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Myanmar has never been a nation. Could it become one now? | Myanmar News



Since February 1, when the Myanmar military carried out a coup against the country’s civilian government, protests, strikes and other forms of civil disobedience have been taking place across the country. In response, the army, also known as Tatmadaw, has deployed brutal force to suppress dissent, killing over 600 people, at least 46 of them children.

Much of the violence has taken place in major cities, as well as the periphery of the country. Since late March, there have been repeated aerial bombings in Karen state, resulting in roughly 19 people killed, more than 40 injured and thousands displaced. The Tatmadaw has also escalated military activities in Kachin state and increased violence towards civilians in Karenni state. Fighting has also displaced more than 1,000 people and killed civilians in Shan State.

That such attacks are taking place should not come as a surprise. Growing solidarity is emerging between the various ethnic groups, which have been victimised by the Myanmar military for decades and make up almost a third of the population, and the Bamar majority and ethnic peoples who are in the streets struggling against the coup. This certainly has worried the military leadership and may explain the increased aggression.

In seeking to resolve the situation in Myanmar and bring back civilian rule, the international community should not repeat its past mistakes. It should understand that the country has never had a unified nation and acknowledge the aspirations of the different ethnic groups within its borders.

A disunited nation

The foundation for Myanmar’s longstanding ethnic conflicts was laid during British colonisation, which began in 1824. British colonisers imposed racial categories and hierarchies of favour to divide and rule the population. During World War II, ethnic groups, such as the Karen, fought on the side of the British against the Burmese, hoping to get in return an independent state.

After the British left in 1948, the Karen and other ethnic groups continued their struggle for self-determination and to this day they refuse the imposed vision of a Burmese nation. There have been movements of autonomy or independence among numerous groups which have manifested in dozens of ethnic armies and parties.

Of the many conflicts these aspirations have resulted in, the struggle of the Karen National Union (KNU) for autonomy is widely considered one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. In 2015, the KNU signed the multilateral Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) along with several other ethnic armed organisations and became involved in the Myanmar Peace Process. But this has not resolved tensions. The Myanmar military has continued to expand army bases and roads through Karen territories in violation of ceasefire agreements, provoking frequent armed clashes with the KNU. In 2018, the KNU as well as the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the two most important signatories, suspended their involvement in the peace process, which has now completely broken down after the February 1 coup.

The lack of understanding within the international community and media towards the ethnonational dynamics in Myanmar was made apparent when in 2017, just two years after the start of the peace process, the army undertook a massive ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya people in Rakhine state. The massacres, sexual violence and mass expulsions of civilians shocked the world, and so did opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to defend the genocidal actions of the army.

But to members of Myanmar’s various ethnic nationalities, this was not surprising. They have long pointed to the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of a Burmese general and her National League for Democracy (NLD) has operated under a political worldview rooted in Burmanisation: the cultural domination and erasure of ethnic minority languages, cultures, religions and territories by the ethnic Bamar majority.

Myanmar is better understood not as a cohesive nation, but as a territory forced together by the iron grip of the military, fraying at its edges. The ethnic armed groups which are clashing with the army are not just “rebels”, but in many cases de facto governing bodies in parts of the country long abandoned by the central authorities. The people living in these territories understand themselves as citizens of independent, sovereign states.

In collaboration with local civil society, these ethnic organisations provide healthcare, education and other social services while fulfilling virtually all functions of the state. In contrast, the central Myanmar government has never consistently achieved this even in the territories it controls. Thus, these de facto ethnic states could (and, we argue, should) be considered more legitimate than the brutal junta, which most Bamar citizens do not support. In fact, ethnic armed organisations have long been an essential, if overlooked, element in resisting dictatorship in Myanmar. The same is true today.

Anti-coup resistance

The one unifying factor among the diverse peoples in the country has been the oppressive decades-long rule of the military. In the wake of the February 1 coup, these groups are increasingly united in their opposition to the military junta, if coming from different perspectives.

