Category Archives: Nation

UN charts new territory with project to track all Myanmar’s forests

This file photo taken on July 23, 2015 shows a worker looking on amid a pile of logs at a holding area along the Yangon river in Yangon. (AFP)

A new five-year project in Myanmar will for the first time document all forests in the Southeast Asian nation – including places affected by ethnic tensions – to pinpoint deforestation risks and boost conservation, the United Nations said.

The joint Myanmar-Finland project, launched this week with funding of 8 million euros ($9 million), will monitor all types of forests in an exercise aimed at helping the country reduce emissions that fuel climate change and adapt to warming impacts.

It will also serve as a basis to develop global guidelines for tracking and protecting forests in conflict zones.

“For a lot of people, Myanmar is a country with still a lot of unknowns,” said Julian Fox, team leader for national forest monitoring at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, which is managing the project.

“There are huge areas of forests that have never been measured,” Fox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

About 70% of Myanmar’s population living in rural areas rely on its estimated 29 million hectares (72 million acres) of forests to provide for their basic needs and services.

But Myanmar also has the third-highest deforestation rate in the world – after Brazil and Indonesia – according to the FAO, partly driven by agricultural expansion and logging activities.

Although the authorities in colonial times made efforts to map parts of the country and its forests, Fox said there had never been a complete national forest inventory.

“For accurate information on forests, you need to know many things underneath the canopy – the tree species, soil, even the social-political context,” he said by phone.

The project will measure trees – with the potential to discover new species – and monitor biodiversity and carbon-storage levels, he added.

Starting in non-conflict forest zones, before expanding into less-secure areas such as the borders with China, Bangladesh and Thailand, the project will use modern tools like laser tree-measuring equipment and collect physical samples, Fox said.

It will cover Rakhine, a state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies that charge.

By engaging in sensitive talks with different ethnic groups and organisations on the ground, the FAO hopes to be able to monitor forest areas in higher-risk conflict zones.

Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture and language or dialect.

If methods developed and used here prove successful, they could be applied in other forested and remote conflict-affected areas worldwide seen as off limits up to now, Fox said.

“It is important that conflict sensitivity and human rights remain in the core of the forest monitoring work in order to ensure that it benefits all people, including ethnic minorities,” Finland’s ambassador to Myanmar, Riikka Laatu, said in a statement.

All results and data on Myanmar’s forests will be made publicly available, allowing both the government and different ethnic groups to better manage and protect forests, Fox said.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director-general of the forest department in Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the government was “in urgent need of better and updated data about the state of all the forests in Myanmar”.

By: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION
Credit: www.bangkokpost.com

Afghanistan and Myanmar drown in China’s loans; Afghanistan rejects loan

China’s embarrassment Photograph:( AFP )

Coronavirus may not have been the only virus that China is responsible for. Carried through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has successfully spread the virus of debt too.

Touted as the greatest plan in modern history to revive global trade, the BRI has been the biggest vehicle for China’s chequebook diplomacy.

The loans have crippled many poor economies and now, some of them are waking up to this fact — for instance Afghanista and Myanmar.. 

China claims to have signed agreements with 138 countries. Estimates say the BRI projects will cost over a trillion dollars.

China is running this lending operation for access and power.

While many countries are already drowning in Chinese debt without realizing it, Afghanistan and Myanmar have taken the first step by rejecting Chinese loans.

China’s renewed push in Afghanistan is a curious case. At first, China wanted nothing to do with this country as ridden by violence, it made no business sense.

However, Beijing sensed an opportunity as soon as Trump said he wanted to exit Afghanistan. Ever since, China has been trying to take CPEC into Afghanistan.

But Kabul sees the pitfalls. Afghanistan’s national debt stand at over 1.3 billion dollars, and China wants to give more loans to Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani has declined the loan.

In Myanmar, the auditor general has cautioned the government against Chinese loans.

Myanmar is already busy paying back loans taken during decades of misgovernance under the military junta. But, Myanmar is firmly in China’s grip. So, saying no to chinese loans won’t be easy…

China is Myanmar’s largest lender, and its biggest trading partner.

Myanmar’s current national debt stands at 10 billion dollars — 40 percent of this debt is already owed to China.

