Category Archives: Special Feature

How to Support Myanmar’s Activists and Civil Disobedience Movement

Popularized by Thai protesters in 2014, the three-finger salute has become a prominent symbol against the coup in Myanmar. Photo by Gayatri Malhotra.

Khin Mai Aung shares how Buddhists and other allies can support Myanmar’s activists and Civil Disobedience Movement in the aftermath of the February 2021 military coup.

As Myanmar spiraled into chaos after a February 2021 military coup, the international Buddhist flock and other friends of the country who had been heartened by its transition to semi-democracy watched with mounting concern. To be sure, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been backsliding on civil liberties for a few years – with an exodus of over 700,000 persecuted Rohingya Muslims, an alarming rise in religious nationalism, surging discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and targeting of political opponents with arrest.

But in the months since the coup, a widespread and rapid erosion of order and security has engulfed Myanmar, with scores of peaceful protestors gunned down, internet shutdowns, large scale targeting of journalists and media institutions, and a looming threat of all out civil war. The people of Myanmar – Buddhists and religious minorities, Bamar as well as ethnic minorities – collectively face a singular threat, the barbaric junta which has ruthlessly taken power despite a resounding loss in last year’s elections.

As international observers reflect on how to support Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement of boycotting government workers and brave protesters taking to the streets, Burmese community groups within the country’s diaspora and international Buddhist organizations have sprung into action. Partnering with vetted intermediaries in Thailand and Myanmar, these groups are dispersing aid in grants and in kind support on the ground within Myanmar.

The Clear View Project, a Buddhist nonprofit that funds social change and relief efforts from a socially engaged Buddhist perspective, is one such organization. In partnership with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), Clear View has conducted fundraising for relief projects, including for telecommunications equipment like SIM cards, personal protective equipment for protestors, medical and funeral expenses, and financial support for government workers boycotting the junta.

Clear View and INEB are also launching a new initiative specifically to support monks and nuns in the Civil Disobedience Movement. While these religious figures have not been categorically targeted, this initiative is directed at assisting those who participated in protests, some of whom are in hiding to avoid arrest. Clearview is also working with partners to organize a “Burma Spring” virtual film festival benefit in June 2021 to raise additional funds to support Myanmar activists. As of late April, Clear View and INEB had raised about $24,000 for their collective efforts, and donors can designate their preference for use of funds.

Hozan Alan Senauke of the Clear View Project recommends that American allies can also make a difference by lobbying the United States “to apply pressure on Thailand [to advocate] for humanitarian treatment of displaced people, for opening its borders, and for not repatriating them – that’s a place that via the State Department we have some agency.”

Clear View’s sister program, the Buddhist Humanitarian Project, provides targeted support to Rohingya refugees. Over the past few years, it has raised over $50,000 to support Rohingya in refugee camps and local communities. It has continued these efforts since the coup, especially as fires ravaged several camps in Bangladesh this year. Such support is critical as Rohingya refugees remain in squalid camps and are at risk of COVID without sufficient personal protective equipment, as the world’s attention has turned to the coup and conditions inside Myanmar. One bright point, Hozan Senauke points out, is that after the coup “the whole nation of Myanmar is a tuning itself into the Rohingya issue [and broader concerns about] the government and military’s brutal discrimination toward various ethnic groups.”

Buddhist temples and secular community organizations affiliated with the Myanmar diaspora and its allies have also stepped up efforts to support the people of Myanmar. Mutual Aid Myanmar is a non-partisan volunteer organization consisting of activists and academics that is raising money to disperse humanitarian aid in Myanmar via trusted civil society groups. Like Clear View and INEB, their support covers funds for food, healthcare and shelter for now unemployed Myanmar government workers in the general strike against the junta. Mutual Aid Myanmar’s vetted local partners remain anonymous for their protection. Mutual Aid Myanmar has raised and distributed an impressive $275,000 for these purposes since the coup.