They are beginning to communicate across their differences more than ever before. This is despite reservations among ethnic nationalities who share a pervasive sense of betrayal by Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the NLD. Could this be the moment of genesis for a shared political imaginary – one rooted in something other than cultural hegemony by the dominant Bamar ethnic group? The ferocity with which the Myanmar military is responding to this newfound inter-ethnic solidarity suggests this may be happening.

Protests against military rule, including the far-reaching Civil Disobedience Movement, continue across the country despite the brutal crackdown. It is increasingly clear that this moment is about much more than simply the release and reinstatement of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained NLD party members. In Yangon and Mandalay, ethnically diverse cities with a Bamar majority, red headbands and images of Aung San Suu Kyi mix with ethnic nationality flags and traditional dress, as well as signs bearing messages such as, “Myanmar Military Stop Stealing Indigenous Lands” demanding federal democracy.

Meanwhile, in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, and in Karen-controlled Mutraw (Hpapun) District, different kinds of protests have been taking place: ones rejecting the military junta while asserting ethnic national identity and sovereignty.

Fervent calls from many protesters have resulted in the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the country’s parallel civilian government, announcing plans to abolish the 2008 constitution which enshrined the army’s control of the government. This represents a major turning point for the county. For many ethnic activists in particular, it represents a moment that many have worked for their entire lives.

Inter-ethnic solidarity in the protest movement has also moved the country much closer towards federal democracy than could have been imagined only a few months ago. Now even members of the Bamar majority are increasingly contending with the reality of being part of a diverse, multi-ethnic political entity. This emerging multi-ethnic coalition is a constituency united primarily by decades of exhausting life, and death, under the boot of the Tatmadaw.

There is also a legacy of support between ethnic nations and pro-democracy activists that dates back to the 1988 uprising or “People’s Democracy Movement”. This was a working class and student-led movement protesting against grinding poverty under an isolationist totalitarian regime, which focused resources on strengthening the military while its people suffered. It was during this protest movement that Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a leader. However, the breadth of solidarity now evolving across ethnic lines in Myanmar and its borderlands in opposition to the military regime is unprecedented.

Generation Z youth is a driving force in the protest movement and is at the forefront of calls for ethnic minority rights. Thanks to their active internet and mobile use, members of this generation have had much broader exposure to images and news of civil wars along the country’s borders than their parents ever did. Access to the internet only became widely available in Myanmar after 2014 and has been repeatedly curbed in various areas since then, including now during the anti-Tatmadaw protests.

The General Strike Committee of Nationalities, formed by a younger and more ethnically diverse crowd than the CRPH, and responsible for coordinating protests all across the country, has outlined its aim of establishing a federal democracy in which ethnic nationalities have equal representation in government. It has managed over the past few weeks to establish a sweeping political imagination that moves beyond ethnic majority domination, beyond vestiges of colonialism and the genocidal violence of the modern Myanmar state. It combines the perspectives and interests of all peoples of Myanmar.

There is also a realisation among members of the civilian government and parliament that ethnic minorities are valuable allies that the country should go towards. The CRPH has removed the country’s ethnic armed organisations from the state terrorist list. This is a substantial step towards building unity among the diverse nations in the country.

Ethnic nationalities are cautious about trusting such an alliance, given the historic injustices and betrayal by the previous NLD government. However, it is worth noting that the anti-fascist Bamar-ethnic contingency in central Myanmar, unlike the ethnic administrations, does not have its own military. Thus, the anti-coup movement will become increasingly dependent on ethnic states and their armed wings in the likely absence of a foreign intervention. Indeed, there is every indication of a strong will to work together across ethnic groups for the overthrow of military rule.

More and more civilians from urban areas, most of them Bamar, including most of the members of the CRPH, are now becoming displaced and taking shelter in areas controlled by ethnic armed organisations. The KNU alone says that they are providing food and shelter to more than 2,000 refugees. It has also reported that army soldiers have defected to KNU territory to join the opposition to the coup. These developments highlight the increasingly important role of ethnic armed organisations in the struggle against the military.

A product of the era of post-colonial nationalism, Myanmar has not yet achieved a shared political imaginary among the numerous ethnic nationalities within its borders. The assumption that Myanmar is a coherent nation fundamentally hinders appropriate international response to ongoing state violence.

