Category Archives: World

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

UN says Facebook has not shared ‘evidence’ of Myanmar crime

UN investigators say Facebook played a key role in spreading hate speech that fuelled the violence against Rohingya.

Some 750,000 Rohingya were forcibly displaced from their homes in Myanmar and crossed the border into Bangladesh [File: Rafiqur Rahman/Reuters]

The head of a UN investigative body on Myanmar said Facebook has not released evidence of “serious international crimes”, despite promising to work with investigators looking into abuses in the country including against the majority-Muslim Rohingya.

Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar (IIMM), told the Reuters news agency the social media giant was holding material “highly relevant and probative of serious international crimes” but had not shared any during year-long talks.

He declined to give details of the material the IIMM had asked for.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over a 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya that forced more than 730,000 people to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar denies genocide and says its armed forces were conducting legitimate operations against armed fighters who attacked police posts.

UN investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that drove the violence.

The company says it is working to stop hate speech and has deleted accounts linked to the military, including senior army officials, but preserved data.

The UN Human Rights Council set up the IIMM in 2018 to collect evidence of international crimes in Myanmar to be used in future prosecutions.

“Unfortunately, to date, the Mechanism has not received any material from Facebook but our discussions continue and I am hopeful that the Mechanism will eventually receive this important evidence,” Koumjian said on Monday.

His comments followed a move by Facebook last week to block a bid by the Gambia, which brought the genocide case against Myanmar at the ICJ in the Hague, to obtain posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.

The social media giant urged the US District Court for the District of Columbia to reject the demand, which it said would violate a US law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.

In a statement last week the company said it could not comply with the Gambia’s request but was working with the IIMM.

Credit: www.aljazeera.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

America has to defend Myanmar from “malignant influences”: US Ambassadorial nominee

US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.

NEW DELHI: US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda has emphasised that one of his goals as envoy would be “to advance US interests and values” in the Southeast Asian country and help defend the country against “malign influences” in a veiled reference to China.

He told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US engagement with Myanmar is “essential” in order to advance the Southeast Asian country’s reforms and help defend the country against “malign influences”.

The hearing took place after US President Donald Trump’s nomination of Vajda as the US envoy to Myanmar in May.

“It is also critical that we support Burma’s efforts to resist malign foreign influences and challenges to its sovereignty,” he said at the hearing.

“To support Burma in this regard, the United States will need to continue helping government officials, economic reformers and civil society actors who are pushing back on unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities,” he added.

Though the nominee didn’t name the “malign influences” mentioned in his testimony, his reference to “unfair investment practices and deals that provide little benefit to local communities” was obvious as being to China.

An op-ed penned last month by the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Yangon, George Sibley, alleged that China’s actions are part of a larger plan to undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors, including Myanmar.

In response, the Chinese Embassy accused Sibley of “outrageously smearing China” and attempting to sow discord between it and Myanmar, damaging the countries’ relations and bilateral cooperation. It said the article not only reflects the “sour grapes” mindset of the US toward China-Myanmar relations, but also a global effort by the US to shift attention away from its domestic problems and seek selfish political gain.

Credit: economictimes.indiatimes.com

Myanmar: No flights before October

YANGON, 3 August 2020: Myanmar’s aviation authorities confirmed recently, the ban on international commercial flights to and from Myanmar would extend to 31 August, but high ranking tourism officials now say international commercial flights might not resume until October.

Myanmar’s government is not issuing visas for visitors, and the only international flights are specially arranged repatriation flights to bring back Maynmar citizens and allow foreigners to leave the country.

Officials speaking on the sidelines of the 9th Mekong Tourism Advisory Group meeting last Thursday said rules would be eased this month, but international tourism to the country would remain suspended until October including all commercial international flights.

Myanmar’s hospitality sector rely exclusively on domestic bookings to support around 1,300 hotels that have reopened in popular tourist destinations including Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake.

During long weekends and public holidays, occupancy at hotels in Mandalay and Bagan peaks at around 75% indicating the growing contribution of domestic travel that in the past has been largely overshadowed by the international travel market. Approximately, 700 hotel rooms in Yangon have been reserved for 14-day quarantine stays. 

Around 200 travel companies in Myanmar have benefited from a stimulus package introduced by the government, but financial resources for the sector are limited with most of the support going towards training classes for tour guides and tour company staff currently furloughed.

Credit: www.ttrweekly.com

Japan: Cancel Financial Grant to Myanmar Police

Myanmar border guard police officers walk along a path in Tin May village in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, July 14, 2017. © 2017 AP Photo

End Assistance to All Military-Controlled Entities

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government should immediately cancel plans to donate money to purchase vehicles and communications equipment for the Myanmar police force, Human Rights Watch said today. The police force, which operates under the auspices of the military, outside the control of the civilian government, has a well-documented record of serious human rights violations.

