldiers say there is some dissatisfaction with the coup, they regard a wholesale breaking of ranks as unlikely. That makes more bloodshed likely in the coming days and months.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader deposed and locked up in last month’s coup. Her father, Gen. Aung San, founded the Tatmadaw.
Today, the Tatmadaw’s foes are again domestic, not foreign: the millions of people who have poured onto the streets for anti-coup rallies or taken part in strikes.
On Saturday, which was Armed Forces Day, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief and instigator of the coup, gave a speech vowing to “protect people from all danger.” As tanks and goose-stepping soldiers paraded down the broad avenues of Naypyidaw, the bunker-filled capital built by an earlier junta, security forces shot protesters and bystanders alike, with more than 40 towns seeing violence.
intensity of opposition to the putsch. Officers trained in psychological warfare regularly plant conspiracy theories about democracy in Facebook groups favored by soldiers, according to social media experts and one of the officers who spoke with The Times.
In this paranoid world, the thumping that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy delivered to the military’s proxy party in last November’s elections was easily portrayed as electoral fraud.
A Muslim cabal, funded by oil-rich sheikhdoms, is accused of trying to destroy the Buddhist faith of Myanmar’s majority. Influential monks, who count army generals among those praying at their feet, preach that the Tatmadaw and Buddhist monkhood must unite to combat Islam.
In the Tatmadaw’s telling, a rapacious West could conquer Myanmar at any moment. Fear of invasion is thought to be one reason that military rulers moved the capital early in this century from Yangon, near the coast, to the landlocked plains of Naypyidaw.
subvert the country with piles of cash for activists and politicians. A military spokesman implied during a news conference that people protesting the coup, too, were foreign-funded.
Captain Tun Myat Aung said that in his first year at the Defense Services Academy, he was shown a film that portrayed democracy activists in 1988 as frenzied animals slicing off soldiers’ heads. In truth, thousands of protesters and others were killed by the Tatmadaw that year.
One of Captain Tun Myat Aung’s men was recently struck in the eye by a projectile from a protester’s slingshot, he said. But the captain acknowledged that the casualties were remarkably lopsided in the other direction.
Tatmadaw Facebook feeds may show soldiers besieged by violent protesters armed with homemade firebombs. But it is the security forces who have assaulted medics, killed children and forced bystanders to crawl in obeisance.
According to the soldiers who spoke with The Times, a suspension of mobile data access over the past two weeks was aimed as much at isolating troops who were beginning to question their orders as it was at cutting off the wider population.
most notoriously against Rohingya Muslims, but they have also targeted other ethnic groups, like the Karen, the Kachin and the Rakhine.
When the 77th Light Infantry Division was fighting in Shan State, in northeastern Myanmar, Captain Tun Myat Aung said he could feel the disgust of people from various ethnic groups. As a member of another ethnic minority, the Chin, he understood their fear of the Bamar majority.
Although he says he shot only to wound, not to kill, Captain Tun Myat Aung spent eight years on the front lines. He developed a rapport with just one group of ethnic minority villagers during that entire time, he said.
“People hate soldiers for what the soldiers did to them,” he said.
But the Tatmadaw also saved him. His mother died when he was 10. His father drank. He was sent to a boarding school for ethnic minority students, where he excelled. At the Defense Services Academy, he studied physics and English.
“The military became my family,” he said. “I was automatically happy when I saw my soldier’s uniform.”
On Feb. 1, in the pre-dawn torpor of Yangon, Captain Tun Myat Aung clambered onto a military truck, half asleep, strapping on his helmet. He didn’t know what was going on until a fellow soldier whispered about a coup.
“At that moment, I felt like I lost hope for Myanmar,” he said.
Days later, he saw his major holding a box of bullets — real ones, not rubber. He cried that night.
“I realized,” he said, “that most of the soldiers see the people as the enemy.”
At a military parade on Saturday, the general who led the overthrow of Myanmar’s civilian government last month said the army was determined “to protect people from all danger.”
Before the day was over, the security forces under his command had shot and killed a 5-year-old boy, two 13-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girl. A baby girl in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, was struck in the eye with a rubber bullet, although her parents said she was expected to live.
The slain children were among dozens of people killed on Saturday as the security forces cracked down on protests across Myanmar, in what appeared to be one of the deadliest days since the Feb. 1 coup led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander of the Tatmadaw, as the military is known. One news outlet, Myanmar Now, put Saturday’s death toll as high as 80.
“Today is a day of shame for the armed forces,” Dr. Sasa, a spokesman for a group of elected officials who say they represent Myanmar’s government, said in a statement.
a medal and a ceremonial sword.
Russia has been an important supplier of weapons to the Myanmar military, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council it can be counted on, along with China, to block any attempt by the international body to impose sanctions on Myanmar.
