We spoke with Tun Myint from Mutual Aid Myanmar to chat about the current situation in Myanmar, 6 months since the military coup, and how MAM's work is making a difference for the country's people.
How is the current situation in Myanmar, and how has it changed over the past five months?
The people of Myanmar have persevered and have denied the military the ability to function as a government, largely because of peaceful protests and CDM participants who refuse to go to work as long as the military is in power.
For nearly months since February 1 coup, the military has struggled to complete the coup and to gain complete control of governmental functions. The military’s response to CDM participants and protesters with arbitrary arrests, torture, murder, and terrorizing the public in Myanmar shows that it fears peaceful, resolute, and resilient action of the Myanmar people.
In addition to the military coup, people in Myanmar are facing Covid pandemic and monsoon flood. The need for humanitarian assistance is high. The current crisis in Myanmar is unprecedented in its history. The powerful impact of CDM for democracy in Myanmar by crippling the function of military coup council itself is also unprecedented in history of the world. The CDM is crippling the function of military coup council named itself State Administrative Council.
We understand Coronavirus has taken a hold of the country once again, could explain how the military coup has made this situation more difficult?
The military has, as usual, restricted access to private resources for citizens to help themselves cope with the Covid pandemic. You probably have been reading the news about how the military is restricting citizens’ access to oxygen tanks. It is also restricting the import of medical supplies and equipment from Thailand. There are reports of such restrictions at the Thai-Myanmar border towns of Tachileik across from Mae Sai and Myawaddy across from Mae Sot in Thailand respectively.
The worst thing is that the military has prevented professional health workers such as doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers from doing their jobs properly to treat Covid patients. Even worse, several of these health care professionals face arrest warrants for participating in CDM. There is a complete lack of trust between CDM participants and the military police, and thus, even if the military rescinds arrest warrants and invites them back to public hospitals, medical professionals will not return to their jobs.
A lack of proper medical treatments at public hospitals and inaccessibility of vaccines will worsen the Covid pandemic in Myanmar. This will be catastrophic for the region and world as Myanmar borders countries that have half of the world’s population.
Could you explain what Mutual Aid Myanmar is, and how it came to life?
Mutual Aid Myanmar (MAM) focuses on supporting the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar. The idea to launch CDM was conceived on the fourth day of the coup when public protests broke out on the streets of Yangon and other cities. During street protests in Yangon, a young lady pleaded with traffic police to join the public’s protest against the military by chanting “People’s police, people’s police…” and urging the police to boycott the military coup and military council. On the fifth day after the coup on February 1, 2021, hundreds of doctors and medical staffs throughout Myanmar held red ribbon campaign calling for CDM and urging their fellow civil servants to not take orders from military coup council. Following days and weeks, hundreds of thousands of civil servants walked out of their offices and ministries to boycott the military coup. They pledged to not return to their work until the military coup is overturned and November 2020 election outcome is recognized to form the democratic government. These actions demonstrated where the military’s power lies – in its control over workers – and how disrupting that control would disrupt the military’s ability to function. MAM therefore seeks to support workers who choose to leave their jobs to cripple the coup government.
We are inspired by CDM participants’ conscientious exercise of their freedom and agency to reject the illegal Myanmar military coup. Specifically, MAM provides funds to substitute lost income and to pay for food, healthcare, and shelter for CDM individuals and families. For examples, thousands of railway workers were evicted from public housing under the Ministry of Transportation.
How have the widespread internet blackouts effected your ability to communicate within the country but also internationally?
The disruption to the banking system due to irregular Internet connection and the shortage of cash in Myanmar have slowed down MAM’s ability to distribute funds to CDM participants in Myanmar. However, MAM continues to use trusted channels to transfer funds.
MAM considers the security of distributors and recipients of funds the single most critical priority. Thus, relying on phone communication and Internet is important, but human contact is far more important, and MAM capitalizes on this.
Q5: Our 'Raising for Myanmar' project raised funds for Mutual Aid Myanmar. Could you please share with us how the money will be spent?
The money MAM receives from donors is spent directly to support CDM participants, namely, to substitute lost income and provide food, medical care, and shelter (especially to those CDM participants, mainly railway workers, who were ordered to leave public housing). MAM distributes about 100,000 kyat (roughly $60) to each participant. Recipients decide how to spend the money to best meet their needs listed above.
How do you think the situation will develop over the coming months?
This is a tough question to answer. When MAM started in the first week of February right after the coup began, the goal was to raise U.S. $300,000,000 to sustain CDM participants’ lost income for one year. This amount was calculated as a rough estimate based on the Myanmar government’s payroll budget in 2018 to 2020. This goal can be reached if each person from affluent parts of the world contributes $1 to the campaign.
The military coup leaders illegally staged the coup under the 2008 military-drafted constitution and committed the highest crime of the country – treason. It should be treated and recognized as an illegitimate body in Myanmar by the countries of the world.
CDM is critical in denying the success of the coup and preventing the coup council becoming a de facto legitimate body of Myanmar government. We hope MAM will be able to support the critical mass of CDM participants to sustain denying any legitimacy to the military coup council.