Other community-based efforts have focused on non-material supports, community education, and relationship building. The Baydar Collective is a network of youth activists from the Myanmar diaspora based in North America, named after the baydar (hyacinth) flower, which is associated with resilience and resistance. According to Ashley “Aye Aye” Dun, a graduate student at Brown University and a member of Baydar’s steering committee, Baydar’s goal is to “unite people in the Myanmar diaspora to talk about the ways that ongoing events in Myanmar affect our diasporic communities, because it directly affects us too through our families, relatives, and friends in the country struggling in the resistance.”

Baydar is hosting a virtual reading series focused on topics ranging from analyzing implications of the Myanmar opposition’s new constitution (the Federal Democracy Charter), discussing ethnic and religious divides in Myanmar and its diaspora, and examining parallels between anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar with the recent surge of anti-Asian violence in the United States. To celebrate Asian Pacific American heritage month in May, Baydar is launching a virtual art circle where members of the Myanmar diaspora will come together to discuss current events, socialize, and participate in drawing and art activities. Baydar has also supported activists in Myanmar though social media campaigns and public information dispersal, and plans to build coalitions with other Asian American activists and communities of color in the United States.

Aye Aye Dun reports that one critical way for Buddhists abroad and other supporters to support Myanmar’s resistance is to attend local anti-military protests, which Burmese Buddhist monks often attend. She believes “these events are a valuable opportunity for interfaith unity.” She also pointed to strategic boycott efforts – for example recent efforts to target Chevron, an American corporate investor in Myanmar which has actively lobbied against more aggressive sanctions on the country’s military.

More abstractly, and directed at the longer term, Aye Aye Dun suggests that allies can also focus on simply educating themselves more generally about the heterogeneity of resistance in Myanmar and its diaspora. In addition to providing direct support, allies can gain a more nuanced understanding of Myanmar’s ethnic and religious diversity and the country’s historical and sociopolitical context. They can also learn about how supporters of democracy within and outside Myanmar deploy their resistance in myriad ways, taking into account safety concerns within the country for themselves or relatives left behind. “A more sustained relationship to support Myanmar’s prodemocracy efforts requires us to always keep learning” about the situation and dynamics on the ground, says Aye Aye Dun, and “this is something we are trying to do at Baydar.”

While the situation in Myanmar is dire and likely to be protracted, these fundraising, support, and education efforts can foster a modicum of hope regarding the spirit of the people of Myanmar and its diaspora, and the diligent efforts of its diverse allies working to lift up and champion those on the frontlines of Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement.

More information about the efforts described above – which are not affiliated with Lion’s Roar – is listed below in alphabetical order.

Baydar Collective is a group of young people in North America from the Myanmar diaspora that conducts community education on the heterogeneity of anti-military resistance (and how it is shaped by intersecting differences in ethnicity, religion, class, gender, and sexuality), promotes the work of vetted United States nonprofits to support the people of Myanmar, highlights issues affecting the diaspora of Myanmar, and builds affinities and coalitions with other Asian American activists and activists of color.

Buddhist Humanitarian Project provides aid and support for Rohingya communities in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. It is an initiative organized by the Clearview Project, in order to call upon the global Buddhist community to take a stand against violence inflicted upon the Rohingya and to support Rohingya refugees.

Clear View Project provides Buddhist-based resources for relief and social change, promotes dialogue on issues of socially engaged Buddhism, and supports communities in need, both internationally and within the United States. A successor of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Burma Project, the Clear View Project has worked in Myanmar for many years including supporting activism leading up to the 2007 Saffron Revolution and throughout the country’s political and economic reforms since 2011, supporting political reforms and community development.

International Network of Engaged Buddhists is an autonomous organization under the Bangkok-based Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, and includes both organizational and individual members from more than 25 countries across Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. From this diversity, INEB promotes an understanding of socially engaged Buddhism which integrates the practice of Buddhism with social action for a healthy, just, and peaceful world.

