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Explained: India, China, and Myanmar poll

Aung San Suu Kyi casts her vote in advance on October 29 in Naypitaw. (AP)

Myanmar votes on Sunday, five years after Aung San Suu Kyi’s landslide win. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, Rohingya crisis, and military assertion, a look at what’s at stake for Suu Kyi and her country

Myanmar will vote on November 8 in an election that is being seen as test of Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership of the country over the last five years. In the last elections in 2015, the Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy won a landslide victory.

The elections are for the upper and lower houses of the national Parliament, the House of Nationalities and the House of Representatives respectively, as well as to the assemblies of Myanmar’s seven states and seven regions — a total of 1,171 seats. The President is elected by the bicameral national Parliament. Chief Ministers of the states and regions are appointed by the President.

The elections will be held against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continuing Rohingya crisis, a nationalist Buddhist resurgence, and an assertion by a military that runs the country along with the elected civilian government in a hybrid system.

Rohingya and the vote

As many as 7 to 8 lakh Rohingya fled to Bangladesh when the Army began a crackdown on an alleged terrorist group in 2017 in Rakhine province, home to this Muslim minority group. The Army action was backed by Suu Kyi and her government. The refugees now live in what has described as the “world’s largest refugee camp” at Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh wants Myanmar to take them back, but Myanmar, which holds that Rohingya are not “indigenous” and calls them Bengali (the word Rohingya is not officially recognised), is unwilling to do so.

In past elections, Rohingya have voted. This time, they will be almost entirely excluded from the election. Many Rohingya candidates were rejected during the filing of nominations. Last month, the Myanmar Election Commission said that for security reasons, elections would not be held in many areas of Rakhine. This means even the 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar will not be able to vote. Nor will the anti-Suu Kyi Rakhine Buddhists, who allege that political motives are behind the cancellation of the election.

Supporters wearing shirts with logos of Myanmar Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) cheer from a trishaw as they take part in the final day of campaigning for the Nov. 8 elections Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Data township, Yangon. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

NLD, Army, Buddhist assertion

This is Myanmar’s third election under the 2008 military-drafted Constitution, part of its “road map to democracy”. The NLD had boycotted the first election in 2010, when Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. The junta put up proxy candidates through the Union Solidarity and Development Party and won most of the seats. Following Suu Kyi’s release after the election, the junta, under international pressure, eased restrictions on political and civil society activity and permitted independent media. Over the next five years, investments poured in. NLD’s participation in the 2012 by-elections gave legitimacy to the junta’s reforms. The first credible elections in 2015 were swept by Suu Kyi, then a worldwide icon of democracy.

This time, the NLD carries the burden of incumbency. Suu Kyi had come in with the promise to complete the transition to democracy by reforming the Constitution rammed in by the junta, with near-irreversible write-ins cementing the Army’s role in governing the country — the military gets 25% representation in both Houses of Parliament, and in all the state/regional assemblies, through nomination; the USDP continues to act as a military proxy; the military, known as the Tatmadaw, retains portfolios such as Defence and Internal Security; and it can declare an emergency at any time and take over the running of the country.

There was tension in the civilian-military balance earlier this week after the Commander-in-chief of the Army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, expressed dissatisfaction with the way the Election Commission was conducting the polls, and in an interview to a local media outlet, left open-ended the question of whether the Army would accept the election results. A government spokesman said the comments violated the Constitution.

Suu Kyi’s party made efforts to push back the military through 2019 but these were stonewalled by the military representatives in Parliament. She is herself a victim of the Constitution – by virtue of having married a foreign national, she is barred from becoming President. She is now known as the State Counsellor, but is accepted by her party as a higher authority than the President. Alongside, her attempts at a peace agreement with over a score armed ethnic groups ranged against the state, have yielded no outcome yet. The last meeting of the Union Peace Conference — 21st Century Panglong (a reference to the Panglong agreement of 1947) — was held in August. The NLD believes a federal arrangement will remain elusive as long as the Army is powerful.

Supporters of military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) march with pedal trishaws during an election campaign for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

But Suu Kyi has not pushed the military as her Pakistani counterparts have done in the past. She once described generals in the Tatmadaw as “quite sweet”, and defended the Army in person last year at the International Court of Justice at The Hague against allegations of rape, arson and mass killing in Rakhine.

A resurgent Buddhist nationalism, both inspired by and inspiring similar sentiments in Sri Lanka, has also been apparent over the last five years. On November 2, a firebrand monk known for communal and racist speeches surrendered to the police who were seeking to arrest him for over a year for statements he made asking the military to overthrow Suu Kyi’s government, and called her objectionable names. In 2015, he had asked people to vote for the military-backed USDP against Suu Kyi.

Yet Suu Kyi remains as popular as she was five years ago and is expected to lead her party to victory again. Her defiance of international censure over the Rohingya exodus, and the calls to take back her Nobel Peace Prize, seem to have only bolstered her status as a national icon among the majority Buddhist Bamar.

Where India meets China

It has also pushed Suu Kyi into the waiting arms of China, which has been involved in a slew of infrastructure projects in Myanmar, and has wooed her and the NLD since 2015, separately from its continuing tight relations with the military.

Beijing laid out the red carpet for Suu Kyi when she visited in 2016. In January 2020, President Xi Jinping was a high value guest at Naypidaw, with Myanmar Air Force fighter jets escorting Xi’s plane as it landed in the capital.

In an op-ed in Myanmar’s state-run newspaper, Xi wrote that China would support Myanmar in “safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity”. Much like how it was Sri Lanka’s only ally during the country’s post-war dog days, China is now Myanmar’s main ally in a world whose ardour for Suu Kyi has long cooled.

