Myanmar enters fourth year of post-coup crisis
Myanmar on Thursday entered its fourth year since a coup snuffed out a short-lived dance with democracy, with the embattled junta warning it will do "whatever it takes" to crush opposition to its rule.
The junta extended a state of emergency by six months on the eve of the anniversary, once again delaying promised elections, with a fresh round of US sanctions announced hours later.
In the early hours of February 1, 2021, security forces rounded up Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and lawmakers from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party as they prepared to take their seats in parliament.
The military claimed widespread fraud had taken place during polls weeks before when the NLD had trounced a military-backed rival in a vote observers had concluded was largely free and fair.
Across the country, huge marches against the coup were met by a brutal and sustained crackdown that sent thousands of protesters seeking ways to fight back.
More than 4,400 people have been killed in the military's crackdown on dissent and over 25,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
Clashes and reprisals have ravaged swathes of Myanmar since, forcing more than two million people to flee their homes, according to the UN.
On Wednesday, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said the military would do "whatever it takes" to crush opposition to its rule.
The announcement came after the military extended a state of emergency, further delaying a timetable for fresh elections it has promised to hold.
Due to expire at midnight, the state of emergency was kept in place to "continue the process of combatting terrorists", the junta said in a statement.
A bloody quagmire
Open dissent on the streets of major urban centres has been all but stamped out by the junta's bullets, batons and networks of undercover police and informants.
But across swathes of the country, the military is struggling to crush resistance to its rule.
Anti-coup "People's Defence Forces" that sprang up in the wake of the crackdown have surprised the military with their effectiveness, analysts say, and have dragged its troops into a bloody quagmire.
And in late October, an alliance of ethnic minority fighters launched a surprise offensive in northern Shan state, capturing swathes of territory and taking control of lucrative trade routes to China.
A Beijing-brokered peace deal has since paused the fighting in the north, but the alliance has largely kept its recent gains and clashes continue elsewhere.
The cascade of setbacks has dented morale among low- and mid-level officers, according to several military sources contacted by AFP, all of whom requested anonymity.
The human rights situation in Myanmar is in "freefall," the United Nations rights chief said this week.
Junta groups have torched villages, carried out extrajudicial killings and used air strikes and artillery bombardments to punish communities opposed to its rule, opponents and rights groups say.
The junta has targeted media deemed critical of the coup and subsequent crackdown, revoking licenses and arresting and jailing dozens of journalists.
With 43 journalists languishing behind bars last year, Myanmar was the world's second-worst jailer of journalists in 2023, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, behind only China.
Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict led by the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional bloc have made no headway.
On Wednesday, the United States announced fresh sanctions on two entities "closely associated with Burma's military regime" as well as four individuals.
They include the Shwe Byain Phyu Group of Companies and shipping firm Myanma Five Star Line Company Limited.