From 1988 to 2010, China gave out massive loans to Myanmar. These loans have been coming due since 2018, and Myanmar is paying back around 500 million dollars per year, including principal and four percent interest rate.

This is a classic example of China’s preadatory lending.

The auditor general has pointed out that loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the world bank or the IMF. He said, “I would like to remind government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.”

However, will the government listen?

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to speed up projects under the BRI. This resulted in 33 agreements, from mega power projects to railways.

Myanmar has already suffered once, it must not repeat the mistake again.

China’s gameplan

Chinese financial institutions lend money for BRI projects. Construction contracts are awarded to mostly Chinese firms.

A Chinese company receives much of the proceeds of the loan and then projects tend to suffer delays or cancellations. There are corruption concerns, and the host country ends up with a massive pile of debt.

Edited By:  Palki Sharma

Credit: www.wionews.com

SK Telecom sends cyber experts to Myanmar amid national SOC development

South Korean provider also targets expansion through Vietnam and Thailand

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) of Myanmar has moved to bolster cyber prevention and defence capabilities through a security-focused partnership with SK Telecom.

Terms of the contract will see the South Korean provider deploy a team of cyber security specialists to Myanmar to consult on the “design and establishment” of a security operation centre (SOC) at the government agency until the end of July.

Leveraging SK Telecom’s ‘Smart Guard’ solution, the team will attempt to diagnose security vulnerabilities within NCSC’s existing cyber security infrastructure, alongside offering infrastructure security management guidance and advice.

This is in addition to the provision of SIEM (security information and event management) offerings developed by Korean security specialist Igloo Security. The solution will “collect and analyse” information – such as logs, errors and hacking – generated by diverse systems including servers, network equipment and applications.

“We are pleased to establish our SOC with SK Telecom’s advanced technology and know-how in infrastructure security,” said Ko Ye Naing Moe, director of NCSC. “We will work closely with SK Telecom to better protect Myanmar’s national intelligence and intelligence resources.”

Operating as an agency under the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Myanmar, NCSC is tasked with safeguarding national intelligence against cyber threats, including hacking and distributed denial-of-service (DDos) attacks, as well as protecting the nation’s information and communication networks.

“SK Telecom will work closely with the NCSC to build a sophisticated security operation system in Myanmar to strengthen its protection against the ever-increasing cyber threats,” said Shim Sang-soo, vice president of Infra Business at SK Telecom. “Going forward, armed with strong cyber security capabilities, we will seek further business opportunities in other Asian markets.”

Following the export of services to Myanmar – which Sang-soo said serves as a “strategic hub” connecting the emerging ASEAN markets – SK Telecom expects to expand security reach across other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and Thailand.

Credit: sg.channelasia.tech

Pandemic Adds New Threat for Rohingyas in Myanmar

Burmese Authorities Are Using Covid-19 Response Measures as a Pretext to Harass and Extort Rohingyas

This is what life is like for the 130,000 internally displaced Rohingyas trapped in detention camps in central Rakhine state in Myanmar: in the camps, they have no future, with little access to land or livelihoods. They depend on foreign aid supplies and die of treatable diseases because of limited access to healthcare. Shelters, built in 2012 to last two years, have deteriorated. Most children can only attend basic classes at temporary learning spaces.

Burmese authorities are using Covid-19 response measures as a pretext to harass and extort Rohingyas and are doubling down on a system in which they are already effectively incarcerating the population. Rohingyas in the camps told Human Rights Watch that military and police forces regularly subject them to harassing physical punishment at checkpoints. One Rohingya woman said the police made her do sit-ups for 30 minutes for not wearing a mask through a checkpoint, after which she was too exhausted to move. Another man witnessed people being forced to perform squats at a checkpoint with their hands on their ears.

Last week, the government of Myanmar delivered its much-anticipated first report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – following the court’s unanimous January 23 provisional measures order – explaining what it has done to protect the 600,000 ethnic Rohingyas in Rakhine state, whom a United Nations-backed fact-finding body said remain under threat of genocide.

The reality on the ground for the Rohingyas is dire: “oppressive and systemic restrictions” imposed on those remaining in Rakhine state, which may be indicative of ongoing genocide. The government established the camps following a campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity against Rohingyas in central Rakhine state in 2012. Almost eight years later, they remain in de facto detention camps surrounded by fences, police, and military.

