Category Archives: Feature Story

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

Understanding ‘PaukPhaw’:Can Myanmar Resist China’s Debt Trap

Understanding ‘PaukPhaw’:Can Myanmar Resist China’s Debt Trap

On 17 January 2020, President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar. The visit led to 33 bilateral agreements being signed to unleash the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) soft power which is not in the best interests of Myanmar. Nonetheless, in an attempt to question CCP’s role in aiding crimes against humanity, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min AungHlaing (MAH) probed Party President Xi on the role of CCP in assisting the large number Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) operating in Myanmar.

In November 2019, the Tatmadaw (official name of Armed Forces of Myanmar) seized a large cache of weapons which included a Chinese made FN-6 from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. The Tatmadaw has also been increasingly frustrated with the availability of Chinese made weapons with the Arakan Army (which has been declared as a terrorist organisation by the Government of Myanmar). This was also voiced by MAH during his recent visit to Russia where he stated that terrorist organisations active in Myanmar are backed by ‘strong forces’; albeit the CCP. This indicates that top Tatmadaw military brass has blamed CCP’s attempts to take advantage of the fragile internal situation and undermine the sovereignty of Myanmar.

Notwithstanding bilateral setbacks in 1967 and 1973, China-Myanmar relations (termed as “PaukPhaw‘ or fraternal) have been on the upswing since 1988.  After the infamous ‘8888’pro-democracy uprisings, Myanmar was relegated to being a pariah by the West, and the CCP had swiftly moved in to fill the void. Over the years, as the West shunned Myanmar, the CCP became Myanmar’s key political, military, economic and diplomatic partner and began exerting disproportionate pressure and influence on Myanmar.

Today, China is important to Myanmar for several reasons. Economically, China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and largest source of FDI. Diplomatically, the CCP uses its UNSC veto as a shield for Myanmar. Politically, the CCP has not only engaged extensively with both the ruling NLD party and the Tatmadaw but has also exercised its influence on EAOs in negotiating the peace process. In effect, the CCP with its “double game” continues to exploit Myanmar’s resources by accentuating its vulnerabilities.

The original cost of developing KyaukPhyu SEZ (which is a part of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor or CMEC) was $ 7.2 Billion. This cost was slashed to $ 1.3 billion by Myanmar over concerns of excessive debt. Whilst the environmental/ social impact assessment for the project is yet to begin, concerns have already erupted in the local populace. Though these concerns may seem premature, given Myanmar’s previous experience with other Chinese projects such as the LetpadaungCopper Mine (where Chinese operators blatantly resorted to land grabbing/ unauthorised evictions) and Myitsone Dam project (where construction had to be stopped in September 2011 due to environmental issues), these concerns are increasingly influencing Myanmar’s decision making. Today Mayanmar’s leadership is worried about the tell-tale signs of the “Dragon’s trap“.

Another shocking fact of CMEC is that it passes through the most troubled areas in Myanmar where EAOs have waged armed conflict for decades against Myanmar’s government. The KyaukPhyu SEZ (Rakhine state) is where the Arakan Army is active and the other end of CMEC is in the Northern Shan State where armed conflict has been raging. It is unclear how such large financial investments in these sensitive areas would assist in ending the armed conflicts. The converse is more likely to be the state. The CCP is infamous for closed-door negotiations and would resort to illegally paying the EAOs to progress the CMEC. Such payments will further empower the EAOs, and in turn, strangulate Myanmar’s peace process.

More recently, the Government of Myanmar has ordered a probe into the contentious Chinese development of ShweKokko in Karen State by illegal land confiscation/ construction, and the influx of CCP’s money for illicit activities. Be it the CMEC, Letpadaung Mine, Myitsone or Shwe Koko; in fact in all Chinese aided projects, total disregard of rules and insensitivity to local sentiments is a measure of the coercive approach of the CCP in exploiting Myanmar.

Anti-CCP sentiment in Myanmar is not only fuelled by large state-run projects such as CMEC but also smaller projects such as private infrastructure development, small-scale mining operations and agriculture – plantations, where exploitation of local population is rampant. Allured by cheap labour, land, lack of transparency and ineffective labour laws, CCP-backed Chinese private companies are investing heavily in plantations bearing cash crops in Myanmar. These plantations are often unregulated and the investors take the assistance of EAOs, thereby exploiting the locals and natural resources of Myanmar for CCP.

The emergence of COVID-19, limited transparency in CCP’s economic dealings and lack of concern for national sentiments, coupled with exploitation of natural resources have resulted in deep distrust and anxiety among the people of Myanmar against the Chinese. The hardened Western stance and increasing investment by CCP, push Myanmar further into the Chinese orbit, eventually paving the way to being shackled by the tentacles of the Dragon’s debt trap and becoming a client state.