On July 2, 2020, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced a grant of 100 million yen (US$930,000) to the Myanmar police for the purpose of purchasing vehicles and wireless equipment for “protecting dignitaries.” The Foreign Ministry claimed the donations would “strengthen the Myanmar police’s ability to carry out public security measures,” create “social stability,” and contribute to Myanmar’s “socio-economic development.”

“It’s inexplicable that the Japanese government would try to curry favor with Myanmar’s abusive security apparatus by providing financial assistance to the police,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of supporting Myanmar’s police, Japan should be helping the victims of rights abuses and ethnic cleansing by working with other donor governments to hold the security forces accountable.”

Myanmar’s police acted as a pillar of repression during Myanmar’s 50 years of military rule, arbitrarily arresting dissidents and student activists, engaging in widespread torture, and creating a climate of fear in the country, Human Rights Watch said. The police remain abusive and unconstrained, in large part because the military-drafted constitution maintains military control of the police. The police operate under the authority of the Home Ministry, which is led by a minister who the constitution mandates must be a serving military officer, and operates under the de facto control of the military.

In recent years, the police have engaged in joint operations with the military, carrying out atrocities, including crimes against humanity, against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2012, 2016, and 2017. The Myanmar police force, Border Guard Police, and security police battalions accompanied the military in so-called clearance operations that resulted in mass killings, rape, and arson. Police involvement was documented during the deadliest incidents in August and September 2017, including the massacres at Tula Toli and Gu Dar Pyin, where hundreds of Rohingya were killed.

Police took part in widespread rape, including gang rape, of Rohingya women and girls, as well as killing children while their mothers were being attacked. A woman from Zay Di Pyin, Rathedaung Township told the United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar: “I don’t know how many policemen raped me, it was not my priority. The only thing I can remember is that they were trying to take my children. They dragged my son from under the bed. I was screaming to protect my children. I have not seen my son again.” In several villages, security forces abducted women and girls and took them to police and military compounds where they were gang raped.

In Rakhine State, the Myanmar police operate the majority of checkpoints, which play a central role in the severe violation of Rohingya freedom of movement in the state. Police enforce an extensive system of extortion, as well as physical harassment at checkpoints, that sustains the Rohingya’s arbitrary confinement to villages and detention camps. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented torture by police, including the Border Guard Police, against Rohingya who have been arbitrarily detained.

Myanmar police have responded to criticism and protests with arbitrary arrests and excessive and unnecessary force. In 2017, a Reuters investigation into the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village prompted Myanmar police to entrap and arrest 2 of the news agency’s reporters. Security police officers told Reuters they took part in raids in the village on orders from the military.

In January 2018, police shot and killed seven ethnic Rakhine protesters among a crowd that had converged at a local government building in Mrauk U after authorities shut down an event.

The police have also been implicated in excessive use of force elsewhere in the country. In April 2020, a video showed police beating a man in Mandalay for violating curfew orders during the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2019, police fired rubber bullets and a water cannon at ethnic Karenni youth protesting the installation of a statue honoring Myanmar’s independence leader, General Aung San. At least 20 protesters were injured as they attempted to move beyond police barricades.

In response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry of whether the Japanese government has conducted human rights due diligence to make sure that the aid won’t be used for further human rights violations, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it has “confirmed with the Myanmar government that this aid be used and maintained for said purposes in an appropriate, effective, and exclusionary manner.” The Foreign Ministry also stated Japan’s embassy in Myanmar will monitor whether the equipment is being used appropriately.

The Japanese government should suspend all aid to the Myanmar police until systematic reforms are carried out and the police are put under civilian control. Japan should also halt aid to all military-controlled entities and ministries, including the Home Ministry.

“The Japanese government should realize that giving shiny new equipment to Myanmar’s police won’t make them less abusive,” Adams said. “By conferring undeserved legitimacy on the Myanmar police, they are signaling to Myanmar’s people that their suffering is of little concern.”

Credit: www.thestar.com.my

Revealed: UK’s overseas aid fund is major investor in company linked to media crackdown in Myanmar

Pic by Nicholas Ganz (Shutterstock)

The UK government’s overseas anti-poverty fund is “urgently looking into” why a business it owns complied with demands from the Myanmar government to block independent media in the country.

CDC Group’s internal probe was triggered by a Finance Uncovered investigation, which has also prompted Labour shadow international development minister, Stephen Doughty to table parliamentary questions on the issue and suggest CDC should sell its stake in the company.