Myanmar has a long history of creating hollow committees and commissions to appease critics, thwart genuine international scrutiny, and diffuse pressure to reform. But the ICJ’s judges made clear that Myanmar must show “concrete measures aimed specifically at recognizing and ensuring the right of the Rohingya to exist as a protected group under the Genocide Convention.”

In recent interviews with Human Rights Watch, displaced Rohingyas in the Sittwe camps described a familiar array of social distancing requirements, frequent handwashing, and mask wearing, all of which also apply to the general population of Myanmar. The consequences for noncompliance are less familiar.

A Rohingya woman told us that Rohingyas are not allowed to cross Sittwe checkpoints without a mask and are fined or receive ad hoc punishments if they aren’t wearing one. Yet the authorities have not provided enough face masks to Rohingyas in the camps. Several camp residents told us that an entire family must share a mask because they could not afford to buy one for each family member.

There is no guarantee that following the Covid-19 rules protects people from extortion. One Rohingya man said, “Police fine people even though they are wearing a mask…they took the money from a man’s pocket, like 20,000” kyat ($14) – a sizeable sum considering many displaced people only receive approximately 15,000 kyat ($11) per month from the UN World Food Program in lieu of food rations.

Rakhine state, one of the poorest in Myanmar, is ill-prepared to handle a Covid-19 outbreak, but the health risks are even higher for displaced Rohingyas in overcrowded and squalid camps. Those in need of medical referrals to Sittwe General Hospital struggle to obtain permission to leave the camps, even in urgent cases. One Rohingya man said that a township official told him that “If people are affected [by Covid-19], you have to get treatment in the camps. They will not be allowed to the hospital.”

But the camps neither have Covid-19 testing nor the capacity to address complex medical cases. This failure to provide an adequate health response is underlined by Myanmar’s nationwide “Action Plan for the Control of Covid-19 Outbreak at IDP Camps,” which does not include testing or plans for the country’s internally displaced people.

Myanmar may point to its recent presidential directives aimed at preventing genocide, preserving evidence, and deterring hate speech as signs of progress in carrying out the ICJ’s order.

But donor governments, the UN, and others wondering about Myanmar’s compliance with the court’s provisional measures order should consider this: The tightening restrictions and increased scope for extortion mean that if Rohingyas need treatment for Covid-19, they may have to forgo food to buy a mask.

Even with a mask, they may still undergo harassment, fines, and physical punishment at multiple checkpoints, only to find that the main clinic in the camps – the only place they can get medical assistance – cannot test them or provide adequate care. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, as well as the fighting between government forces and ethnic armed groups across Rakhine state, threats to the lives and liberty of the Rohingyas remaining in Myanmar are only increasing.

Compliance with the ICJ’s order means Myanmar urgently needs to take real steps to dismantle the oppressive framework that has targeted the remaining Rohingyas inside Rakhine state and promote and protect the rights that they have long been denied. Anything less would be contributing to the Rohingyas’ destruction.

Credit: www.hrw.org

Myanmar: Hundreds Jailed for Covid-19 Violations

Prison Time for Breaking Curfew, Quarantine Is Excessive and Unsafe

Pastor David Lah leaves court after an appearance on charges filed against him for holding religious services in April, Yangon, Myanmar, May 20, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo

(Bangkok) – At least 500 people, including children, returning migrant workers, and religious minorities, have been sentenced to between one month and one year in prison in Myanmar since late March 2020 for violating curfews, quarantines, or other movement control orders, Human Rights Watch said today. Myanmar authorities should stop jailing people for Covid-19-related infractions.

Most have been sentenced under the National Disaster Management Law, Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law, and various penal code provisions. Authorities have charged hundreds more in cases that are ongoing or resulted in fines. Imprisoning people for violating curfews, quarantine, and physical distancing directives is almost always disproportionate as well as counterproductive for reducing threats to public health.

“Limiting public health risks through social distancing is crucial, but jailing people for being outside at night just adds to everybody’s risk,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Throwing hundreds behind bars in crowded, unhygienic prisons defeats the purpose of containing the spread of Covid-19.”