The United States said on Thursday that it was putting its own financial sanctions on two military-owned conglomerates that control a large segment of Myanmar’s economy.
shots had been fired at its cultural center in Yangon, the American Center, on Saturday. The embassy said that no one was hurt and that it was investigating.
the Karen National Union said on Facebook that it had overrun and seized a Tatmadaw camp. The group posted photos of weapons it said it had seized, including what appeared to be machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Tatmadaw has fought for decades with various ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Karen. Some opposition leaders hope that urban protesters, who are mainly from the majority Bamar ethnic group, can build a coalition with the ethnic groups to resist the Tatmadaw.
The widespread killings on Saturday came a day after military-run television threatened protesters with being “shot in the back and the back of the head” if they persisted in opposing military rule.
According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, which has tracked arrests and killings since the coup, about a quarter of those killed before Saturday were shot in the head.
The killings on Saturday took place in more than two dozen cities across the country. Many of the victims were bystanders.
In Meiktila, a city in central Myanmar, 14-year-old Ma Pan Ei Phyu was at home when the security forces began shooting randomly in the neighborhood, said her father, U Min Min Tun. The family did not hear a shot, and they didn’t realize that she had been killed until she fell to the floor. She had been hit in the chest.
In Yangon, 13-year-old Maung Wai Yan Tun was playing outside when the police and soldiers arrived. Scared, he ran away and was shot, his mother told the online news outlet Mizzima. The family went to recover his body, but finding it surrounded by security forces, they dared not approach.
One of the bloodiest incidents took place in Yangon’s Dala Township. On Friday afternoon, the police arrested two protesters at their home.
Soon after, neighbors gathered outside the police station and demanded their release. The police responded by firing rubber bullets and stun grenades at the crowd, one witness said.
The residents retreated but returned to the police station after midnight. This time, after a lengthy standoff, the security forces opened fire with live ammunition. At least 10 people were killed and 40 injured.
In a jungle in the borderlands of Myanmar, the troops sweated through basic training. They learned how to load a rifle, pull the pin of a hand grenade and assemble a firebomb.
These cadets are not members of Myanmar’s military, which seized power last month and quickly imposed a battlefield brutality on the country’s populace. Instead, they are an eclectic corps of students, activists and ordinary office workers who believe that fighting back is the only way to defeat one of the world’s most ruthless armed forces.
“I see the military as wild animals who can’t think and are brutal with their weapons,” said a woman from Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, who was now in the forest for a week of boot camp. Like others who have joined the armed struggle, she did not want her name published for fear that the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, would target her.
reign of terror. The Tatmadaw has cracked down on peaceful protesters and unarmed bystanders alike, killing at least 275 people since the coup, according to a monitoring group.
Other forms of resistance have continued in Myanmar. A mass civil disobedience campaign has idled the economy, with a nationwide strike on Wednesday leaving towns devoid of business activity. In creative acts of defiance, protesters have lined up rows of stuffed animals and origami cranes as stand-ins for demonstrators who could get shot.
But there is a growing recognition that such efforts may not be enough, that the Tatmadaw needs to be countered on its own terms. Last week, remnants of the ousted Parliament, who consider themselves the legitimate government, said that a “revolution” was needed to save the country. They have called for the formation of a federal army that respects various ethnic groups, not just the majority Bamar.
“If diplomacy fails, if the killings continue, the people of Myanmar will be forced to defend themselves,” said Dr. Sasa, a spokesman for the ousted Parliament who is on the run after having been charged with high treason.
ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
The country has trembled as the Tatmadaw has brought its war machine to the cities, imprisoning Myanmar’s civilian leaders last month and erasing a decade of political and economic reform.
Since then, dozens of young protesters have been killed by single gunshots to the head. Security forces have fired into homes at random, leaving families cowering in back rooms. On Tuesday, a 7-year-old girl sitting at home in her father’s lap was shot in the city of Mandalay, in what appeared to be a collateral death. (Hundreds of protesters were released on Wednesday after weeks of detention.)
The Tatmadaw is flouting the international rules of war. Security forces have fired at ambulances and tortured detainees. Given the brutality, members of Myanmar’s frontline of democracy say there is no choice but to take up arms.
Most days in the concrete conflict zones of Yangon, Ko Soe Win Naing, a 26-year-old sailor, prepares for war: a GoPro camera affixed to his helmet, a balaclava over his head, vials of tear gas in his vest pockets, a sheathed sword on his back and a gas mask at the ready. His weapon of choice is a firework fashioned into a sort of grenade.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign against the generals who locked her up for 15 years. (The award was tarnished by her defense of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.)