By: Ravi Shankar
Credit: bharatshakti.in

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

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

Time to add Myanmar’s most influential genocidal monk Sitagu to ICC List

Sitagu offered scriptural justifications for ‘killing millions of non-Buddhists’

LONDON

In November last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) moved to begin the full investigation into Myanmar’s violent international crimes and other events connected to the exodus of Rohingya from western Myanmar in decades.

In August 2017, Myanmar Tatmadaw, or the military, launched the “Security Clearance Operations,” which resulted in the exodus of 750,000 Rohingya from across the borders into the adjacent Bangladesh city of Teknaf.

As the ICC proceeds with its full investigation, it needs to look into the instrumental role of Sitagu Sayadaw, Myanmar’s most influential Saffron-robed hate preacher, in the genocidal and other crimes against predominantly Muslim Rohingya.

The ICC was set up in the Hague in 2002 to try individuals sufficiently linked to grave crimes under international law owing to their criminal responsibility, for instance, political and military leaders of the perpetrating state, militia heads and key civilians.

The proactive involvement of leading Buddhist monks and “race and faith” defense organizations is well-documented. And Sitagu has more than sufficient linkages with the Buddhist monk-led ethno-nationalist movement with its essential Islamophobia. The populist mobilization of public opinion against Rohingya victims is firmly anchored in Islamophobia although there are other driving factors behind the genocide.

For the last eight consecutive years since I first blew the genocide whistle on the systematic and phased destruction of Rohingya people by my country of birth and the state-backed sharp rise in Islamophobia, I found that the TIME magazine dubbed Wirathu “the Face of Buddhist Terror” on its cover, while Wirathu’s patron, namely Sitagu abbot, has largely escaped international scrutiny.

It was Sitagu, who as the head of Myanmar’s state-backed Buddhist Fascist group named Ma Ba Tha (Race and Buddhism Defense League), provided scriptural justifications for the military’s genocidal killings of Rohingya and has helped cement Islamophobia into a national policy.

‘One faith, one race’

On July 20, I did a Facebook Live in Burmese language, following Myanmar Martyrs’ Day commemoration on July 19 during which the late Gen. Aung San, the father of current de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is widely considered the architect of Burma’s independence from Britain, along with eight other colleagues and staff were assassinated during a colonial-era cabinet meeting in Rangoon.

I pointed out the perils of the public’s continued embrace of “one faith, one race” exclusionary, majoritarian, and populist nationalism with Buddhism as the de facto state religion. In this connection, I singled out Sitagu as the most impactful Islamophobic demagogue: his YouTube-ed words of fear and loathing of Islam and Muslims in the Burmese language are extremely influential with both military and political decision-makers and the Buddhist lay public.

Alas, it has touched raw nerves.

The clip has since gone viral among the Burmese Facebook users, attracting 1.5 million views, provoking thousands of hate comments and death threats.

A popular Facebook platform, namely Akothi (We-know-everything), with nearly 2 million followers, further amplified my blistering words about the poisonous pseudo-Buddhist ethnonationalism of the majority public – with its own negative spin against my criticism directed at the Burmese genocidal leaders and preachers.

In the wildly spread clip, I singled out the two individuals who intentionally spread Fascist-like “pure” ethnonationalism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, namely the late dictator Gen. Ne Win and Sitagu.

Both men were responsible for the poisonous idea that originated in the inter-World War period in Germany that certain – usually nationally dominant – “races” are indigenous and hence “host” (blue-eyed, blond-haired Germans in Germany of the inter-world-war years, for instance) while others (such as German Jews) are “guests”.

In 1919, a year after Germany lost the World War I, the exiled Kaiser Wilhem II, wrote to one of his former generals, “(the Germans) were (e)gged on and misled by the tribe of Juda whom they hated, who were guests among them! […] Let no Germans forget this nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from the German soil! This poisonous mushroom from the German oak-tree!”

The late Gen. Ne Win, who died under house arrest in December 2002, was the architect of the slow-burning genocide of Rohingya which began under the invented pretext of “illegal immigration of Muslims” from Bangladesh.

Nazi-esque policy discourse

Gen. Ne Win, as chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party government, decreed a new Citizenship Law in 1982 which was designed to exclude, disempower, and render stateless primarily over 1 million Rohingya Muslims on their own ancestral and historical western region of Myanmar. Ne Win introduced this Nazi-esque policy discourse “host-vs-guest” communities in the process of radically re-writing the originally inclusive Burmese Citizenship Law.