In March and April, national, state, and local authorities announced several directives and restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Measures include a mandatory 28-day quarantine for foreign arrivals, nighttime curfews, a ban on gatherings over five people, and several township-level lockdowns. On March 28, government media announced that “those breaking public health order can face jail time.… The Covid-19 pandemic is also a natural disaster, and those who do not comply with the law can face fines and even prison time.” Local authorities oversee enforcement and criminalization of violations, with wide variations across the country.

International human rights law recognizes that in the context of a serious public health emergency, restrictions on some rights can be justified – but only when those measures are strictly necessary, legal, based on scientific evidence, limited in scope and duration, proportionate to address the crisis, and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application. In the cases below, drawn from media and civil society reports, Myanmar authorities acted well beyond the public health threat posed by Covid-19. These cases represent only a small fraction of the government’s use of punitive measures.

Most of those imprisoned were charged for violating curfew orders under section 188 of the penal code, which carries a sentence of up to six months for “disobedience to [an] order duly promulgated by [a] public servant.” The majority of states and regions imposed curfews in late April requiring people to remain in their homes between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. The government rolled back the nationwide curfew to 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. on May 15.

Authorities arrested 330 people in the border township of Myawaddy, Karen State, between April 20 and May 6 for violating the curfew. At least 50 were sentenced to between two weeks and one month in prison, with the rest fined 50,000 kyat (US$35). Those who could not pay were jailed. In Ayeyarwady Division, authorities sentenced 212 people to between one and two months in prison in April for breaking the regional curfew order. Authorities in Shan State meted out the strictest penalties, sentencing over 20 people to three months in prison for breaking curfew between April 22 and May 4.

Curfew orders are imposed under section 144 of the criminal procedure code, which allows for wide-ranging responses to social conflict or unrest and has long been exploited by security forces to exercise broad de facto emergency powers without oversight. Section 144 should be revised to reduce the scope and scale of its application and increase the threshold for emergency orders, Human Rights Watch said.

People arriving in Myanmar from abroad are required to undergo quarantine for 28 days – 21 in a state facility followed by 7 days of self-quarantine at home. About 61,000 people are currently quarantined in state-run facilities across the country, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports. The majority are migrant workers who have returned from Thailand and China. Border crossings were closed for most of April, but at least 60,000 arrived in March and May.

On April 28, a 15-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy who recently returned from Thailand were sentenced to three months in prison for leaving a state quarantine facility in Mawlamyine after one week. Authorities charged them under section 18 of the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law, which provides up to six months in prison and a 10,000 kyat fine for “whoever violates the prohibitive or restrictive order issued by the relevant organization or officer.” On April 9, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, urged governments to institute a moratorium on new children entering detention facilities, release all children who can be safely released, and protect the health and well-being of children who must remain in detention.

Sections 26 and 30(a) of the Natural Disaster Management Law have also been used regularly to incarcerate violators of quarantine and physical distancing orders. Section 26 carries a prison term of up to two years for anyone who “interferes, prevents, prohibits, assaults or coerces” a department or official conducting “natural disaster management.” Section 30(a) carries a maximum one-year sentence for failing to comply with a disaster management directive.

The Yinmarbin Township Court sentenced a man in Sagaing Division to one year in prison under section 26 for “being drunk and loitering around” while under state monitoring for possible Covid-19 infection. Another man in Sagaing Division was sentenced to six months under section 30(a) for leaving the Ye-U township hospital while being watched for symptoms. Authorities arrested a married couple when the husband visited his wife at a state facility in Naypyidaw where they were quarantined in separate rooms. On April 20, both were sentenced to six months in prison under section 30(a).

States began issuing bans against gatherings of more than five people in March, with a nationwide ban instituted on April 17. In Sagaing’s Khin-U township, two people were sentenced to six months in prison on April 7 under section 30(a) for holding a charity event in violation of the local order against group gatherings. In Chanmyathazi township, Mandalay, 12 Muslims were sentenced on May 8 to three months in prison under section 30(a) for holding prayers at a house. Two boys arrested with them were detained for a month and a half.

On May 4, six labor rights advocates were sentenced to three months in prison for holding a protest at a factory in Yangon regarding a pay dispute. Authorities broke up the protest and charged the six union leaders and members under the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law.

