Threat of Civil War Looms in Myanmar as Protests, Violence Continue

The threat of civil war is looming over Myanmar, after more than 500 protestors have been killed and thousands more detained in the two months since the military seized control of the country.

At least 521 protesters have been killed and 2,608 people detained since the coup began on February 1. Despite the escalation of violence, military forces have been unsuccessful at crushing massive public resistance.

Groups of protesters continue to gather in the country's major cities, demanding an end to the violent coup and honoring those who have fallen.

In Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, a group of young people gathered Thursday after a violent evening of police raids and shooting to march through the streets. They chanted slogans calling for the fall of the military, the release of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the return of democracy, the Associated Press reported.

But the growing use of force from the military has led to concerns that the country could soon reach a civil war of "an unprecedented scale," Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, warned on Wednesday.

Schraner Burgener added that the country could soon spiral into a "failed state," if significant action isn't taken by the U.N. Security Council to restore democracy in the nation.

"This could happen under our watch," she said in a virtual presentation obtained by AP, "and failure to prevent further escalation of atrocities will cost the world so much more in the longer term than investing now in prevention, especially by Myanmar's neighbors and the wider region."

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A protester, who was injured during a demonstration against the military coup, receives medical attention in a vehicle in Mandalay on April 1, 2021. STR/AFP/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

The crisis in the Southeast Asian nation has expanded sharply in the past week, both in the number of protesters killed and with military airstrikes against the guerrilla forces of the Karen ethnic minority in their homeland along the border with Thailand. The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar warned the country faces the possibility of civil war.

Any U.N. resolutions for actions such as a comprehensive ban on weapons sales to Myanmar would almost certainly be vetoed by China or Russia, which are political allies of the junta as well as major suppliers of arms to the military.

Inside Myanmar, an opposition group consisting of ousted lawmakers on Wednesday declared the country's 2008 constitution, drafted under military direction, void and put forward an interim replacement charter in another challenge to the junta.

The move, while more symbolic than practical, could help woo the country's armed ethnic militias to ally themselves with the mass protest movement based in cities and towns.

Demonstrators in several areas burned copies of the 2008 constitution on Thursday to celebrate the action by the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the country's legislature, which calls itself the legitimate government.

In Mandalay, protesters burned pages under the gaze of Buddhist monks who gave their backing with the three-fingered salute adopted by the resistance.

The 2008 constitution ensured that the military maintained its dominance by reserving it enough seats in the legislature to block any charter changes and by retaining control of key government ministries.

One of the goals of the interim constitution proposed by the ousted lawmakers is to meet the longstanding demands of ethnic minority groups for greater autonomy. In seeking an alliance with ethnic minority armed groups, the lawmakers hope to form a joint army as a counterweight to the government armed forces.