The reality is that a shared anti-authoritarian vision of the national project is, as of yet, undetermined. This is an incredibly raw and painful moment, as activists and civilian leaders are taken from their homes and as innocent protesters and ethnic civilians are killed daily in growing numbers. It is also a moment ripe with possibility, as new grammars of emancipation begin to take form. For Karen, Rohingya, Kachin, and the many other non-Burman ethnic nations, a return to the status quo is out of the question.

In light of the coup and the two months of protests, it is time for the international community to change its approach to Myanmar. It should realise it was a mistake to promote and fund the deeply flawed peace process amid the Tatmadaw’s never-ending attacks in ethnic territories. Donor governments should acknowledge they failed to take ethnic concerns seriously.

The United Nations and the governments of the world should cease to engage with the coup-makers and stop supporting the now undeniably failed peace process. They have the tremendous power and responsibility to engage with the pro-democracy forces in the country which aim to establish a new regime of governance that guarantees the political, cultural and territorial rights of all ethnic groups in the country.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Palestinians in Gaza mourn loved ones killed in Israeli air raids | Conflict News




Gaza City – When Mohammad Saad heard that an Israeli air strike had killed his cousin Reema Saad, he says the news hit the family “like a lightning bolt”.

Reema, 31, her husband Mohammed Telbani, 29, and their two children were in their apartment in Gaza City’s Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood in the early hours of Wednesday when an air strike hit the residential building, destroying their apartment.

Reema, who was four months pregnant, and five-year-old Zeid died immediately, and Mohammed later died in the intensive care unit, but the body of their daughter, three-year-old Maryam, has yet to be recovered from the site of the attack. Saad said the family did not receive any warning before the air raid.

“I’m communicating with the fire department and civil defence crews in Gaza to help us find Maryam and have her rest and be buried near her mother, who would have wanted that,” Saad said.

The day before the air attack had been a joyous one, with Reem visiting her family to congratulate her brother on his engagement. “The next day, she went home and was targeted,” Saad said.

The family is hiding the news of the killings from Mohammed Telbani’s mother, out of fear she may suffer from a heart attack.

A man looks at the remains of a destroyed building after being hit by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City [Adel Hana/AP]

Death toll rises

Since Israel launched air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip late on Monday, Gaza’s health ministry says at least 103 people, including 27 children, have been killed, and 580 others have been wounded.

At least seven Israelis including a child have been killed in rocket attacks launched by armed groups in Gaza, which is ruled by the Palestinian group, Hamas.

The latest escalation in violence followed weeks of tensions in occupied East Jerusalem over a now-postponed court hearing relating to the forced expulsion of several Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Frictions in the city also spread to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Israeli forces raided on three consecutive days during the final week of Ramadan, firing tear gas and stun grenades at worshippers inside the mosque.

Hamas on Monday issued an ultimatum demanding Israel withdraw its forces from the compound, the third holiest site in Islam which is also revered by Jews.

Shortly after the deadline expired, Hamas launched several rockets towards Jerusalem, with Israel launching air strikes soon afterwards.

Israel’s military says about 1,600 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards various locations in Israel since Monday.

Its spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters on Thursday that attacks on Gaza will continue as Israel prepares for “multiple scenarios”.

“We have ground units that are prepared and are in various stages of preparing ground operations,” he said. The Israeli defence minister, Benny Gantz, approved the mobilisation of 9,000 more reservist troops.

Sombre Eid

Thursday was the first day of Eid al-Fitr, a religious holiday for Muslims marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But instead of joyous celebrations and gatherings for families and friends, funerals were held as Hamas sent more rockets into Israel and Israeli fighter jets continued to hit the besieged enclave, including in Rafah, near the border with Egypt.

Smoke billows from an explosion following an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip [Said Khatib/AFP]

In Gaza City, the mourners carried the dead from Al-Omari Mosque on Thursday morning to the graveyard in the far east of the city. Throughout the procession, the sound of bombarding air strikes and rockets firing were heard almost constantly.