The labor union arrests reflect a broader effort by authorities to exploit instability surrounding the coronavirus to further crack down on freedoms of speech and assembly. The government plans to increase its powers to restrict speech with a draft Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Bill currently being discussed in parliament, which would provide up to six months in prison for people spreading information about diseases that may “cause panic.” Parliament should revise the bill to remove criminal penalties for peaceful speech, Human Rights Watch said. Parliament should also amend the National Disaster Management Law, Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Bill, and related regulations to remove prison sentences for peaceful violations of quarantine, stay-at-home orders, and other emergency directives.

While quarantines and social distancing are a vital part of the public health response to the pandemic, their enforcement should not give rise to new tools of abuse. Instead, the health ministry and state public health departments should facilitate compliance by coordinating inclusive public awareness campaigns; providing people in quarantine with access to health care, including mental health services, and accurate, up-to-date information; and supplying resources such as face masks, food, water, and other essentials to those in need. To the extent possible, the public health force and other relevant civilian authorities, not security forces, should oversee enforcement of quarantines orders.

In its April briefing on Covid-19 and human rights threats, the UN noted that excessive emergency measures ultimately threaten the pandemic response: “Heavy-handed security responses undermine the health response and can exacerbate existing threats to peace and security or create new ones. The best response is one that aims to respond proportionately to immediate threats whilst protecting human rights under the rule of law.”

Locking people up for violating measures such as curfews and quarantine may increase the spread of Covid-19 as people are rotated in and out of crowded detention facilities. In April, Myanmar authorities pardoned about 25,000 prisoners under its annual Buddhist new year amnesty, reducing the overcrowded prison population to just above official capacity. But the remaining population still has inadequate space for effective social distancing. Prisons nationwide are ill-equipped to deal with a coronavirus outbreak, with only 30 doctors and 80 nurses employed across the entire prison system.

“Myanmar did the right thing in releasing thousands of prisoners last month, but jailing regulation violators threatens to undo that progress and put more people in harm’s way,” Robertson said. “The authorities should act to prevent the spread of Covid-19, rather than using the pandemic as a pretext for violating rights.”

Credit: www.hrw.org

Myanmar prepares response to International Court order on Rohingya

File Photo | Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressing judges of the International Court of Justice  

The Netherlands-based court had in January issued an order for Myanmar to implement provisional measures for the protection of the Rohingya.

Myanmar says it will submit a report due on Saturday outlining its claims of compliance with an order from the International Court of Justice to protect members of its Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority.

The Netherlands-based court in January issued an order for Myanmar to implement provisional measures for the protection of the Rohingya. The court agreed last year to consider a case alleging that Myanmar committed genocide against the group, an accusation vigorously denied by the government. The court’s proceedings are likely to continue for years.

Myanmar’s military in August 2017 launched what it called a clearance campaign in Rakhine state in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The campaign forced about 7,40,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh and led to accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.

Chan Aye, director general of the International Organisations and Economic Department of Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, said on Friday that the government was working on the report, but would not discuss its contents before submitting it.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for Myanmar’s military, said it has complied with government orders by providing “complete and necessary information” for the report.ALSO READMyanmar and the limits of pan-Islamism

There is no obligation to make the report public.

The court order requires Myanmar to “take all measures within its power” to protect the Rohingya from genocide, to safeguard evidence relating to allegations of genocide and to prevent “public incitement” to commit genocide.

The court has no enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance, and similar orders in high-profile cases in the past involving Serbia and Uganda were ignored without consequence.

The most significant measure taken by Myanmar’s government since the court order appears to have been an April 8 presidential directive that all “military or other security forces, or civil services and local people under its control or direction do not commit (genocidal) acts.”

Critics, however, note that Myanmar’s military has a record of impunity regarding alleged offenses conducted by its personnel.

“While Myanmar’s recent presidential directives ordering government personnel not to commit genocide or destroy evidence appear in line with the International Court order, the reality remains that no meaningful steps to end atrocities — including the crime of apartheid — have been taken,” the human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement Friday.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long considered Rohingya Muslims to be “Bengali” immigrants from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.

Credit: www.thehindu.com

Myanmar police make Asia’s biggest drug bust in decades, seizing 200 million meth tablets

Barrels of chemicals from the seizure are seen in this handout photograph from the Myanmar government.

