YANGON, Myanmar — For Myanmar’s army, the campaign of atrocity it has waged to drive hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims out of the country is no innovation. The force was born in blood 76 years ago and has been shedding it ever since.
Its founders, known as the Thirty Comrades, established the army in 1941 with a ghoulish ceremony in Bangkok, where they drew each other’s blood with a single syringe, mixed it in a silver bowl and drank it to seal their vow of loyalty.
The army that they formed led the nation to independence in 1948. But except for a brief, initial period of peace, it has spent the last seven decades warring with its own people.
The army, known as the Tatmadaw, seized power from the civilian government in Burma, as the country is also known, in 1962. The military killed thousands of protesters to keep power in 1988 and suppressed another popular uprising, the Saffron Revolution, in 2007.
In constant fighting with ethnic minorities, the Tatmadaw has displaced millions of people while taking billions of dollars in profit from jade mines, teak forests and other natural resources. Its strategy has been to fight ethnic rebels to a standstill, manage the conflicts through cease-fires and enrich its officers.
“There has never been any sense of needing to win hearts and minds,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington. “The Tatmadaw’s doctrine is based on total submission by the population through fear. And to that end, there is little they will not do.”
Though it holds itself up as the protector of Myanmar’s people, the military has a long history of murdering civilians, torturing and executing prisoners, committing rape, conscripting child soldiers, impressing convicts as porters and making civilians walk ahead of its troops to trip land mines.
After decades of running an isolated pariah state, the military began loosening its grip in 2010, allowing elections and gradually giving civilian leaders authority over public services, foreign affairs and economic policy. It also began permitting public access to the internet and the mass sale of cellphones.
The moves, aimed at reviving a struggling economy, gave Myanmar a veneer of democracy and prompted the United States and the European Union to lift economic sanctions.
But under the Constitution it imposed in 2008, the Tatmadaw is not subject to civilian authority and retains control over other key institutions, including the police and border guards, and it unilaterally appoints a quarter of the Parliament. And the atrocities against minorities continue.
“The Tatmadaw is an unreconstructed, unrepentant institution that is abusive to its core,” said David Mathieson, an independent analyst in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
The violent expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine has been condemned as ethnic cleansing by the United States and the United Nations. Human rights advocates have called for the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate the Tatmadaw for crimes against humanity.
The military and the government have blocked independent investigations and kept neutral observers from visiting the area, even as the Tatmadaw’s commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, denied that the army committed atrocities against the Rohingya.
But there are signs that the military is feeling at least some pressure.
General Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged on Wednesday that four members of the security forces shot 10 Rohingya men whose bodies were found in a mass grave.
Two officials who oversaw the security forces in Rakhine, Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe, head of the Tatmadaw’s western command, and Brig. Gen. Thura San Lwin, the border guard commander there, were removed from their positions in recent months without explanation.