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Myanmar's crisis is on the agenda for Biden and East and Southeast Asian leaders

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden will be in Cambodia this weekend for summits with East and Southeast Asian leaders. Myanmar will be on the agenda, but leaders from that country weren't invited to participate after the 2021 coup that's left the country in a state of civil war. Michael Sullivan reports from Bangkok.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Since the coup, the resistance to military rule has become more fierce by the day and the military's atrocities more pronounced, like September's attack on a school in Sagaing, a hotbed of resistance where the military claimed resistance fighters were hiding.

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UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: (Speaking Burmese).

SULLIVAN: The soldiers attacked with helicopters. Then from the ground, says this teacher who was there. She watched one young student wounded so badly he pleaded for relief. Please kill me, he begged. I cannot stand it anymore. He was one of 11 children killed in what a U.N. official called a war crime.

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SULLIVAN: Then late last month, at least 80 people were killed when a Myanmar military airstrike targeted this concert in Kachin state. It was the deadliest single attack since the coup. The military claimed it was hitting a legitimate target, calling reports of civilian deaths fake news. Saw Kapi is an educator and former resistance fighter who fled Myanmar after the coup.

SAW KAPI: The fact of the matter on the ground is we are being slaughtered or people are being slaughtered on the ground, especially in Sagaing and Magway. But, you know, aside from the verbal support, we didn't see and hear a lot from our Western friends.

SULLIVAN: Even as the military ramps up its attacks against those who oppose it, especially in the so-called dry zone in the north, where that resistance has been especially fierce. Richard Horsey is senior Myanmar analyst for the International Crisis Group.

RICHARD HORSEY: They've been burning down hundreds of villages, thousands and thousands of homes, displacing a huge proportion of the population in that area in an attempt to make it just impossible for people to resist.

SULLIVAN: So far, they haven't succeeded. And more than 20 months after the coup, Horsey says, Myanmar's people are slipping further into misery.

HORSEY: State services continue to be in perilous shape. The health and education systems have almost collapsed, and there are millions of internally displaced people now as well across the country.

SULLIVAN: Meanwhile, Myanmar's senior general, Min Aung Hlaing, has made repeated trips to Russia procuring weapons, arms, planes and attack helicopters while voicing his public support for President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. Saw Kapi.

KAPI: The two bad guys are coming together, supporting each other. But on our part, we don't see any material supports from the so-called democratic countries.

SULLIVAN: Several rounds of targeted sanctions against the military haven't been enough, argues activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi. She says the West needs to take a bigger bite collectively by going after the state-run Myanmar oil and gas enterprise, a lucrative source of cash for the regime. The EU has already taken such a step; the U.S. and the U.K. have not.

THINZAR SHUNLEI YI: It provides around half of the hard currency that the military is now using to pay for the bullets and troops that it's turned against its own innocent civilians. So sanctions will save life by cutting off that critical revenue stream.

SULLIVAN: But if that revenue stream keeps flowing, she warns, so will her people's blood. Either way, Richard Horsey expects the conflict to drag on for years.

HORSEY: The military continues to dig in, continues to be determined to hang on to power. And most of the population vehemently disagrees with that. And that struggle is going to go on for a long time to come.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan
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.