Hong Kong (CNN)Myanmar police have made Asia’s biggest drug bust in decades, seizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contraband including “unprecedented”amounts of methylfentanyl, a chemical used to make a dangerously potent synthetic opioid.

The seizures announced Monday were conducted during a three-month operation that centered around Lwe Kham village in Kutkhai Township in Myanmar’s northeast Shan state. Thirty-three suspects were arrested.

Jeremy Douglas, the regional coordinator for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said the scale of the seizure was “truly off-the-charts.

“Police seized nearly 200 million methamphetamine tablets, more than 500 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine,and 35.5 metric tons and 163,000 thousand liters of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs,Myanmar authorities and the UNODC said in a joint statement.

They also seized nearly 3,750 liters (990 gallons) of liquid methylfentanyl, which is used to make a powerful synthetic opioid like fentanyl. It is believed to be the first time authorities have discovered such a massive amount of fentanyl or one of its analogues in Southeast Asia.

The region has so far been spared an opioid crisis like that in the United States, but experts have warned that drug producers in Asia may eventually chose to supply those who use opiate drugs like heroin with synthetic opioids, which are made to mimic the chemical structure of poppy-based drugs.

Theirpotency means it is easier to overdose on synthetic opiods, especially if drug users do not know what they’re consuming. A trio of overdoses in Bangkok in September were believed to be the first indications that fentanyl had shown up in the Thai capital’s heroin supply. One of the users who witnessed the overdose told CNN the group thought they were taking heroin, not fentanyl.

Douglas said that the amount of methylfentanyl precursor seized could have been used to produce a batch of synthetic opioids large enough to replace the region’s heroin production for a year.”This may be the moment we have feared — synthetic opioids are in the region in a big way,” he said.

A meth boom

Asia’s methamphetamine boom is one of the world’s biggest drug crises. It’s being fueled by major criminal syndicates who in recent years moved away from plant-based drugs like heroin — which need space and are dependent on weather — tocheaper and easy-to-make synthetics like methamphetamine.

They’ve also been able to operate with relatively little interference from police by moving production into the Golden Triangle, the border area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. The Golden Triangle was for years the world’s biggest heroin-producing region, and today it is still notorious for its lawlessness — especially on the Myanmar side, which is in some parts governed by local militias and warlords.

The result has been an unprecedented boom in the synthetic drug trade. The methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia alone is worth as much as $61.4 billion a year, the UNODC said in a report released Friday.The market is so strong that even the novel coronavirus outbreak appears to have done little to impact synthetic drug production and trade.

“While the world has shifted its attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, all indications are that production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemicals continue at record levels in the region,” Douglas said.

Douglas said the operation provided further proof of the increasing size, scale and sophistication of Asia’s drug cartels.

“It is clear that a network of production facilities like those found would not be possible without the involvement and financial backing of serious transnational organized criminal groups,” Douglas said in the joint statement.The statement also said that authorities uncovered evidence that some militias operating in the lawless areas of northern Myanmar were involved in the trade, though it did not say what that evidence was. Analysts and law enforcement agencies have long accused the armed groups in northern Myanmar of fueling the region’s drug trade.

The statement Monday did not say exactly how much the haul was worth, but it’s likely a significant sum. Authorities in Australia said their seizure of 1.596 metric tons of meth in December was worth almost $820 million.Burmese authorities seized about 18 tons of meth, though most of it was in cheaper pill form, and drugs usually fetch a higher price in Australia then they do in Southeast Asia.

Credit: edition.cnn.com

Myanmar To Build Two Earth Observation Satellites With Japanese Assistance

Image courtesy of Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University.

Myanmar is to build and launch a small Earth observation satellite by 2021 with the assistance of Japan.

Engineers and technicians from the Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University will travel to Japan as soon as travel restrictions imposed due to the Coronavirus pandemic are lifted, where they will be trained and educated by satellite engineering faculty at the Hokkaido and Tohoku Universities.

The small satellites will weigh approximately 50 kilograms and measure 50 x 50 x 50 centimetres, and will be used for remote sensing to monitor agricultural conditions, environmental monitoring, and disaster surveillance.

