Category Archives: Nation

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

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

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

Canada, Netherlands join Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar

The two nations will pay special attention to prosecuting gender-based violence against Rohingya, including rape.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown in 2017 [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/ Reuters]

Canada and the Netherlands will formally join The Gambia’s legal bid to hold Myanmar accountable over allegations of genocide against its mostly-Muslim Rohingya minority in a move described by observers as historic.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and his Dutch counterpart Stef Blok said the two nations were intervening in the case before the International Court of Justice in order “to prevent the crime of genocide and hold those responsible to account”.

Calling the lawsuit “of concern to all of humanity,” Champagne and Blok said Canada and the Netherlands would “assist with the complex legal issues that are expected to arise and will pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape”.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, crossing the border into neighbouring Bangladesh where they now live in crowded refugee camps after the military launched a brutal crackdown in the western state.

Myanmar says the military action was a response to attacks by Rohingya armed groups in Rakhine. United Nations investigators concluded that the campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.

Champagne and Blok said in filing the case at the UN court, The Gambia “took a laudable step towards ending impunity for those committing atrocities in Myanmar”.

‘Historic’

The New York-based Global Center for Justice welcomed the move by Canada and the Netherlands, calling it “nothing short of historic”.

Akila Radhakrishnan, the group’s president, said: “Just as important as their intention to intervene is their promise to focus on gendered crimes of genocide like sexual and gender-based violence, which was central to the atrocities against the Rohingya.”

She added: “Too often, gendered experiences do not translate to justice and accountability efforts and leave the primary targets of those crimes – women and girls – behind. This is an important step forward to address that gap and Canada and the Netherlands should be applauded for this move.”

Rohingya groups also welcomed the move, and urged others to follow their lead.

“Slowly, but surely, the net is closing in on Myanmar’s leaders – they will not get away with this genocide,” Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK said in a statement, describing Canada and the Netherlands as being on the right side of history.

“It is imperative that other states, including the United Kingdom, now stand on the right of justice for the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar,” the statement added. “Justice is a core demand of all Rohingya people and particularly important for those inside the camps of Cox’s Bazar who have been forced to flee their homeland and live as refugees in a foreign state.” 

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the initial hearings at The Hague in December last year, calling on the 17-judge panel to dismiss the case. Rejecting the genocide claims, she warned the UN judges that allowing The Gambia’s case to go ahead risked reigniting the crisis and could “undermine reconciliation”.

The panel in January ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect its Rohingya population, pending the fuller case.

Myanmar will now have to regularly report on its efforts to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide every six months until a final ruling is made, a process that could take years.

Although ICJ rulings are final and binding, countries have occasionally flouted them, and the court has no formal mechanism to enforce its decisions.

Credit: www.aljazeera.com

Myanmar restarts peace talks

Myanmar is restarting stalled peace talks between the government and multiple ethnic minority groups.

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi the opened the fourth meeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday. 

From August 19th to the 21st,  Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, the Burmese army and several ethnic-minority groups will gather in the capital for the conference. 

These will be the last set of meetings before November’s general election. 

Multiple armed ethnic groups have been fighting for independence since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.

Peace conference negotiations first started with the hopes of achieving a truce but talks had stalled, according to the Economist. 

So what are the goals of this next round of talks?

According to the Foreign Brief, “It is expected that the conference will encourage non-signatories to accede to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).”

The NCA was created under the previous State Counselor and promised to establish a federal system.

The groups who signed it would continue to the next phase of the peace process, which is political dialogue. 

But the Economist reports, in 2015 the army, which controls the ministries of defense, border and home affairs and 25% of the seats in Parliament, announced some would not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement. 

Initially,  just eight armed groups, representing 20% of Myanmar’s rebel soldiers, signed the NCA.  

The army is accused of deliberately sabotaging the peace process by clashing with two groups that had signed the NCA, which led to the withdrawal of two groups in 2018, according to the Economist. 

Since January 2019, the army has also escalated fighting with an ethnic-Rakhine group.

Priscilla Clapp, a senior adviser to the Asia Society, an American think-tank tells the Economist, the army is not “pursuing peace, they’ve been pursuing conflict.”

The army’s commander-in-chief sees  Aung San Suu Kyi as a rival and is committed to Myanmar being a unitary state, controlled by the majority ethnic group, the Bamar, the Economist writes.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on the latest round of meetings. Fewer people are participating and the conference was reduced from five to three days. 