Due to the air raids, condolences for those killed were shared only by phone.

‘I hope they didn’t feel anything’

Some Palestinians have been sharing the news of their killed family members on social media, noting their status as civilians.

Bayan AbuSultan, 25, said her cousin Miami Arafa, 27, and her 50-year-old aunt, Hadeel, a mother of four, were killed while preparing for Eid in their house in the Amal neighbourhood of Khan Younis, when an Israeli air strike hit their home at about 3pm on Wednesday.

There was no prior warning of an imminent strike as Hadeel’s brother was on a call with her a few minutes before the bombing. AbuSultan said that she and Miami had been planning to go shopping together after Ramadan as she was supposed to get married a few days after Eid al-Fitr.

The last that she had heard from her cousin was when she shared her Facebook status, praying for those killed.

“Little did she know that soon after we’ll be wishing her exactly the same,” AbuSultan said. “I shiver every time I think of how terrified they were. I hope they didn’t feel anything.”

The Israeli air strikes have hit police headquarters and government buildings, three high-rise buildings, an ice cream factory in the east of Gaza and the Al-Salah school in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, Israeli air raids destroyed the al-Shorouq tower, which housed media organisations. Its ruins covered the streets of Remal, the busiest shopping street in Gaza City.

The Israeli military has said it only targets multi-storey buildings which are “military targets”. Other buildings it has struck are “strategically significant” sites belonging to Hamas, it said.

Rights group denounces ‘collective punishment’

In a statement published on Tuesday, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (EMHRM) said that Israel’s “widespread bombardment, including civilian objects without respecting the principle of proportionality … is utterly appalling”.

Israeli forces have “expanded their response to include targeting dozens of civilian objects, women and children and bombing densely populated gatherings, which according to the Rome Statute, is a war crime,” it said, adding that its targeting of civilian objects exceeds military necessities.

In one of the air strikes, Israeli forces killed Amira Abdel Fattah Subuh, 58, and her son Abd al-Rahman Yusef Subuh, 19, a disabled young man who suffers from cerebral palsy, the group said.

While the Israeli army announced later that it targeted the home of a battalion commander, field investigations confirm that no one was in the targeted flat during the bombing, according to EMHRM.

“This incident is an example of  Israel’s bombing policy that does not consider the principle of proportionality. Israel targets civilian objects deliberately to inflict damage upon victims and leave them with material losses as a form of revenge and collective punishment, prohibited by the rules of international humanitarian law.”

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DC police suffer ‘massive’ info leak after ransomware attack | Cybercrime News




Leak ‘possibly the most significant ransomware incident to date’ due to threat to Washington, DC officers, expert says.

The police department in the United States capital has suffered a massive leak of internal information after refusing to meet the blackmail demands of a Russian-speaking ransomware syndicate. Experts said it i the worst known ransomware attack ever to hit a US police department.

The gang, known as the Babuk group, released thousands of the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department’s sensitive documents on the dark web Thursday.

A review by The Associated Press found hundreds of police officer disciplinary files and intelligence reports that include feeds from other agencies, including the FBI and Secret Service.

Ransomware attacks have reached epidemic levels as foreign criminal gangs paralyse computer networks at state and local governments, police departments, hospitals and private companies. They demand large payments to decrypt stolen data or to prevent it from being leaked online.

A cyberattack last week shut down the Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, prompting petrol-hoarding and panic-buying in parts of the Southeast.

Fuel holding tanks are seen at Colonial Pipeline’s Linden Junction Tank Farm on May 10, 2021, in Woodbridge, New Jersey, after the pipeline was forced to shut down its oil and gas system after a ransomware attack  [Michael M Santiago/Getty Images]

Brett Callow, a threat analyst and ransomware expert at the security firm Emsisoft, said the police leak ranks as “possibly the most significant ransomware incident to date” because of the risks it presents for officers and civilians.

Some of the documents included security information from other law enforcement agencies related to President Joe Biden’s inauguration, including a reference to a “source embedded” with a militia group.

One document detailed the steps the FBI has taken in its investigation of two pipe bombs left at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee before the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6.