During the visit, no new infrasructure projects were signed but the two sides reaffirmed support for speeding up the “China-Myanmar Economic Corridor”, which includes a high-speed railway between industrial zones within the country with connections to the Chinese border, and an ambitious $1.3-billion deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu in central Rakhine, which will provide Beijing a gateway to the Indian Ocean, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

Any push against China in Myanmar now comes from the restive regions where the big infra projects threaten to displace people, as in 2011 in Kachin, where a year after Suu Kyi’s release, protests forced the cancellation of a Chinese 6,000 MW Myistone hydel dam.

“After the election, the trajectory of China-Myanmar relations will not change much no matter what the election result is. China will always be a trusted partner of Myanmar and is set to play a constructive role in Myanmar’s development and peace process,” a columnist wrote in Global Times, a Chinese state-run media outlet.

New Delhi has kept cordial relations with both Suu Kyi and the Myanmar Army. While Buddhism provides a cultural bond, and the Modi government has made common cause with the Myanmar government on the Rohingya issue, India does not have the deep pockets for Chinese-style infrastructure projects. India is working on two key infrastructure projects in Myanmar —a trilateral highway between India-Myanmar and Thailand, and the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit project that aims to connect mainland India to the landlocked Northeastern states through Myanmar. A port at Sittwe and an inland waterway are part of this project.

Credit: indianexpress.com

A sea of red

Aung San Suu Kyi seems set to return to power in Myanmar

Myanmar goes to the polls in a matter of days in the midst of a surging ‘second wave’ of the coronavirus. Despite the mounting death toll — now claiming more than 30 people a day — millions of voters will cast their ballots in what is a crucial election that could decide what happens to the country’s fragile transition to democracy. This could be a watershed moment in Myanmar’s recent political history and irreversibly cement the country’s desire for democracy and civilian government.  

  Although the pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the last election in 2015, the army continues to play a major role in determining the country’s development, making it difficult for Suu Kyi to govern. The military still exercises enormous political power in what is essentially a ‘coalition’ administration: under the pro-military 2008 Constitution, the military has 25 per cent of the seats in the national and the regional Parliaments; the army chief appoints three ministers — border, defence and interior — and exercises enormous autonomy over budget, defence and security matters.

This is the third election since the former military rulers allowed a measure of democracy and introduced multi-party elections 10 years ago. Although there are more than 90 parties contesting the elections, only two are serious contenders: the NLD and the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party. Urban areas like Mandalay and Yangon are awash with the red flags and posters of the NLD, whereas visible support for the USDP, the ‘green party’ as it is known in Myanmar, is more subdued.  

“It’s confusing all these parties — more than last time [2015],” said Yadarna Khine, a 41-year-old, female street-seller whose business has been hit hard by the strict Covid-19 restrictions imposed in Yangon. “I just know the NLD and USDP parties, but I am going to vote NLD as I wish the next government to work to help and solve all our troubles and problems,” she said. 

This will be a deeply flawed election according to many academics, analysts and diplomats. Not the least because of the recent resurgence of Covid-19. For a while, it seemed that like much of East Asia Myanmar had weathered the storm, but it has been left reeling from a recent ‘second wave’ of the pandemic. The rates of infection and the death toll are continuing to mount. Last month, the country posted a record 2,000 cases in a single day: Myanmar now has more Covid-19 cases and deaths than any other mainland Southeast Asian country.

The pandemic has virtually paralysed most of Myanmar, raising significant and substantial questions about the advisability of the polls going ahead. Opposition political parties are in no doubt that the difficulties unacceptably damage the election’s viability and are clamouring for the polls to be postponed. 

Electioneering has been effectively halted in most of the country. Traditional campaigning with rallies, door-to-door canvassing and other activities have been severely curtailed owing to the pandemic, and political parties have been left to campaign mostly online — which gives the ruling NLD an enormous advantage.

“More than ever this is an election which is really being fought digitally — on social media,” said Felix Hass, a business consultant and analyst based in Yangon. 

While critics have accused the government of mishandling the response to the Covid-19 crisis, the pandemic has given Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD an opportunity to emphasize leadership and authority. “Our rules and regulations are not meant to restrict people,” the country’s de facto leader and State Counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a televised speech introducing the new lockdown measures earlier last month. “We intend to contain the disease,” she pledged. She portrays herself almost as the commander-in-chief, with her nightly televised addresses to the public. “I want the people to understand how much importance our union government has given to this matter, and how much effort is being put in for the health and security of the people, to the best of our ability.”

The public response has been very positive. “As a Yangon resident, I see the government restrictions as somewhat necessary in order to contain the virus though there are some drawbacks on social and economic activities,” said Ma San Maw, a 34-year-old communication consultant.  “As far as I know, Aung San Suu Kyi is really trying hard to control and prevent the spread of the virus. I really think this government is doing a good job for our country and our people,” she added.

But it is very difficult to distinguish between her role as the country’s key civilian leader and that of the ruling party’s main figurehead seeking re-election in the run-up to the elections. As a result, most Opposition parties have accused Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD of having an unfair advantage. These elections are now undoubtedly ‘Covid elections’ — the pandemic is dominating everything, making Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD outright favourites to win.

“Covid has changed the landscape of the election,” according to the analyst and entrepreneur, Zaw Naing. “Her presence on Facebook is a massive win… she’s everywhere — on social media, television and the front page of the government newspapers. It’s all you see,” he added. “It will almost certainly seal the deal for these elections, as there’s little room left to move on the campaign trail — with social distancing requirements and now the ban on travel and other constraints — social media will play a critical role, even more so than in the previous election,” said the head of Mandalay Technology. 