Key negotiators will attend but many observers and delegates won’t be present because of the pandemic. 

COVID-19 and the upcoming general election in November prompted some to suggest the conference be delayed but politicians later agreed to continue with the peace process, according to the Irrawaddy.

Credit: newsus.cgtn.com

India-Myanmar Border on High Alert After Ambush by Separatist Rebels

The ambush came amid a reshuffling of the Naga separatist movement in Myanmar.

Credit: Photo by special arrangement

Indian security forces have been put on high alert along the country’s border with Myanmar following another ambush by separatist rebels that killed three personnel of a paramilitary outfit.

An official said that “vulnerable spots” along the border in India’s Northeast have been identified and “area domination exercises” launched to prevent further attacks by the rebel groups.

In Nagaland’s Mon and Tuensang, which had been a hotbed of militancy for the past several decades, additional deployment of troops have been observed by residents in the district headquarters.

On July 29, a joint squad of three Myanmar-based separatist groups from India’s Northeast ambushed a patrolling party of Assam Rifles on the border at Sajik Tampak in Manipur’s Chandel district. A press release issued by these outfits claimed that four personnel were killed in the attack as part of the campaign against India’s “colonization” of western Southeast Asia.

Chandel has been one of the most vulnerable zones along the 1,643 kilometer long India-Myanmar border. In 2015, as many as 18 soldiers of the Indian army were killed in an ambush carried out jointly by the separatist outfits.

Across Chandel in Myanmar are at least two big camps belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (Manipur) and United National Liberation Front, which serve as a launching pad for the attacks against the Indian security forces. Both the outfits hail from Manipur’s Imphal Valley and have close ties with other separatist groups in the region.

The release mentions the involvement of a new outfit, the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MPNF), in the recent attack, fueling speculation among the Indian security agencies about new linkages that might have emerged among the groups and whether it was linked to the division in the Naga separatist movement in Myanmar.

The ambush on July 29 was preceded by two developments in Myanmar’s Naga inhabited region which is contiguous to India’s Northeast. The Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) suffered its second split in less than two years when a faction led by Niki Sumi expelled chairman Yung Aung.ADVERTISEMENT

A release cited Aung’s decision to change the official seal and his attempts to “clandestinely” establish ties with the Isak-Muivah faction of NSCN (NSCN-IM), which operates out of India’s Northeast, as the reasons for his expulsion from the outfit.

Predictably, Aung reacted by expelling Sumi and two senior functionaries from the organization on charges of convening “illegal meetings,” misappropriation of funds, encouraging “divisive policies,” and failing to report in the council headquarters after being summoned.

The entire outcome of these developments may be too early to gauge but the split will certainly weaken the separatist movement in Myanmar’s Naga inhabited zone. The unity that former chairman S. S. Khaplang had assiduously maintained could be difficult to sustain given the myriad tribes in the region. While Aung is a Pangmi Naga, Niki Sumi hails from the Sumi tribe in Nagaland and he has the support of some senior leaders from the Konyak Naga region in Myanmar.

Adding to the complexities were reports last month that the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, has deployed additional columns of the army in the remote hilly regions of Sagaing Division along the border with India. There was speculation that another offensive would be launched against the NSCN(K)’s stronghold to flush out rebels belonging to United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) from Assam in northeast India.

All the camps of the separatist outfits from India’s Northeast were dismantled in a raid last year at Taga. Several functionaries from many groups were jailed and later handed over to India. However, no operations were launched this time around and the army reportedly returned to its barracks after a couple of weeks.

An Indian government official explained that the additional deployment was triggered following Tatmadaw’s receipt of reports that a large group of the NSCN(IM) would shift base to certain locations in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division. Earlier, there had been a spate of reports in the media claiming that the NSCN(IM) had already transferred a large chunk of its weapons and cadres to camps in Myanmar from its camps in India’s Northeast.

NSCN(IM) has been engaged in a peace process with the Indian government since 1997 with the objective to reach a negotiated settlement. A “Framework Agreement” clinched in 2015 between the two sides raised the hope of an agreement, but the process has been stuck over the demands of a separate flag and constitution by the Naga group, which is unacceptable to the government.

In the last couple of months, government troops have also launched a crackdown against the outfit resulting in some encounters as well. The NSCN(IM) has accused the government of putting the peace peace in “cold storage” and it has blamed the interlocutor and Nagaland governor R. N. Ravi for the delay.

By: Rajeev Bhattacharyya
Credit: thediplomat.com