But most struggles in Myanmar have involved guns and slingshots. In the mountainous periphery of the country, ethnic armed groups have been fighting for autonomy for decades. After soldiers gunned down hundreds of protesters in 1988, thousands of students and activists fled into the forests and formed armed groups that fought alongside ethnic insurgencies.
Of late, their tactics have extended to information warfare. On Wednesday, anti-coup protesters said they had launched hacking attacks on two military-linked banks.
For the new generation, the decision to fight is born of a desire to protect what the country has gained over the past decade. Myanmar was once one of the most isolated countries on Earth, as a xenophobic and economically inept junta cleaved the country from the international community. Then came tentative political reforms, an internet link to the world and chances at private-sector jobs.
The notion that Myanmar might return to a frightened past has galvanized some protesters. One young woman, who is about to start military training in the jungle, said she remembered huddling as a child with her family and listening secretly to BBC radio broadcasts, an act that once could have earned imprisonment.
“I decided to risk my life and fight back any possible way I can,” she said. “If we oppose nationwide in unison, we will make the military have sleepless nights and insecure lives, just as they have done to us.”
The security forces, she continued, are following orders and lack a greater purpose.
“We have our political faith, we have our dreams,” she said. “This is the fight in which we have to use our brains and our bodies.”
If any armed rebellion is to succeed, it will need the backing of the ethnic insurgencies that have long been at war with the Tatmadaw. Last week, the Kachin Independence Army, which represents the Kachin of northern Myanmar, launched a surprise strike against the Tatmadaw.
On Thursday, five Tatmadaw soldiers were killed by the Karen National Liberation Army, which fights for the Karen ethnicity. Last year, hundreds of Tatmadaw troops died while battling another ethnic insurgency in western Rakhine State.
“If ethnic armed groups launch offensives, it could help relieve pressure on the protesters in the cities,” said Padoh Saw Hser Bwe, a general secretary of the Karen National Union.
With the Tatmadaw’s most notorious brigades now stationed in the cities, focused on anti-coup protesters rather than ethnic civil war, the military’s killing continues unabated.
On Monday in Mandalay, Ko Tun Tun Aung, 14, wandered out of his home to grab a pot of water. A bullet pierced his chest, killing him instantly, according to his relatives. At least seven others were also shot dead in the same neighborhood that day. Two were rescue workers.
Ko Thet Aung, a 23-year-old frontline defender, is from the same Mandalay neighborhood where the killings occurred. For three weeks, he has been manning barricades and dodging gunfire.
“The more they crack down, the more we are motivated to fight back,” he said. “We are from Generation Z, but I would call ourselves Gen-P — Generation Protection. I will die protecting my country at the front lines.”
Bank tellers’ windows are gathering dust. Cargo at the port sits uncollected. And in grand government ministries in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, stacks of documents are curling in the humidity. There are few people to process all the paperwork.
Since the military seized power in a coup last month, an entire nation has come to a standstill. From hospitals, railways and dockyards to schools, shops and trading houses, much of society has stopped showing up for work in an attempt to stymie the military regime and force it to return authority to a civilian government.
While demonstrators continue to brave bullets — at least 220 people have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup, according to a local group that monitors political imprisonments and deaths — the quiet persistence of this mass civil disobedience movement has grown into a potent weapon against the military. For all the planning that went into the putsch, the generals seem to have been utterly unprepared for the breadth and depth of resistance against them.
“They robbed the power of the people from our elected government,” said Daw Cho Cho Naing, a clerk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who has refused to work along with most of her colleagues. “Our country’s democracy journey has just started, and we can’t lose it again.”
The effect of millions of people refusing to do their jobs has been dramatic, even if the military is built to withstand pressure. Up to 90 percent of national government activity has ceased, according to officials from four ministries. Factories are idled. In February, the national business registry recorded fewer than 190 new registrations, compared with nearly 1,300 the year before.
In a country where at least a third of the population was already living below the poverty line, civil disobedience is bringing tremendous self-imposed hardship to the people. But the striking class hopes that just a few more weeks or months of financial coercion will starve the military of the work force and resources it needs to run the country.
On Sunday, dozens were killed in factory districts in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, when security forces cracked down on striking protesters with lethal force. The area is now under martial law, but many workers have vowed not to give up.
“We might be poor in terms of money, but we are rich with the value of loving our country,” said Ma Thuzar Lwin, whose husband, Ko Chan Thar, a construction worker, was shot in the neck during a recent attack.
Early this week, as her husband struggled for his life, Ms. Thuzar Lwin voiced her aspirations for him. “I want him to see with his own eyes the day the junta steps down,” she said.
Mr. Chan Thar died on Wednesday.