From the very early stages of the emergence of the coronavirus in Myanmar —back in March — Aung San Suu Kyi has shown strong leadership, reinforced later by the astute use of social media. Her lectures and discussions on Facebook have demonstrated the command that the government and the State Counsellor have over the situation. It has left the other political parties flat-footed and bewildered; and it has left the country’s military — an integral part of the power structure — side-lined. 

“As the face of the government’s very effective response to Covid, she has done amazingly well. Her arrival on social media is good leadership and it’s been remarkably effective,” said Hass. Her speeches are retweeted on social media by NLD supporters and sympathizers and circulated on a recently formed Viber ‘Covid chat group’ with more than one and a half million official followers, he pointed out.

In Yangon at least, public opinion seems to strongly endorse the desire for a civilian and democratic future. For Aung Zaw Win, a 64-year-old English teacher, the choice is very clear: “I am very excited and eager to vote, and I will vote for the NLD,” he said. “I expect the next NLD government to write a new Constitution to replace the present [pro-military] 2008 Constitution,” he added.

Already many voters are hoping that these elections will represent a step forward on the road to genuine democracy, inclusiveness and good governance “For the start of a new era of democracy, the next government [Cabinet] must be formed with a group of technocrats in charge to formulate evidence-based policy instead of opting for loyal people because of political reasons,” said Poe Pwint Phyu, a 31-year-old medical supplies representative. 

While the election maybe grievously flawed, there is little doubt that the NLD will win. But then the real problem will be the next five years. Will the NLD  be able to change the Constitution and introduce a genuinely democratic and federal Constitution, forcing the soldiers to return to their barracks?

Credit: www.telegraphindia.com

India to handover Kilo class attack submarine to Myanmar

Move in line with vision that aspires to guarantee security for all maritime partners, says MEA

India will hand over INS Sindhuvir, a Kilo class submarine to the Myanmar Navy, the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Thursday. Addressing the weekly press interaction, official spokesperson of MEA Anurag Srivastava said this will be the first submarine of the Southeast Asian country and the move is in line with the overall Indian vision that aspires to guarantee security for all maritime partners.

“In this context, India will be delivering a Kilo class submarine INS Sindhuvir to the Myanmar Navy. We understand that this will be the first submarine of the Myanmar Navy. This is in accordance with our vision of SAGAR — Security and Growth for All in the Region, and also in line with our commitment to build capacities and self-reliance in all our neighbouring countries,” said Mr. Srivastava to a question.

The announcement came days after Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane visited Myanmar and held talks with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander in Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The submarine, purchased from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, has undergone modernisation at the Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) in Vizag.

It belongs to a class of diesel-electric attack submarines built by the Soviet Union during the Cold War years.

The submarine will be the first in a fleet that Myanmar wishes to build and is likely to be used initially for training and orientation purposes for its Navy personnel. Last year, India supplied Myanmar ‘Shyena’ advanced light torpedoes as part of a defence deal. The October 4-5 visit of Mr. Shringla and General Naravane was also noteworthy as Myanmar and Bangladesh have recently engaged in a war of words over heightened military tension near the border at Chittagong regarding the Rohingya issue.

India’s military outreach to Myanmar is important as it comes in the backdrop of the ongoing military tension along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh between India and China, a leading industrial and business partner of the Southeast Asian state.

Credit: www.thehindu.com

‘Shocking’ killing of children allegedly used as human shields

A settlement in Rakhine province, northern Myanmar. (file photo)

UN agencies in Myanmar have expressed ‘sadness’ and ‘shock’ over the killing of two boys, allegedly used as human shields by security forces in the country’s northern Rakhine province, earlier this month

The two boys were killed in a crossfire between Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the separatist Arakan Army. The incident occurred on 5 October in Buthidaung township – a hotspot for army abuses against children for non-combat purposes, since mid-2019, the UN agencies said in a statement, on Wednesday.  

The children were part of a group of around 15 local farmers, all of whom were allegedly forced to walk in front of a Tatmadaw unit to ensure the path towards a military camp was clear of landmines, and to protect the soldiers from potential enemy fire. 

On the way, fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, after which the two boys were found dead with gunshot wounds. 

‘Hold killers accountable’ 

The incident occurred within the 12 months of the delisting of the Tatmadaw for underage recruitment in the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) of 2020, agencies noted. 

In the statement, the UN agencies – co-chairs of the UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar (CTFMR) – called for a “full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident” and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable. 

“This egregious incident serves as a stark reminder that children are put at risk of being killed or injured whenever they are associated with armed forces and groups in any capacity or function, regardless of the duration of their association,” the agencies said. 

‘Alarming’ increase in violations

The UN agencies also voiced “deep alarm” over an alarming increase of reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar. 

More than 100 children were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the total number of child casualties in 2018. 

“As Myanmar tackles the resurgence of COVID-19, we urge all parties to the conflict to intensify efforts to ensure children are protected from all grave violations, to ensure access to humanitarian assistance and services, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force where civilians are present,” they urged. 

‘Grave Violations’  

Adopted unanimously by the Security Council, resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict mandates the United Nations to establish UN-led taskforces in countries where there is verified evidence that grave violations against children are being committed by parties to a conflict, either by armed forces and/or by armed groups.  

Through a monitoring and reporting mechanism, the taskforce documents, verifies and reports to the Security Council on the six grave violations: killing or maiming; recruitment and use in armed forces and armed groups; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction; and denial of humanitarian access. 

