Category Archives: Special Feature

‘Shocking’ killing of children allegedly used as human shields

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hold killers accountable’ 

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

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

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

‘Alarming’ increase in violations

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

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

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

‘Grave Violations’  

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

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

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

Credit: news.un.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDIA FAST-TRACKS KEY PROJECTS

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

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

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

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

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

TRILATERAL HIGHWAY PROJECT

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

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

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

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

INDIA’S INTERESTS IN KACHIN

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

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

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

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

Credit: www.news18.com

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

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

Nay Pyi Taw: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: www.ndtv.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impunity and secrecy mar military sexual violence scandal 

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: www.amnesty.org

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

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

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.

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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

Status of Women in Myanmar

Status of Women in Myanmar

The population of women in Myanmar is more than that of men in the country. Women enjoy rights equal to that of men. Women are independent and financially and emotionally capable of looking after their families. Women in Myanmar do not take the surname of their husband or father after marriage and have the right to decide on their own accord if they wish to do so. Health coverage is extended to the rural and far –reaching borders. There is no gender discrimination with regards to education and the literacy rate is 73%. With the changing economy in Myanmar, women are participating not only in Government sectors but also in private sectors. Legal system in Myanmar gives equal rights to both men and women in the working sectors. Historically, women in Myanmar have enjoyed the right to inheritance of oil wells and to inherit the position as village head.

However, over the years, a large part of women, despite enjoying independence and rights, have faced atrocities at the hands of military by becoming victims of unpaid labour, violence, slavery, murder, torture and attacks. The deteriorating economic climate before Aung San Suu Kyi’s coming into power, led to denial of access to the Burmese women of education, nutrition, medical services, vocational training and other development opportunities.  The tribal women of the Karen village, in the nearby Thailand has also disrespectfully acclaimed them as tourist attractions because of the tradition of wearing coils of brass around their necks.

Status of Women in Myanmar

The Buddhist and the Hindu influences that came to Myanmar at a somewhat later date may have modified the social status of women, but women have always retained their legal and economic rights. Altogether, in their social life as well as in public life,Burmese women, occupy a privileged and  independent position. It is a position for which they are trained — almost imperceptibly, and with love and security—from childhood. It is a position which is not limited either by marriage or by motherhood, and which allows them, eventually, to fit themselves into the life, the work, and all the rewards that the country has to offer equally with men.

In 2015, Myanmar’s gender status analysis got a go ahead from Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MSWRR). The report consists an in-depth analysis of six critical areas of women’s lives – poverty reduction, livelihoods and full and equal participation in the economy; education; health; women’s and girls’ rights to freedom from all forms of violence; political processes and governance; and the peace process. The GSA supported by UN and the Asian Development Bank, is intended to be used as a baseline to monitor future state action as well as for providing policy advice in bringing them at par with the UNFPA and UN women manifestations on gender equality. The GSA is to provide gender equaling and strategically plan for the implementation of the National Strategic plan for the Advancement of Women. A shared vision for social justice and human rights.

In July, 2016, status of Myanmar’s record on women rights was to be reviewed in Geneva by the UN Committee working on elimination of discrimination against women. The review was crucial as it came immediately after the election of Aung San Suu Kyi. Following the review, the Committee will issue recommendations directly to the government which will set important benchmarks with respect to protecting women’s rights, ensuring equality, and eliminating discrimination against women.  Highlighting gender gaps and establishing steps to eliminate them will make clear that Myanmar’s transition to democracy must not leave women behind. The Committee will specify and clarify mandates for improvement in multiple areas, a move that will enable that women in the now partly democratic Myanmar are not left behind. A truly democratic country is one where women enjoy their basic rights and that the principles of gender equality are fully respected and incorporated.