Ne Win is no more; he was put under house arrest by a new generation of generals in 2002 and he died the same year. But his guest-vs-host genocidal idea is kept alive and further popularized by Sitagu monk.

Unlike the younger charismatic monk Wirathu, Sitagu’s genocidal role is little known outside a handful of international experts on Myanmar Buddhism.

In an article for Oxford Tea Circle, titled Challenging the Distortion of Influential Monks?, Matthew Walton, formerly Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Fellow on Burma Studies, said: “[Sitagu monk’s] remarks [at the commando training school] had a chilling purpose: to provide a religious justification for the mass killing of non-Buddhists.”

While the Oxford-based scholar who held the academic post that bears Myanmar Counsellor’s name was sounding alarm bells in his writing about Sigtagu, Suu Kyi was conferring on the hate monk Agga Maha Pandita or Great Learned Sage.

Suu Kyi is not the only Myanmar leader who has patronized Sitagu.

Commander in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung, who declared the existence of Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar region “an unfinished business” from the World War II era, is often seen to pay the monk visits.

In a video clip that was circulated by Sitagu’s Burmese media network, Sitagu was telling the Senior General – sitting on his knee on the floor in a gesture of reverence to the monk – that “the world is fussing over this ‘genocide thing’ while only a handful – about 200 – Muslims were killed.”

Offer to fight alongside armed forces

In the same conversation, the abbot sought to assuage the senior general’s concerns about being hauled to the ICC. Specifically, Sitagu offered to help “mobilize hundreds of thousands of monks to fight alongside the Armed Forces” should any external actor chose to militarily intervene and snatch the senior general.

My decade-long research on Burmese Islamophobia and policies of genocide has coughed up Sitagu’s instrumental role in promoting Islamophobia and poisoning the Burmese Buddhist mind with fear and loathing of Muslims.

This most revered monk has effectively incorporated the genocidal strain of Islamophobia in Myanmar nearly two decades before the 2017 wave of the state-directed and systematic destruction of a large segment of the Rohingya population, the wave that hit world news headlines.

In his audio-recorded address to the congregation of several hundred monks in the southernmost part of Mandalay, my city of birth, known as Pha Ya Gyi, the young Wirathu was heard telling his fellow Buddhist preachers that the Muslim take-over of Buddhist Burma was happening through marrying Buddhist women as a matter of demographic strategy.

Here, Wirathu pointed out that only Buddhist monks are capable of repelling such conspiratorial assault on the Buddhist society while the Burmese troops armed with guns looked on helplessly.

In this Islamophobic narrative, Muslim invasion in the bed rooms of Buddhist homes is the first step towards the Islamicization of Myanmar. Burmese Muslims make up only 5% of the total population in the country, where 90% of the public are Buddhists of different ethnicities.

His words roused the rage of hundreds of the monk audience as he disclosed the Mossad-like secret, monk-led campaign to “deprive all Muslims in the country of livelihood opportunities and eventually starve them to death, or simply trigger the forced Muslim exodus as a whole.” Importantly, Wirathu publicly named the High Rev. Sitagu as the patron-monk of this emerging monks’ nationwide network who viewed Muslims and Islam as the greatest threat to the majoritarian Buddhist society.

Today, Myanmar’s civilian government has an active warrant to arrest the world (in)famous Reverend Wirathu for his public denunciation of its autocratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and has gone into hiding accordingly.

In sharp contrast, Sitagu continues to enjoy protection and extraordinary privileges including being flown around the country including the country’s military frontline outposts on military helicopters with armed escorts. And more ominously, Sitagu remains extremely popular with the Burmese lay Buddhist public who falsely believes him to be a holy prophet, despite the latter’s well-documented promotion of racism and hatred of the most toxic kind.

Credit: www.aa.com.tr

Facebook rejects request to release Myanmar officials’ data for genocide case

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD

Facebook has objected to a request from Gambia, which has accused Myanmar at the World Court of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, to release posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.

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

Facebook (FB.O) said the request, made in June, for the release of “all documents and communications” by key military officials and police forces was “extraordinarily broad” and would constitute “special and unbounded access” to accounts.

Gambia Attorney General Dawda Jallow told Reuters he was being briefed on the issue but could not yet comment.

The case before the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 U.N. Convention on Genocide. Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said including mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.

In 2018, U.N. human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that had fuelled the violence. Facebook has said it is working to block hate speech.

On Thursday, a spokesperson said Facebook “stands against hate and violence, including in Myanmar”.

Credit: www.reuters.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

Flash floods kill two in Thailand, storm heads for Myanmar

Tropical storm Sinlaku dumped heavy rain on 18 Thai provinces over the weekend.