Mutual Aid Myanmar provides humanitarian support via resources to unemployed general strike workers in Myanmar in the form of food, healthcare and shelter. Mutual Aid Myanmar and verified partner organizations provide this aid in kind and via small cash stipends. Partner organizations are vetted by their Board of Directors and are part of local civil society networks.

Credit: www.lionsroar.com

Telenor writes off Myanmar business after coup, posts Q1 loss

Telenor’s logo is seen in central Belgrade, Serbia, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo

Norway’s Telenor (TEL.OL) wrote off the value of its Myanmar operation in light of the country’s deteriorating security and human rights situation, plunging the group into a first-quarter loss and sending its shares lower on Tuesday.

While it will continue to operate in Myanmar, Telenor’s mobile business in the Asian country, where it has had a presence since 2014, remains severely restricted following the military’s seizing of power in a Feb. 1 coup. read more

The new regime imposed network restrictions for all operators, and on March 15 ordered a nationwide shutdown of mobile data that has since cut Telenor’s subscription and traffic revenues in the country in half, the company said.

However, it still added some 2 million users in Myanmar during the quarter as call volumes rose, increasing its local customer base to 18.2 million.

“Telenor calls on the authorities to immediately reinstate unimpeded communications and respect the rights to freedom of expression and human rights,” the company said in a statement.

While Telenor saw an “irregular, uncertain, and deeply concerning situation” with “limited prospects of improvement going forward”, Telenor would stay in Myanmar for now, CEO Sigve Brekke said.

“We still believe we are making a difference when keeping our operations running,” he told an earnings presentation. “We strive to continue to do so to the best of our ability.”

The company declined to comment on whether it was realistic to expect any cash flow from the Myanmar operation for the time being, with Brekke adding that the current uncertainty made it impossible to comment on future options.

“Our continued presence will depend on the development in the country and the ability to contribute positively to the people of Myanmar,” he said.

WRITE-OFF

Telenor fully impaired Telenor Myanmar in its first-quarter accounts, booking a loss of 6.5 billion crowns ($783 million) and removing the operation from its overall corporate outlook for 2021.

As a result of the writedown, the Telenor group’s net earnings slumped to a loss of 3.9 billion Norwegian crowns in the first quarter from a year-ago profit of 698 million crowns.

Telenor shares were down 2.0% at 0913 GMT, lagging a flat Oslo benchmark index (.OSEBX).

Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell 8% year-on-year to 13 billion crowns, in line with an analyst forecast of 13.1 billion crowns.

Telenor reiterated full-year guidance for overall organic revenue and earnings to remain unchanged year-on-year from 2020, excluding the Myanmar impact. It repeated that capital expenditure would amount to between 15% and 16% of sales.

Credit Suisse, which holds a neutral rating on the stock, said the guidance technically amounted to a downgrade due to the exclusion of Myanmar, which represented 6% of group revenue and 7% of EBITDA last year.

“The Asian operations otherwise delivered a decent performance in Thailand and Malaysia offset by Myanmar and there was some weakness in the Nordics as the competitive environment remains tough in markets like Sweden and Norway,” the bank said.

The company, which serves 187 million customers in nine countries across Europe and Asia, a net gain of 5 million since the start of the year, last month announced plans to merge its Malaysian unit with competitor Axiata (AXIA.KL), seeking to form a new market leader. .

www.reuters.com

India wants a stable Myanmar, says Army Chief

In his first comment on the military coup in Myanmar, Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane on Wednesday asserted that India wants a “stable” Myanmar.

During a virtual conference on the role of the Indian Army in dealing with the contemporary national security challenges, Naravane said that Myanmar is the bridge between India and the rest of South Asian countries.

“Myanmar plays a key role in India’s foreign policy. It is the bridge between India and the rest of South Asia and therefore we want a stable neighbour and a stable Myanmar. I think the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has already stated the country’s position in this regard that – we support the process for transition to democracy and that is what we should be looking forward to,” he said.