The Myanmar military, which has ruled the country for most of the past 60 years, is adept at killing. It is less practiced in running an economy that began integrating into the global financial system during a decade of reform.
In raids following the coup, soldiers rounded up hundreds of officials considered faithful to the civilian government led by the National League for Democracy party. An Australian economic adviser to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s de facto civilian leader, was also locked up. More than 200 employees of the central bank, including five deputy directors, have been fired for their civil disobedience.
As a result, taxes aren’t being collected in Myanmar. The bulk of licenses for imports, exports and much else are no longer being granted. With employees of private banks joining the strike, most money flows in and out of the country have stopped. Many companies have been unable to pay employees. Military banks have limited withdrawals for fear of runs on cash.
Last week, the military ordered private banks to transfer funds deposited by agricultural traders to state or military banks so the money could be withdrawn for the upcoming harvest. The order has gone unheeded.
“They are the king now, but we are not their servants,” said Daw Phyu Phyu Cho, a loan officer for a private bank who has joined the strike. “If we all unite, they can’t do anything.”
Myanmar is now short of many things at once: gasoline for cars, imported grains and legumes, foreign toothpaste. In the Yangon area, retail prices for palm oil have increased 20 percent since the coup, according to the World Food Program.
People have gotten used to long lines, for A.T.M. withdrawals, for pension collection, for handouts of rice and curry. Striking factory workers are having to choose between clamping on hard hats and goggles to join a protest or waiting in the hot sun for whatever basic necessity might be on offer that day.
For now, informal financing networks are helping to ease some of the pain of lost wages. In Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, a single Facebook group run by ordinary citizens has raised funds to support nearly 5,000 people who are participating in the civil disobedience movement, which is known by the abbreviation C.D.M.
“Myanmar people are so generous in their donations to people in need,” said U Aung Htay Myint, one of the organizers of the Mandalay effort.
Myanmar’s economy, one of the least developed in Asia after decades of military mismanagement, was already reeling from the coronavirus, which hit the garment and tourism industries particularly hard. With the coup, foreign investors are feeling skittish. Toyota has delayed plans for a factory opening. The World Bank has paused disbursements in the country.
Sanctions by Western governments on military officers and companies have piled up. Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department banned American dealings with, among other businesses, a gym and a restaurant owned by the children of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief who led the coup. The United States government has frozen about $1 billion in assets held by Myanmar in an American financial institution.
But the military still has plenty of income streams, most notably the country’s oil and gas fields. U Ye Kyaw Thu worked as an offshore platform technician for the Shwe gas project for a decade. Most of his colleagues are foreigners, and he knows that other Myanmar workers will be brought in to replace him. Still, Mr. Ye Kyaw Thu said participating in the strike was the right choice for him
“It’s all I can do,” he said.
A group of legislators that says it represents the ousted Parliament has written to foreign oil and gas companies requesting that they cease payments to the regime lest it “sustain the current military junta’s violent rule and enrich its leaders.”
But extraction of Shwe natural gas, which is sent to China, hasn’t decreased since the coup. Such oil and gas earnings add up to $90 million a month to the regime’s coffers, according to estimates from the disbanded Parliament.
Beyond oil and gas, the military and its vast business holdings profit from the illegal collection of natural resources, such as jade and timber, which brings in income rivaling the country’s official revenues.
“So many of their funds come from black markets,” said Dr. Sasa, a special envoy to the United Nations for the ousted civilian authority.
The civil disobedience movement won’t halt such illicit activity. In some cases, as with the production of methamphetamine and other drugs, production may boom in the shadowy spaces of political conflict.
In the meantime, Myanmar’s citizens are paying the greatest price. A township administrator in Shan State, who asked not to have his name published because of the danger of speaking out, described how he was hauled in for interrogation after participating in the civil servant strike. After escaping through the jungle, he is now in hiding.
In Yangon, Ko Soe Naing, a garment factory worker, said he recently watched as a fellow striking worker was shot in the head and killed. Mr. Soe Naing earned about $115 per month for his job, barely a living wage.
“We have nothing to lose,” he said. “As a basic laborer, we only have one choice. It’s to fight back against the junta.”
Last week, before dawn, soldiers descended on a housing complex for railway staff in Yangon. According to eyewitnesses, the soldiers demanded that strikers who had shut down the country’s rail system leave their homes immediately. All 700 or so residents left, grabbing armfuls of possessions at gunpoint.
U Ko Ko Zaw, one of the residents, scrambled out of his house with all that he owned: a suitcase of personal effects, a jug of cooking oil and a live chicken. Later that day, he sold the bird for money.
“It’s OK to die of hunger under military rule, it’s OK if they fire me,” Mr. Ko Ko Zaw said. “I will keep joining the C.D.M. because I believe it can bring down their economy.”