In Myanmar the the taskforce was established in 2007 and is co-chaired by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UNICEF Representative to the country. 

Credit: news.un.org

Making Sense of India’s Myanmar Manoeuvres: To Counter China, New Delhi Looks East and Acts Fast

A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Myanmar’s President Win Myint in New Delhi. (AFP)

Countries like Myanmar are treading cautiously even as China is pushing several infrastructure projects, including its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in Southeast Asia. The ongoing border standoff with China seems to have offered India an opportunity to further strengthen its economic and military ties with its eastern neighbour. ​

In a major boost to the Narendra Modi government’s Act East policy, India and Myanmar have agreed to operationalise the strategic Sittwe port in Rakhine state early next year, and initiate steps to complete India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highways. The flagship policy aims to strengthen India’s relations with the Asia Pacific region.

The move assumes significance in the context of China’s growing footprints in South and Southeast Asia. China is also aggressively pursuing what is known as its “debt-trap diplomacy” in India’s neighbourhood and beyond, in order to extract economic and political concessions from the borrowing countries when they are unable to repay the loans.

For instance, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port is widely cited as a classic case of China’s predatory lending practice. It is believed that the island nation had to hand over the port to China after being unable to pay off its loans issued to construct the project.

However, countries like Myanmar are treading cautiously even as China is pushing several infrastructure projects, including its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in Southeast Asia. The ongoing border standoff with China seems to have offered India an opportunity to further strengthen its economic and military ties with its eastern neighbour. India’s proposal to invest $6 billion to set up an oil refinery near Yangon is a step in that direction.

INDIA FAST-TRACKS KEY PROJECTS

Earlier this month, an Indian delegation led by Army chief General MM Naravane and foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Naypyidaw and “held extensive discussions in the areas of bilateral cooperation” with Myanmarese officials, a statement issued by the ministry of external affairs said.

Both sides agreed to operationalise the Sittwe port on the Bay of Bengal in the first quarter of 2021. Sittwe is India’s answer to the Chinese-funded Kyaukphyu port in Rakhine under its BRI, which is intended to cement China’s geostrategic footprint in the state, reports The Irrawaddy, one of Myanmar’s leading publications.

The deep-water port, which was constructed with India’s assistance, is part of the $484-million Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project. The latter is expected to create a sea, river and road corridor for cargo shipment from Kolkata to Mizoram through Sittwe port and Paletwa inland water terminal in Myanmar’s Chin state.

The Kaladan project that was initiated by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2008 under its ‘Look East’ (now Act East) policy received a fresh push after the Modi government took over in 2014. However, the road component – an 87-km highway connecting Lawngtlai in south Mizoram with Zorinpui on the India-Myanmar border – has missed several deadlines.

The outlawed Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting against Myanmar’s Tatmadaw or military in Rakhine state – the epicentre of the 2018 Rohingya crisis – has put a spanner in the works. Designated as a terrorist organisation, the AA wants India to pay “taxes” to continue work in the Kaladan project. Last year, AA rebels had abducted some Indians engaged in the project and later released them.

TRILATERAL HIGHWAY PROJECT

New Delhi and Naypyidaw also discussed progress on other ongoing Indian-assisted infrastructure projects such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highways connecting landlocked Northeast with Southeast Asia, according to the MEA statement.

The road project has its share of controversy though. In August, the Supreme Court had allowed the Modi government to continue the construction work of the highway project despite a dispute over the contract between the government and a construction firm.

India has undertaken two projects in Myanmar under the 1,360-km highway project that starts from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand through Myanmar, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said in a letter to Rajya Sabha member from Assam, Birendra Prasad Baishya, in response to his query over the status of the project.

These are construction of the 120-km Kalewa-Yagyi road sections to highway standard and upgrading of 69 bridges and approach roads on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section of 150 km, the minister said.

INDIA’S INTERESTS IN KACHIN

Apart from these big bang projects, India is slowly, but steadily making inroads into the mineral-rich Kachin state where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been at war with the Myanmar army since a ceasefire pact collapsed in 2011. The visiting Indian delegation attended the virtual inauguration of the Centre of Excellence in Software Development and Training (CESDT) in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state. CESDT was set up under the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund.

Kachin in northern Myanmar, which is located next to China’s Yunnan province, has seen massive Chinese investments in mining, infrastructure and industrial projects in recent years. India could in no way match China’s economic prowess. And, experts say, New Delhi’s interests in Kachin seem to be guided more by strategic reasons than economic ones.

The Kachin rebels can “generate critical intelligence for India” in the event of full-scale military hostilities with China in the eastern sector and “may even empower India’s so-called ‘Tibet card’,” according to Avinash Paliwal, associate professor, International Relations, SOAS, University of London.

“Equally, it can help generate access for Indian security officials with the Arakan Army, which is challenging the Tatmadaw in Rakhine State and has considerable influence on the ground to shape the success or failure of the Kaladan MMT project,” Paliwal wrote in an article.

Credit: www.news18.com

WHO Admires India’s Support To Myanmar In Fight Against COVID-19

COVID-19: WHO representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar

Nay Pyi Taw: 

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar in the fight against the pandemic.

Dr Stephen Paul Jost, while speaking to Ravindera Jain, an Indian journalist based in Yangon, shared his perspective over the current coronavirus situation and vaccine possibility to break the chain of the virus.