CDC, the controversial investment arm of the Department for International Development (Dfid), invested US$20m in Frontiir last year – a company providing internet services to 1.3 million Myanmar people.

In March, Myanmar’s transport and communications ministry wrote to all of the country’s internet service providers, demanding they block more than 2,000 websites, including 67 news outlets, on the “pretext” they were spreading fake news about coronavirus.

Frontiir complied with the government’s request, the company confirmed.

Backlash

But this sparked a backlash from Burmese editors, lawyers, and activists.

In a letter of complaint, seen by Finance Uncovered, they accused the provider of flouting human rights law by implementing the government’s orders.

“Your company is helping the Myanmar government censor essential information to vulnerable populations at a period when access to information is key for their very survival”, they wrote.

The Myanmar government, under the watchful eye of the military who retain significant economic and political power, has perpetrated what are widely considered to be serious human rights violations and is violently clamping down on the free media and civil society activists.

The civilian government, which remains subordinate in many spheres to the military, has also overseen the arrest of dozens of dissidents.

When Finance Uncovered asked CDC if it had a view on Frontiir’s decision to comply with the request, a spokeswoman for the bank said it was “urgently looking into these concerns”.

“CDC has clear rules in place to ensure funding does not support any organisation involved in human rights abuses”, the spokeswoman added. 

“We condemn action to restrict the freedom of expression of journalists. The UK Government, our owner, repeatedly raises the issue of internet restrictions and shut downs at the highest levels with the Myanmar Government.”

Conflict

Mobile internet is a vital source of information about coronavirus, but it is also used in conflict-torn regions of the country as a way for communities under attack to warn friends and relatives of coming trouble.

In the northwestern region of Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan state, it has been blocked entirely since last June.

Authorities say the internet blackout is an “emergency measure” necessary to crush the Arakan Army, an ethnic insurgency battling for greater independence.

Frontiir operates in two cities in Myanmar and is currently trying to expand into two more. “None of those cities,” a spokesman for CDC said, “are in or near Rakhine state.”

But some of the websites Frontiir and other internet service providers blocked had held the government to account over its handling of the Arakan conflict, fuelling fears the move is a smokescreen for a further media crackdown.

“The list included independent media websites under the pretext that they allegedly disseminate “fake news””, said the complaint.

“[It follows previous directives] to shut down mobile internet access in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Paletwa and Myebon townships. This was a continuation of previous shutdown orders”, the letter added.

In March, news editor Nay Myo Lin was detained for 10 days and charged with terrorism offences after he interviewed a spokesman for the Arakan Army, which had been designated a terrorist organisation. His outlet, Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar, is on the list of websites the government wants blocked.

And news editor Aung Marm Oo went into hiding after he was charged last year under the Unlawful Associations Act, a law critics say is being used against ethnic minorities and to stifle political dissent. His Rakhine state news agency, Development Media Group, has reported human rights violations during the Arakan conflict. It is also on the list of websites to block.

At the time of publication, both websites were blocked in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of minority-Muslim Rohingya are confined in camps in central Arakan, while corona cases are rising.

Urgent questions

“The human rights abuses of the Myanmar Government including in Rakhine state are well known, so CDC have urgent questions to answer”, said shadow international development minister Stephen Doughty.

“If these allegations about Frontiir and their relationship with the Myanmar regime are proven, CDC must immediately divest.”

CDC is the UK’s development finance institution, which is meant to fund poverty reduction projects in the developing world.

It is wholly-owned by the Department for International Development (DfID).

The fund began life in the late 1940s as the Colonial Development Corporation to fund farmers in the British colonies as part of the post-Second World War rebuild.

Its work is currently overseen by Africa minister James Duddridge. 

In response to a series of parliamentary questions by Doughty, DfID minister James Duddridge confirmed that CDC has invested $78.8m in Myanmar since 2015 in seven businesses including Frontiir.

CDC has been criticised for pouring cash into shopping centres, gated communities, and luxury hotels in poor countries.

It has also drawn criticism for allowing huge windfalls to senior figures through the sell-off of Actis, one of its investment funds. Senior CDC managers effectively sold it to themselves at below market value, investigative magazine Private Eye revealed in 2010.

More recently, the fund was criticised for failing to properly oversee its investments and prevent human rights violations.

Frontiir said its investment from CDC Group had been ploughed into job-creation: 

“[The majority] of Frontiir’s 2100+ employees are Myanmar, and most are under 25 years old who are supporting their families in various regions with remittance”, it said in a statement.

“Frontiir intends to grow beyond urban cities and provide affordable digital access in other regions in Myanmar, including rural hard-to reach areas, while creating jobs for people in Myanmar with CDC’s investment.”

By: Nick Mathiason & Christian Eriksson
Credit: www.financeuncovered.org

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