The Army Chief also recalled the Myanmar Army’s role in the fight against insurgency along Indian borders in north-east states.

“As far military to military level interaction is concerned, we share a good repo especially on the border, where we conversate quite often. Over the last two years, we had a number of co-ordinated operations in border areas along Nagaland and Manipur. Myanmar Army has carried out operations in flushing out various Indian insurgent groups, who were taking temporary shelters across the borders. As a result of that, a large number of insurgent groups surrender took place,” he said.

On February 1, Myanmar’s military overthrew the government and declared a year-long state of emergency hours before the newly-elected parliament was due to convene. State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, along with other top officials accused of election fraud, have been placed under house arrest.

The coup triggered mass protests across Myanmar.

Credit: www.siasat.com

Malaysia court halts deportation of 1,200 Myanmar nationals

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian court has allowed a temporary stay of deportation of 1,200 Myanmar nationals scheduled to be sent back to their strife-torn homeland on Tuesday, after rights groups said the plan could endanger their lives.

The 1,200 detainees were set to leave on Tuesday afternoon in three navy ships sent by Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, sparking weeks of protests from pro-democracy activists.

Just before the court issued its order, the migrants were bussed in from across the country to the naval base at Lumut in western Malaysia where the Myanmar ships are docked.

Refugee groups say asylum seekers from the minority Chin, Kachin and non-Rohingya Muslim communities fleeing conflict and persecution at home are among those being deported.

Amnesty International, which with Asylum Access had asked the courts to stop the deportation, said the high court granted a stay until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, when it will hear the groups’ application for judicial review to suspend the deportation.

“It’s important to note that the stay of execution granted by the court does not mean the 1,200 are safe from being deported,” said Katrina Maliamauv, Amnesty Malaysia director.

“We urge the government to reconsider its plans to send this group of vulnerable people back to Myanmar, where human rights violations are currently dangerously high,” she said.

Amnesty has said among the deportees were three people registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 17 minors who have at least one parent in Malaysia.

Spokespeople for Malaysia’s immigration department and foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the court order.

Malaysia has said it would not deport Rohingya Muslims or refugees registered with UNHCR. But the UN refugee agency has said there are at least six people registered with it that are also set to be deported and that there could be more. It has not been allowed access to the deportees.

Malaysia has not responded publicly to critics or Reuters queries over the deportation of the asylum seekers and those registered with UNHCR.

Concerns over deportation of unregistered asylum-seekers persist, as UNHCR has not been allowed to interview detainees for over a year to verify their status. The Southeast Asian nation is home to more than 154,000 asylum-seekers from Myanmar.

The United States and other Western missions have been trying to dissuade Malaysia from proceeding with the deportation and urged the government to allow UNHCR to interview the detainees. They also say Malaysia is legitimising the military government by cooperating with the junta.

Credit: timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Rohingya Activists Are Hoping That the Coup in Myanmar Will Be a Turning Point for Their Struggle

KUTUPALONG, COX’S BAZAR, BANGLADESH – 2019/08/25: Rohingya Muslims waiting on the hill in kutupalong refugee camp to commemorate the second anniversary of the 2017 crisis when they were forced to flee from their northern Rakhine state homes in Myanmar escaping a brutal military crackdown. According to UNHCR over 742,000 of the persecuted minority escaped to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017. (Photo by K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In the week since the military overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government, exile Nay San Lwin has been inundated with dozens of messages from his compatriots offering support.

It’s a dramatic change from 2017, when the rights activist, now living in Germany, was disseminating information about the atrocities Myanmar’s military had unleashed against his community—the mostly Muslim Rohingya, who live in the west of the country. Back then, the majority of the messages he received from other Burmese consisted of death threats and abuse.