Jost praised India for its contribution to Myanmar with the donation of Remdesivir, an antiviral medicine. He said, “India has been supporting Myanmar. There have been 3000 vials of antiviral drugs made available. It’s called Remdesivir, through a recent visit by the Foreign Secretary of India, and this is also much appreciated and also other supports that are there.”

He added, “As have other countries, Singapore for instance, through the Foreign Minister has recently made available 25,000 PCR-based test kits and one million masks and two hundred thousand bottles of sanitizers. As have other countries that have contributed, the United Nations family has also contributed a great deal and WHO within but there are many other agencies also UNICEF, WFP, UNOX, UNHCR and many have been helping.”

Delivering his viewpoint over the pandemic, Jost said, “Social measures that have been adopted by the National Health Authorities and by the Central Committee led by state counsellor. This leadership aspect, the political leadership, the partnership, the preventive measures, and people’s participation, those four have been critically important in overcoming this pandemic, and that will remain true for the saviour future.”

WHO Admires India's Support To Myanmar In Fight Against COVID-19

COVID-19: WHO representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar1Nay Pyi Taw: 

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation representative in Myanmar has admired India for its assistance to Myanmar in the fight against the pandemic.

Dr Stephen Paul Jost, while speaking to Ravindera Jain, an Indian journalist based in Yangon, shared his perspective over the current coronavirus situation and vaccine possibility to break the chain of the virus.

Jost praised India for its contribution to Myanmar with the donation of Remdesivir, an antiviral medicine. He said, “India has been supporting Myanmar. There have been 3000 vials of antiviral drugs made available. It’s called Remdesivir, through a recent visit by the Foreign Secretary of India, and this is also much appreciated and also other supports that are there.”

He added, “As have other countries, Singapore for instance, through the Foreign Minister has recently made available 25,000 PCR-based test kits and one million masks and two hundred thousand bottles of sanitizers. As have other countries that have contributed, the United Nations family has also contributed a great deal and WHO within but there are many other agencies also UNICEF, WFP, UNOX, UNHCR and many have been helping.”

Delivering his viewpoint over the pandemic, Jost said, “Social measures that have been adopted by the National Health Authorities and by the Central Committee led by state counsellor. This leadership aspect, the political leadership, the partnership, the preventive measures, and people’s participation, those four have been critically important in overcoming this pandemic, and that will remain true for the saviour future.”

Myanmar is one of India’s strategic neighbors and shared a 1,640 km-long border with a number of northeastern states including Nagaland and Manipur.

Credit: www.ndtv.com

Myanmar: Villages burned, civilians injured and killed as Rakhine State conflict escalates

  • Civilians, including children, killed or injured
  • Remote sensing analysis confirms ethnic Rakhine villages ablaze on 3 September

Amnesty International has gathered new evidence of indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Rakhine State, amid serious escalations in the ongoing armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA). 

This evidence is based on firsthand testimony, photographs and video obtained from inside Rakhine State, and analysis of satellite imagery as well as media reports and civil society sources. Witnesses’ names have been changed. 

“There are no signs of the conflict between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military abating – and civilians continue to bear the brunt,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns. 

“The Myanmar military’s utter disregard for civilian suffering grows more shocking and brazen by the day. The UN Security Council must urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.” 

Amnesty International is also concerned at recent reports of an increased presence of Myanmar military troops along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Images of antipersonnel landmines recently found in a civilian area were analysed by Amnesty’s weapons expert and identified as the MM2 type landmine often used by the Myanmar military. This device is larger than most anti-personnel landmines, and typically inflicts severe damage. 
 
Both the Arakan Army and Myanmar military use antipersonnel devices, and as such definitively establishing provenance is not always possible. Current restrictions on access preclude on-the-ground documentation efforts by Amnesty International. 
 
Several incidents involving civilians injured or killed by landmines have been credibly reported in Rakhine and Chin States in recent months by local civil society and media outlets. 
 
One of the most recent instances was on September 18, when a 44-year-old Chin woman stood on a landmine while collecting bamboo shoots near the Myanmar military’s Light Infantry Battalion 289 base in Paletwa. She died of her injuries a short time after. 

Amnesty International also notes with alarm recent local media reports of the Myanmar military using Rohingya children for forced portering in Buthidaung Township, in an area where clashes with the Arakan Army are ongoing. 

‘I didn’t think it could be our village’  

On the morning of 8 September 2020, Maung Soe* was at work near his village of Nyaung Kan in Myebon Township when he heard heavy weaponry, which he describes as sounding like thunder. 

“I didn’t think it could be our village. I thought it was somewhere else. I tried to call my wife and she wasn’t answering. I heard it two times — jain, jain — within one minute. 

“I went to the village and I heard some people got injured. When I got home, my wife and my daughter were laid down on the floor. [My wife] was not saying anything. I tried to check my [seven-year-old] daughter and she was still alive. I picked up my daughter and tried to get out. 

“I didn’t see [any soldiers]. The weapon came from very far. And when I tried to run by hugging my daughter’s body, there was more shooting. I tried to lay over my daughter’s body, near the stream. Within two minutes, my daughter passed away. 

“Even after my daughter passed away, I could still hear the weapons coming… I had to run away, leaving my daughter’s body. I came back later when they stopped shooting.”  

Maung Soe says there were no Arakan Army fighters in Nyaung Kan. Villagers believe the heavy weaponry was fired from a Myanmar military base near the border with Ann Township. 

The shelling at Nyaung Kan village in Myebon Township claimed the lives of five people, including Maung Soe’s wife and daughter. All were from the Rakhine ethnic group, and two were seven-year-old children. Ten others were wounded in the attack. 

