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As Resistance To Myanmar's Coup Grows, The Country Slips Further Into Chaos


Myanmar's ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, appeared in court in person for the first time since the military seized power February 1. She's facing several charges and the most serious could see her jailed for up to 14 years. Resistance on the streets to this coup has grown, even though security forces have killed more than 800 people in a bid to hold on to power. Michael Sullivan reports from neighboring Thailand.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Last month, members of the U.N. Security Council heard a sobering assessment of the situation in post-coup Myanmar.


RICHARD HORSEY: To put it simply, Myanmar stands at the brink of state failure. This is not hyperbole or rhetoric. It is my sober assessment of a likely path forward.

SULLIVAN: That's Richard Horsey, the International Crisis Group's longtime Myanmar analyst who left after the coup. He added this stark warning.


HORSEY: The vast majority of the population does not want military rule and will do whatever it takes to prevent that outcome.


SULLIVAN: Increasingly, that's meant attacks like this one in Myanmar's Shan State over the weekend, where a newly formed local group overran a Myanmar police station, leaving several dead. In western Chin state, another civilian group has been fighting and killing soldiers for months now in and around the town of Mindat.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Burmese).

SULLIVAN: "If others could do like we've done in Mindat," this fighter says, "if other towns and cities defended themselves like us, we could end the dictatorship and everything would be better," he says. "And we would have the democracy we want."

DAVID MATHIESON: It's normal people actually taking these first steps towards an armed resistance.

SULLIVAN: David Mathieson is another Myanmar-based analyst, now living in Thailand after the coup.

MATHIESON: We use our homemade guns to attack and then we get war weapons and then slowly - I mean, it's basically like the very fundamental first steps of an insurgency.

SULLIVAN: University of Washington professor Mary Callahan has lived in Myanmar on and off for more than a decade. An expert on Myanmar's military, she says this resistance is proving a problem for the military, or Tatmadaw.

MARY CALLAHAN: The Tatmadaw is pretty well spread out. I mean, it's fighting against a resistance that changes tactics every single day. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of these local militia force. And so, you know, the military is pretty overstretched.

SULLIVAN: Overstretched, especially given the ongoing fighting with some of Myanmar's more established armed minority militia groups along its borders, some of whom are offering training to citizens who want to fight. And in urban areas, David Mathieson says, the resistance is active as well.

MATHIESON: They've been taking out local government officials and then what they refer to in Burmese as balan or informants or collaborators. So this is going to get very, very nasty. And it's also happening nationwide. It's happening in lots of different places.

SULLIVAN: That doesn't necessarily mean the resistance poses an existential threat to military rule. And, in fact, the Tatmadaw appears to be confident it will prevail, seemingly oblivious or indifferent to the fact that nationwide strikes protesting the coup have crippled the economy, with supply chain issues threatening even worse. Mary Callahan.

CALLAHAN: We're already seeing significant drops in calorie intake in peri-urban areas in central Burma. There are no jobs. There is no cash. There is no health care. This is a crisis of epic proportions.

SULLIVAN: The most likely outcome, she says, is that the simmering conflict continues with no clear winner; mayhem, she says, for months, if not years to come.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand.


Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.