The storm uprooted trees, pulled down electricity poles and tore sheet roofs from some buildings [Thai army handout/AFP]

Flash floods killed at least two people and swept through hundreds of houses in northern Thailand, authorities said, after tropical storm Sinlaku dumped heavy rains on 18 provinces over the weekend.

Muddy, waist-high waters poured into homes in rural areas on Sunday. Soldiers used small boats to rescue villagers and handed out aid packs in Loei, the worst-hit province.

By Monday morning, residents in rubber boots were out clearing debris from the storm that uprooted trees, pulled down electricity poles and tore sheet roofs from some buildings.

“The flood came very fast, my family couldn’t grab anything,” said Rattiya Panich as she cleaned her house. Two people died, according to the interior ministry.

Sinlaku also hit Laos and Vietnam, where it killed another two people on Sunday in the provinces of Hoa Binh and Quang Ninh, Voice of Vietnam (VOV) reported.

Loei province suffered the most damage during flooding caused by tropical storm Sinlaku, according to the Thai Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department [Thai army handout/AFP]

Authorities there warned that heavy rains might cause landslides and flash flooding in Vietnam’s northern mountainous provinces.

Some parts will see up to 400mm of rainfall from Monday to Wednesday, the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority said.

The storm was moving towards Myanmar on Monday, the Thai Meteorological Department said.

credit: www.aljazeera.com

Myanmar’s Ceasefire Falls Apart in Shan State

Instability in northern Shan state is increasing the forced displacement of locals, along other rights abuses.

Soldiers walk over Gote Twin bridge damaged by explosion on Aug. 15, 2019, in Gote Twin, Naung Cho township, northern Shan State, Myanmar.
Credit: AP Photo/Pyae Sone Aung

The expansion of military operations by the Myanmar Army and increase in troops in northern Shan state has resulted in growing instability and an escalation of human rights abuses. The involvement of the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) engaging in regular combat has contributed to the forced displacement of local people, as well as other human rights abuses including torture, indiscriminate shelling, death, and arbitrary arrest and detainment. These actions show a lack of commitment to the already faltering peace process and dialogue on meaningful reconciliation. All armed actors must uphold the right to life and resolve their differences through peaceful negotiation and nonconfrontational channels, as well as ensure a safe space for rights defenders appealing for justice to be upheld.

On May 10, 2020, the Myanmar Army announced a unilateral ceasefire agreement to focus on the response and containment of COVID-19. Since declaring the ceasefire, clashes in Shan state have steadily increased between the Myanmar Army and Shan armed groups including the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS-SSA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The fighting increased significantly in June 2020, with civilian safety and security at risk, as allegations of human rights violations are mounting against the armed groups. The Myanmar Army is accused of forcing a young man to guide them and then indiscriminately shooting at villagers’ homes, killing a 60-year old man and injuring a 55-year old woman on June 29. The day before, an elderly civilian from Kyaukme township was brutally beaten when the Myanmar Army arrived at his village and others fled. The RCSS-SSA is also accused of raping a young Ta’ang women and failing to cooperate with civil society organizations seeking justice. Against the backdrop of the conflict, there are over 500 villagers displaced in Kyaukme who need emergency food supplies and face restrictions on movement as a result of the pandemic.

Protests following the increase in violence in Shan state saw over 15 000 civilians calling for accountability for the injustices committed by the Myanmar Army. Shan parliamentarians reported the cases to the Myanmar National Human Rights Council, specifically to urge an investigation. In response, the Myanmar Army retaliated with reprisals against those who had led the protests by charging them under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law and Section 18 of the Communicable Disease Prevention Law. Of additional concern is that the conflict in northern Shan state is not being taken seriously by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. Their silence shows a continued lack of interest by the NLD to speak up against human rights abuses taking place against civilians.

While human rights defenders being challenged for their advocacy is nothing new, it is unacceptable that the right to peaceful protest continues to be criminalized in Myanmar. The Myanmar government must take seriously calls for much needed reforms that would strengthen protection of rights defenders, including enacted changes to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. This law has long been used to target activists. It should be amended in line with international standards on freedom of expression, which includes being able to hold opinions without interference as stipulated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As seen not only in northern Shan state but also in Rakhine and Chin states, civilians are killed, tortured, and detained on the presumption of guilt or affiliation to rival groups. It is time for strengthened government protection mechanisms for victims of human rights violations and local leaders and organizations on the ground who regularly face harassment and intimidation in their calls for accountability. The Myanmar government must publicly recognize that mass human rights violations have been committed, apologize for those violations, and accept that victims deserve reparations.

credit: thediplomat.com