By one local civil society group’s estimate, the number of civilians killed in this conflict since December 2018 in Rakhine and Chin States stands at 289, with 641 injured. 
 
The true figure cannot be independently verified, as a mobile internet shutdown and broader government crackdowns on media reporting have impeded documentation efforts in conflict-affected areas. However, in July 2020, Amnesty International was able to document indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling by the Myanmar military, killing or injuring civilians, including children. 

On 14 September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that in some recent cases in Rakhine State, civilians “appear to have been targeted or attacked indiscriminately, which may constitute further war crimes or even crimes against humanity.” 

Maung Soe is now displaced, and says he wants to see the Myanmar military withdraw from Rakhine State to prevent further harm: “As I suffer, and as I have lost my family, I don’t want any other Rakhine people to have a similar experience in the future.” 

  
‘One from the road and one from the mountain’: Burned village attacked from two directions 

Remote sensing analysis and new witness testimony gathered by Amnesty International suggest that Myanmar soldiers burned a village in central Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Township in early September. 

Over 120 structures in Taung Pauk and Hpa Yar Paung appear burned in Planet imagery from 10 September 2020. Fires were remotely detected in the villages with satellite sensors on 3 September 2020.

One witness, villager U Kyaw Tin*, who lives in the area, told Amnesty International that he was walking with his cow when the Myanmar military launched an assault on Hpa Yar Paung began on 3 September.  
 
“[They] started shooting, they entered the village. I didn’t know exactly where the shooting came from … We were trying to run to the other side. We didn’t really see what exactly was going on, because we all were running.” 

He said that it appeared the village was closed in on by the Myanmar military from two directions: “Two [sets of] troops, one from each side – one from the road and one from the mountain. There was also shooting from [a remote location], but there was also something from the roadside, coming in by car.” 

A spokesperson for the Myanmar military, Major General Zaw Min Tun, told journalists a police vehicle was attacked by the Arakan Army with a remotely detonated improvised explosive device (IED) near the village. 

According to information supplied to Amnesty International, the Myanmar military were seen arresting two Rakhine men from the village that evening. Their bodies were reportedly found near the river with gunshot wounds the next morning. 

Their bodies have since been transported by the military for postmortem in Kyauktaw. The Myanmar military told the media “two enemy bodies and a gun” were seized from the site.  

“[The Myanmar military] started the arson attack around 9pm,” U Kyaw Tin told Amnesty International. “After they finished the arson attack they went to another site near the hill and they started to also attack there.” 

Satellite image analysis conducted by Amnesty International has found that over 120 structures in the ethnic Rakhine-populated villages of Taung Pauk and Hpa Yar Paung villages in Kyauktaw Township appeared burned to the ground, in imagery captured on 10 September 2020. 

Amnesty International also examined satellite sensor data from 3 September which showed thermal anomalies. Additionally, Amnesty International analysed a video of the charred village of Hpar Yar Paung, recorded on 4 September from a passing vehicle, which revealed a ground-level snapshot of the extensive destruction. All three information sources appear consistent with reports of the blaze on the night of 3 September 2020. 

U Kyaw Tin said around 80 houses were completely destroyed, and over 90 damaged. Hpar Yar Paung’s 500 residents are now displaced inside Kyauktaw Township, dependent on aid from Rakhine civil society groups in Kyauktaw town. 

New figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) indicate that 89,564 people were displaced to 180 sites in Rakhine State between January 2019 and 7 September 2020. 

These figures are based on numbers provided by the Rakhine State government and UNOCHA’s humanitarian partners. Local civil society groups indicate the true displacement figure is likely higher, as villagers have fled to areas now only nominally under government control. 
 
This adds to the existing mass displacement crisis in Rakhine, where over 130,000 Rohingya have been interned in camps since 2012. 
 

‘We didn’t know anything’: Internet shutdown amid the pandemic 

The mobile internet shutdown that had been in place across parts of Rakhine State and neighboring Chin State for the last year was partially lifted in August; however, the authorities have throttled network speeds to 2G in some of the areas most affected by armed conflict. 

The Myanmar government had stated the mobile internet blackout was necessary to prevent “incitement” and remote detonations of anti-personnel explosive devices by the Arakan Army.

However, the blackout has impeded the delivery of critical humanitarian aid and access to crucial information about the conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, with the virus increasingly spreading across Myanmar since mid-August, including and particularly in Rakhine State. 

In Maung Soe’s case, the lack of connectivity meant his village has been kept in the dark about the scale and location of fighting. 

“We don’t have any connection and we don’t know anything about what’s going on, about the conflict and the attacks in other places,” said Maung Soe. 

In addition to the internet blackout, humanitarian access remains severely curtailed by government edict across much of Rakhine State and a township in Chin State.  

Healthcare access in Rakhine State remains abysmal, and particularly so for the Rohingya population, who have long been subject to severe movement restrictions and, often, extortion by police and military. 
 
The Myanmar government should ensure full, unfettered access to humanitarian actors and allow all people in the state to access healthcare. 

Amnesty International is concerned that the sweeping powers granted under COVID-19 orders are ripe for abuse – particularly in conflict-affected areas. 
 

Impunity and secrecy mar military sexual violence scandal 

On 11 September 2020, the Myanmar military admitted that three of its soldiers had raped an ethnic Rakhine woman during operations in Rathedaung Township on 30 June despite their outright denials when the allegations were first raised in July. 

Last week, in a statement on the incident, the military publicly named the survivor but not the perpetrators. 

