Despite risks to their lives and livelihoods, many Myanmar civil servants are refusing to work for the junta, as a growing civil disobedience movement seeks to thwart the generals by paralysing their bureaucracy.

Demonstrators hold placards during a rally against the military coup in front of Indonesian embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, February 24, 2021.
Demonstrators hold placards during a rally against the military coup in front of Indonesian embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, February 24, 2021. (Reuters)

As more Myanmar citizens pour out onto the streets across the country on Friday, public hospitals are deserted, government offices left dark and trains have not left the stations.

Despite risks to their lives and livelihoods, many Myanmar civil servants are refusing to work for the junta, as a consistent and growing civil disobedience movement seeks to thwart the generals by paralysing the bureaucracy.

"The military needs to prove that they can manage the country well as a government. But if we... the civil servants don't work, their plan to take power will fail," Thida, a public university lecturer who asked to use a pseudonym, told AFP Monday as cities were brought to a standstill by the largest strike yet.

In the three weeks since the coup, Thida has refused to teach her online classes. 

She joined the nationwide walkouts kicked off by medical workers, many of whom are now in hiding to evade arrest.

From the capital to seaside ports, work stoppages in the private sector have hollowed out offices and factories and forced many bank branches shut.

But it is the civil servants' swelling ranks within the resistance that has the junta particularly rattled.

Without them, it is unable to collect taxes, send out electricity bills, test the population for Covid-19 or simply keep the country running.

The spectre of a financial crisis, already brewing because of the pandemic downturn and a decline in foreign investment, looms large.

READ MORE: Clashes erupt in Myanmar between pro-military and anti-coup protesters

Myanmar police raid protest district

Myanmar police launched a crackdown overnight in a Yangon district after breaking up a protest to oppose a military appointed local official.

Violence broke out on the streets of the commercial hub of Yangon on Thursday after some in a crowd of about 1,000 military loyalists attacked pro-democracy supporters and media.

Several people were beaten by groups of men, some armed with knives, others firing catapults and hurling stones, witnesses said. At least two people were stabbed, video footage showed.

In a separate incident, riot police fired tear gas into the Tamwe neighbourhood of Yangon t o disperse a crowd protesting the replacement of a local official by the military, according to a witness and live-streamed video.

Residents later said they heard repeated shots and that police had remained in some parts of the district until around 2 am. on Friday.

"We were really scared," said one of the residents, who asked not be named.

Suu Kyi supporters posted on social media that they intended to hold another protest in Tamwe on Friday morning.

Facebook said that due to the "deadly violence" since the coup it had banned the Myanmar military from using its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities are using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters and one policeman have been killed in violence.

Cracks starting to show 

It remains unclear how many of the roughly one million public sector workers are participating.

One crowdsourced survey found members of all 24 government ministries are now involved, while the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar has estimated three-quarters of the civil servants are on strike.

Their absence is beginning to bite.

Nearly one-third of the nation's hospitals are no longer functioning, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing said this week.

Decrying medical professionals' failure to fulfil their duties, he hinted that working doctors and teachers would soon receive cash rewards, according to remarks reported by state media Tuesday.

One doctor told AFP that staff shortages meant his hospital has had to turn away new patients. Medical "cover teams" have formed to provide emergency treatment to protesters under fire from rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Paper pushing in government departments has all but halted, according to local media reports, and around the country clerks, drivers and administrators have been dismissed over their absence.

"The military didn't anticipate that a large part of the civil service would walk out and leave them without a state apparatus," said an analyst who asked to remain anonymous as the junta has detained more than 700 of its critics.

"The impact of the movement doesn't necessarily depend on all of the bureaucracy participating, but on key parts paralysing the military's ability to collect revenue and distribute it across the state machinery."

The extent of this incapacitation could become clearer on Friday, when Myanmar's State Administration Council -- as the coup leaders have dubbed themselves -- confronts payday for the entire public sector.

The Myanmar Economic Bank (MEB), which distributes government salaries and pensions, has been hobbled by walkouts, but state media said it was a "baseless rumour" that compensation would not be forthcoming.

READ MORE: EU agrees to slap sanctions against Myanmar military over coup

Pressure campaign 

In a sign of the generals' growing uneasiness, official media outlets have printed near-daily summonses for civil servants to return or face legal action, while overnight arrests have targeted civil disobedience movement participants.

Hotlines allow members of the public to report anyone encouraging such action.

"All civil servants from ministries who are participating in the civil disobedience movement are getting pressure," the MEB staffer said.

Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, urged government workers to continue their strike, saying on Facebook that it was the most important factor in the bid to bring down the regime.

But the strategy comes at personal cost.

Thida, the university lecture, is not expecting to collect a salary for the foreseeable future.

"I have saved some income and I will use that," she said. "I understand we need to make some sacrifices to fight the military junta."

Groups have sprung up to assist public employees with food and housing, while members of the ousted civilian government have pledged to compensate lost wages should they reclaim power, fuelling the hopes of workers like Thida.

"I am not worried at all about losing my job as I believe that democracy will be restored."

READ MORE: Myanmar junta discusses coup crisis with Thai, Indonesian officials

World Bank halts some payments

The World Bank has halted payments to projects in Myanmar on withdrawal requests that were made after the coup, the bank said in a letter to Myanmar's finance ministry seen by Reuters.

World Bank President David Malpass said last week it was taking an "extra cautious" approach to Myanmar but was continuing to execute past projects, including emergency coronavirus relief.

Last year, the World Bank approved over $350 million in new loans and grants to aid Myanmar's pandemic efforts and to support farmers and rural employment.

The United States, Britain and others have called for Suu Kyi's release and the restoration of democracy, and have imposed limited sanctions aimed at members of the junta and its business links.

Britain said on Thursday it would sanction six more military figures, adding to 19 previously listed and including Min Aung Hlaing.

"Today's package of measures s ends a clear message to the military regime in Myanmar that those responsible for human rights violations will be held to account," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

The army said its overthrow of the government was within the constitution after its complaints of fraud in the Nov. 8 election, swept by Suu Kyi's party, had been ignored. The election commission said the vote was fair.

The army has promised a new election after reviewing voter lists. It has not given a date but it imposed a one-year state of emergency when it seized power.

Suu Kyi has been detained incommunicado at her home in the capital Naypyitaw but her party says its November victory must be respected.

The question of a new election is at the centre of a diplomatic effort by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, aimed at easing the crisis.

Indonesia has taken the lead in the attempt and its foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, met her military-appointed Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, for talks in Thailand this week.

But Indonesia's intervention has raised suspicion among coup opponents who fear it will conf er legitimacy on the junta and its bid to scrap the November vote and arrange a re-run.

Retno did not mention an election in comments to reporters after her talks but emphasised "an inclusive democratic transition process". 

READ MORE: What is happening in Myanmar? 'They messed with the wrong generation'

Source: TRTWorld and agencies