That includes “big data pulls” of cell towers, and plans to “analyze purchases” of Nike shoes worn by a person of interest, the document said.

The police department did not immediately respond to an AP request for comment, but has previously said some officers’ personal information was stolen.

Some of that information was previously leaked, revealing personal information of some officers taken from background checks, including details of their past drug use, finances and — in at least one incident — of past sexual abuse.

The newly released files include details of disciplinary proceedings of hundreds of officers dating back to 2004. The files often contain sensitive and embarrassing private details.

“This is going to send a shock through the law enforcement community throughout the country,” Ted Williams, a former officer at the department who is now a lawyer, told The Associated Press.

He is representing a retired officer whose background file was included in an earlier leak.

Williams said having background checks and disciplinary files made public makes it difficult for officers to do their jobs.

“The more the crooks know about a law enforcement officer, the more the crooks try to use that for their advantage,” he said.

The Babuk group indicated this week that it wanted $4m not to release the files, but was only offered $100,000.

The department has not said whether it made the offer. Any negotiations would reflect the complexity of the ransomware problem, with police finding themselves forced to consider making payments to criminal gangs.

The FBI, which is assisting in this case, discourages ransomware payments.

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France asks police to ban pro-Palestinian protest in Paris | Gaza News




France’s interior minister has asked police to ban a pro-Palestinian protest in Paris this weekend against the recent escalation of Israeli air raids in the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza and crackdowns in the occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank.

“I have asked the Paris police chief to ban the protests on Saturday linked to the recent tensions in the Middle East,” Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

“Serious disturbances to the public order were noted in 2014,” he said, referring to protests against an Israeli offensive on Gaza that year.

“Instructions were given to prefects to be particularly vigilant and firm,” he added.

Activists had called the protest in the Barbes district of northern Paris to demonstrate against Israel’s intensifying aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

More than 100 people have been killed in Gaza since Monday, including 27 children, according to the enclave’s health authorities, and more than 580 others wounded after heavy Israeli attacks.

At least six Israelis and one Indian national have been killed in Israel from rocket attacks by Hamas, the governing political entity in Gaza.

The escalation in violence came after weeks of tensions in occupied East Jerusalem about a scheduled court ruling on the forced expulsion of several Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

In a circular seen by the AFP news agency, Darmanin also urged local police chiefs to assure the “protection of places of worship, schools, cultural centres and businesses of the Jewish community”.

Several demonstrations took place in France during July 2014 to denounce an Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.

On July 19, 2014, several thousand protesters defied a ban on a demonstration at Barbes and the rally rapidly degenerated into violence that lasted for hours.

‘Demonstrating is a right’

The announcement by Darmanin was criticised by activists and politicians who said there was no reason to cancel the protests.

“Demonstrating is a right that you should be the guarantor of,” Member of French Parliament Elsa Faucillon said in a tweet in reply to Darmanin.

“And in this case, given the silence of our country on the reasons for the attacks, it even seems a duty to me!”

Sihame Assbague, a journalist based in Paris, said Darmanin’s decision to ban pro-Palestine protest was for two reasons, including that “there is French colonial solidarity with the Israeli occupation forces”.

“You do not support anti-colonial political mobilisations,” she added.

The head of the Committee for Justice and Liberties Yasser Louati told Al Jazeera from Paris that “we will march whether [French President Emmanuel] Macron and Darmanin like it or not”.

“Palestinians have the right to exist and to defend themselves. If they can resist bombs and ethnic cleansing, we can sustain tear gas and arrest for them,” Louati, who is also the host of the podcast Le Breakdown, said.

Solidarity group president arrested

On Wednesday, French authorities arrested the president of Palestinian solidarity group Association France-Palestine Solidarite (AFPS), who was planning to organise a peaceful rally in Paris.

Bertrand Heilbronn was arrested after attending a meeting at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. He was accompanied by members of parliament and union representatives, according to a statement by the AFPS.

The solidarity group had called for a demonstration on Wednesday in support of the Palestinians.

On Thursday, AFPS announced that Heilbronn had been released.

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