“Even when the Myanmar military are compelled to admit wrongdoing, their handling of this appalling sexual violence case shows a complete neglect for accountability,” said Ming Yu Hah. 

“These shocking events speak volumes about the Tatmadaw, and how deep the assumption of impunity runs within its ranks.” 

“The international community must raise the alarm about the situation in Rakhine State now, or face questions later about why they failed to act – again.” 

Credit: www.amnesty.org

Army chief, foreign secretary to seal shipping agreement and security ties with Myanmar

India believes that close ties with Myanmar are a key to development for its northeast region.

Indian Army chief General MM Naravane and and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla will comprehensively review ties with Myanmarese leadership so that there is no discrepancy in the exchange of views, according to South Block officials.

On the eve of Myanmar general elections, Indian Army chief General MM Naravane and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla are headed towards Naypyidaw on Sunday to seal the much-awaited coastal shipping agreement to activate the Kaladan multi-modal project and cement security ties against insurgent groups. Gen Naravane and Shringla will meet senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor of Myanmar, as last incoming foreign visitors before November 8 elections.

According to South Block officials, both Gen Naravane and Shringla will comprehensively review ties with Myanmarese leadership so that there is no discrepancy in the exchange of views. The highlight of the one-day two-day visit will be the coastal shipping agreement that will allow Indian ships to reach Mizoram via Sittwe Port on the Bay of Bengal and through the Kaladan river multi-modal link. This project has been hanging fire for the past 20 years when it was envisaged by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

The two sides will also discuss strengthening security ties by making the India-Myanmar border impenetrable to the anti-India insurgents and drug smugglers. A large number of anti-India insurgents are based across the Moreh border in Manipur and across Vijayanagar salient in Arunachal Pradesh. The anti-India insurgents are armed with Chinese weapons with their leaders like Paresh Baruah of the ULFA based in Ruili in Yunnan province of China. The Indian-Myanmar border is also used to smuggle synthetic drugs like YABA and heroin.

India and Myanmar will also discuss in increasing cooperation in the energy sector with New Delhi already investing more than $1.4 billion dollars into the development of hydrocarbon-rich off-shore blocks in the Andaman Seas.

While there is a significant presence of China in Myanmar in the infrastructure, hydrocarbon, power and ports sector, Naypyidaw is keen to develop across the board ties with India. The Myanmarese leadership is clear that its ties with China cannot be at the cost of the bilateral relationship with India.

During the visit of Indian top officials, the two sides will also discuss the issue of rehabilitation of the Rohingyas with India already discussing the facilitation of the refugees back to Myanmar. All three countries do not want Pakistan-based Islamist groups to infiltrate into the Rohingya refugee settlements on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border and radicalize them. Already there is evidence that Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Bangladesh-based Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen group have sent their cadres to radicalize the Rohingyas.

“As India sees Myanmar as the key to develop and secure its north-east region, the dialogue with Naypyidaw will be comprehensive and discuss all aspects of the relationship,” said a senior official.

Credit: www.hindustantimes.com

India discusses Rohingya refugees issue with Myanmar as Bangladesh’s ‘close neighbour’

Army chief Gen. M M Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on 5 October | Twitter/@IndiainMyanmar

India has informed Myanmar that it has committed to humanitarian efforts in both Myanmar & Bangladesh to facilitate early return of displaced Rohingyas.

New Delhi: India Monday raised the issue of an “early repatriation” of the Rohingya refugees with Myanmar, as a “close friend, partner and neighbour” of that country as well as Bangladesh, ThePrint has learnt.

The issue was discussed in detail by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Army Chief Gen. M.M. Naravane during a two-day visit to Myanmar that concluded Monday. India had not sent such a high-powered delegation to Myanmar in the recent past.

During the visit, the foreign secretary and Army chief called on State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Repatriation of Rohingyas

Diplomatic sources said India has leveraged the issue of Rohingya refugees based on the fact that it continues to be a “close friend, partner, and neighbour” of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, and has a “deep and abiding interest to see an early stabilisation of the situation in the Rakhine State”.

India has informed Myanmar that New Delhi “fully understands the urgency of this situation” and, thus, it has committed to humanitarian efforts in both Myanmar and Bangladesh to facilitate “an early return of the displaced persons”, according to sources.

The Rohingyas are an ethnic minority group, who are predominantly Muslims, based in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Thousands of Rohingyas had to flee the state due to an ongoing decades-long conflict between the Myanmar Army and rebels from Arakan Army.

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees, about one million of whom presently reside in Bangladesh, was raised by Dhaka with New Delhi last month. Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen took it up on priority with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during the India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Commission meeting.

Sources also said India has provided five tranches of relief supplies to Bangladesh and is “willing to do more”.

India already runs a Rakhine State Development Project in order to help the Myanmar government to bring back the refugees and provide them a stable life there.

Credit: theprint.in

Why China wants Suu Kyi to win Myanmar’s polls

China’s interests will be better served by the Suu Kyi-led status quo than a return to military-dominated rule

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi shake hands before a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw on January 18, 2020. Photo: AFP/ Nyein Chan Naing/Pool

BANGKOK – As Myanmar enters an election season, the economy, Covid-19 and issues of war and peace are expected to dominate the campaign trail discourse.

But for the international community, speculation centers on which direction foreign policy will likely take after the poll: toward an even stronger and closer relationship with China or a shift towards a more independent posture.

Much has changed since the leaders in Beijing favored Myanmar’s authoritarian military regime and were deeply suspicious of then opposition leader and one-time pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Now, Chinese government representatives have made no secret in recent private discussions that they would prefer to see Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) win and are wary of the generals, who they find it increasingly difficult to influence and control.