The students from Myanmar will spend up to five years working with the Japanese universities and will build two small Earth observation satellites, with the aim of launching the first one by the end of 2021. The students will be trained in satellite engineering and manufacturing, satellite data analysis and interpretation, as well as in all the necessary steps from satellite mission conception and development through to launch and on-orbit operations.

The total cost of the training programme is US$16 million for the training and accommodation of the students, the development of the two satellites, and their subsequent launch. All of the costs will be paid for by the Myanmar government.

The training of graduate students from Myanmar in Japan is part of a Myanmar government initiative to develop and establish its own space and satellite programme, and is being overseen and administered by the vice president of Myanmar, Myint Swe.

Japanese diplomats, space industry executives, and university officials have visited Myanmar often and met with officials there to lobby Japanese satellite technology and services. This lobbying has attracted much criticism from human rights activists, but Japanese analysts argue that if they did not provide Myanmar with satellite technology then Myanmar’s political leaders would simply seek it from countries such as China.

Credit: spacewatch.global

China provides medical supplies for Myanmar’s COVID-19 fight

Photo taken on May 13, 2020 shows medical supplies donated by Chinese government at the handover ceremony in Yangon, Myanmar. The Chinese government donated more medical supplies to help Myanmar in its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Xinhua/U Aung)

The Chinese government donated more medical supplies to help Myanmar in its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday.

A total of 150,000 pieces of nucleic acid test kits and 18,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) were handed over to the Medical Research Department under the Myanmar’s Health and Sports Ministry.

“This donation of test kit portrays the strong contribution to Myanmar’s COVID-19 fight to produce more testing capacity here,” Dr. Zaw Than Htun, director-general of the department, told Xinhua.

It was learnt that the Chinese government has donated over 162,000 pieces of nucleic acid test kits, 3.95 million pieces of surgical masks, 48,600 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies to Myanmar so far since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country.

As part of the medical assistance, two groups of medical experts from China’s Yunnan province and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently assisted in Myanmar’s prevention, control and treatment measures against COVID-19.

Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai (L) hands over medical supplies donated by Chinese government to Dr. Zaw Than Htun, director-general of Medical Research Department under the Myanmar’s Health and Sports Ministry, in Yangon, Myanmar, May 13, 2020. The Chinese government donated more medical supplies to help Myanmar in its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Xinhua/U Aung)

As of Wednesday morning, Myanmar has reported 180 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with six deaths.

Credit: www.globaltimes.cn

UN to hold video conference over violence, virus in Myanmar

A Myanmar border guard watches over a police station in northern Rakhine last year. (AFP pic)

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council will hold a video conference to discuss the escalation of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, diplomatic sources said Monday.

The closed-door meeting, planned for Thursday, was requested by the UK. The UN envoy for Myanmar, Switzerland’s Christine Schraner Burgener, is scheduled to give comments.

At the end of April, a Myanmar government health worker was injured and his driver – who worked for the World Health Organization (WHO) – was killed when their United Nations-marked vehicle was ambushed as they carried Covid-19 test samples in conflict-ridden Rakhine state.

The country’s northwest has been embroiled in an increasingly brutal civil war between Myanmar’s military and Arakan Army rebels demanding more autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine population.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attack. He called for “a full and transparent investigation” and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, his spokesman said in a statement.

The attack came amid increasing calls for a global ceasefire and protection for civilians displaced by the pandemic.

The last Security Council meeting on Myanmar was in February. China, which backs Myanmar and regularly opposes UN intervention in the country, prevented the adoption of a joint statement by the 15 Council members.

Scores have been killed in Myanmar, hundreds injured and tens of thousands displaced since fighting erupted at the beginning of last year, with both sides trading allegations of abuses committed.

Since the start of August 2017, about 740,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh, fleeing atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and Buddhist militias, in what has been described as “genocide” by UN investigators.

The exact number of Rohingya killed during the violence is unknown, but multiple NGOs estimate it to be at least several thousand.

During a briefing Monday on the pandemic, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced that the UN Development Programme and the UN Refugee Agency had reached an agreement with Myanmar’s government to extend the Memorandum of Understanding through June 2021 in Rakhine state.

The memorandum “aims to allow for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh”.

Credit: www.freemalaysiatoday.com