The military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party lost badly to the NLD at the 2015 election and it’s not clear it will fare much better at this November’s poll.

While Myanmar’s military sees it as their duty to defend the nation’s sovereignty and seek to lessen national dependence on China, Suu Kyi turned to Beijing for economic and other assistance after her previous allies and admirers in the West distanced themselves from her over the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Beginning in August 2017 and still ongoing, thousands of Rohingyas have been killed while hundreds of thousands have fled across the border into Bangladesh due to a Myanmar military crackdown.

Once seen as a champion of human rights, Suu Kyi refused to condemn the carnage the UN and others have termed as possible “genocide.” As such, Suu Kyi turned dramatically and almost overnight from darling to pariah of the West.

The third force in Myanmar’s topsy-turvy foreign relations is Japan, which sees the dangers of the region’s shifting geopolitics and thus has not joined the West’s condemnations.

Rohingya refugees shout slogans at a protest against a disputed repatriation program at the Unchiprang refugee camp near Teknaf on November 15, 2018. Photo: AFP/Dibyangshu Sarkar

From August 21 to 24, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi paid visits to Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to strengthen Tokyo’s presence in the four Southeast Asian countries. That his tour took place amid the pandemic underscores the importance of his mission: to counter China’s rising regional clout.

In Myanmar, Motegi met Suu Kyi as well as Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Motegi promised Suu Kyi technical assistance to contain the spread of Covid-19. They also agreed to better facilitate travel for businesspeople and students between the two countries.

In discussions with Min Aung Hlaing, Motegi pledged support for Myanmar’s peace process. A statement issued by Japan’s Foreign Ministry also stated rather curiously and without elaborating that Motegi and Min Aung Hlaing “exchanged views” on regional affairs, “including the South China Sea issue and concurred on deepening cooperation between the two countries.”

It remains to be seen whether Motegi’s promises to Suu Kyi will be enough to make a dent in Beijing’s already strong influence over Myanmar. That’s plain to see in the so-called China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a bilateral scheme that involves the construction of high-speed railways, highways and upgraded waterways along Myanmar’s rivers.

The project is seen as a crucial link in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which arguably will take on more importance in neighboring Southeast Asia as tensions rise with the US in a new Cold War.

Myanmar’s link and outlet to the Indian Ocean will provide an alternative route for China’s trade with the Middle Eat, Africa and Europe, which currently travels via vulnerable sea lanes through the contested South China Sea and congested Malacca Strait.

During a historic visit to Myanmar in January, Xi secured no less than 33 memoranda of understanding, including 13 relating to infrastructure projects, in talks with Suu Kyi and other mostly civilian officials.

Those included a multi-billion dollar plan to establish a special economic zone and industrial park near Kyaukphyu, where a deep-sea port is already being developed with Chinese investment.

Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attends a ceremony to mark the 69th Martyrs’ Day in Yangon. Photo: AFP via Mur Photo/U Aung

Min Aung Hlaing, on the other hand, stunned many observers when he said during a visit to Moscow in June in an interview with a Russian news network that “terrorist groups” exist in Myanmar “because of the strong forces that support them.”

Although the military leader did not name any group or foreign force in particular, it was clear that he was referring to the insurgent Arakan Army (AA) in the country’s western Rakhine state which is known to be equipped with Chinese-made weapons.

In November, the Myanmar military seized a huge cache of Chinese weapons, including brand-new rocket launchers and a surface-to-air missile, from another rebel army in northern Shan state.

China’s carrot and stick policy towards Myanmar consists of loans, grants and support for anti-Covid-19 campaigns on one hand while providing some of the country’s many ethnic armies access to China’s huge, informal arms market, which is grey rather than black.

Despite the Covid-19 crisis and numerous talks between government officials, military leaders and representatives of the country’s many ethnic armed organizations, Myanmar’s civil war is raging in several border areas and it has become increasingly clear that it is being heavily influenced by China.

Initiated by former president, ex-general Thein Sein shortly after he assumed office in March 2011 and continued under the present Suu Kyi administration, the peace process has attracted rich support from the West as well as Japan.

But a national ceasefire agreement (NCA) comprises only a handful of groups, some without arms or territory under their control. The most recent peace meeting was held this month and ended with nothing more than an agreement to hold further talks about talks.

The fact remains that groups representing more than 80% of all ethnic combatants have not signed the NCA and are unlikely to do so. Those groups, seven in all, are united under the umbrella of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC). All are known to be close to China.

UWSA special force snipers participate in a military parade in the Wa State’s Panghsang, April 17, 2019. Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu

The most powerful of them, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is equipped with Chinese-made assault rifles, machine-guns, mortars, surface-to-air missiles and even light armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles.

AA is a close ally and has via other FPNCC members received weapons from the UWSA. So, too, has the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the far north of the country and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, an ethnic Palaung group that operates over large swathes of territory in northern Shan state.

The West and Japan may be involved in the peace process, and Motegi may have pledged increased support for efforts to bring decades of civil war to an end. But Chinese security officials have in recent meetings with FPNCC members told them not to have any dealings with peacemakers and other officials from the West or Japan.

It is thus clear that China has no intention of giving up its big stick and that recent developments have exposed just how irrelevant other outside actors have become to the peace process.

While the West is caught in the quagmire of the Rohingya crisis and Japan is doing its utmost to maintain and develop ties with Myanmar, China still rules the roost. And that largely explains why China backs a continuation of the democratic status quo, with Suu Kyi and her NLD still in power after November’s election.

Credit: asiatimes.com