About two-thirds of the population of the Southeast Asian nation are of the Bamar ethnicity, who are generally Buddhist and dominate the governing class. The other third is made up of over 100 ethnic minorities, many of whom have faced persecution at the hands of the military—especially the Rohingya. U.N. investigators say the armed forces of Myanmar, officially known as the Tatmadaw, have waged war against the Rohingya with “genocidal intent.”

The Rohingya found no support from the civilian government. Indeed, in 2019 Aung San Suu Kyi notoriously defended the Tatmadaw in a hearing at the Hague, and just two weeks before the coup, her government filed preliminary objections to the International Court of Justice over the genocide case it faces. The general population had no sympathy either; many Burmese consider the Rohingya to be Bangladeshi migrants, even though the Rohingya have centuries of history in Myanmar.

But in the wake of the Feb. 1 coup, some Burmese are finally changing their views of their Muslim countrymen. Says Nay San Lwin, who gained 3,000 new Twitter followers in a day last week: “They are now realizing the common enemy is the military.”

Some have even begun apologizing to Yanghee Lee. The former U.N. Special Rapporteur was hailed by the rights community as a “champion of justice for Rohingyas,” while being vilified in Myanmar. When she tweeted a call for the release of Suu Kyi on Feb. 4, the thread filled up with expiations.

“I do want to apologize the way I treated you in recent years regarding Rohingya,” said one user. “[Forgive] me for misunderstanding you. In the recent years, we were narrow-minded,” read another tweet.

Lily (a nickname), who lives in Yangon, tells TIME that the coup made her realize her own double standards. A 39-year-old transgender advocate from the Karen ethnic minority, she says that although she knew what happened to the Rohingya was a “grave violation of human rights” she failed to stand up for them, despite her activism in other areas.

“Without international community strong condemnation and support, I think we will all end up like Rohingya people,” she says.

Rohingya activists seek support among Burmese

In turn, the Rohingya are hoping that standing in solidarity with the people of Myanmar will help end discrimination against them and bolster their fight for justice.

“We are trying to build solidarity with the Burmese people,” says Nay San Lwin. “Most of the Rohingya activists are supporting the movement in Myanmar.”

Not just activists. Muhammad Dullah fled the country in Aug. 2017 and now lives in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The 24-year-old Rohingya has started posting anti-coup messages on his Twitter account.

“Rohingya stand with the people of Myanmar,” said one tweet, accompanied by photos of a makeshift signs reading “Protesting against military coup from the Bangladesh Rohingya Refugee camp” and “Military coup” with a large X drawn through it.

“I think [Burmese] may support and stand by us after seeing our solidarity with them,” Dullah tells TIME.

Credit: time.com

Myanmar orders 30 million coronavirus vaccines from India

Covid vaccine Photograph:( Reuters )

Myanmar has ordered 30 million coronavirus vaccines from India that are expected to be delivered by the end of February.

Zaw Htay, the President Office director-general said that Myanmar chose the vaccine because it can be stored in a temperature between 2 to 8 degrees centigrade that is suitable as per the country’s temperature.

Earlier, Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi had announced that her country will get the COVID-19 vaccine from India and that a contract has been signed regarding it.  

Myanmar has reported 129,483 coronavirus cases with a death toll of 2,812. The country’s government has been communicating with neighbouring countries to acquire COVID-19 vaccines.

Last year the Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Army Chief MM Naravane had jointly visited the country. The visit saw high-level assurances from India that Myanmar will be a priority when it comes to the vaccine. 

India gifted 3000 vials of Anti Covid Remdesivir to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi as a “symbol” of India‘s commitment to helping Myanmar mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Myanmar has signed MoU with the Serum Institute of India for Covishield. Over the weekend, India’s drug regulator gave approval for its use.

Credit: www.wionews.com

In New Year speech, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi announces contract to get COVID-19 vaccine from India

Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi wears a face shield and mask as she attends a flag-raising ceremony for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party to mark the first day of election campaigning in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on Tuesday Photograph:( AFP )

In her New Year’s address to the nation, Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that her country will get the COVID-19 vaccine from India and that a contract has been signed regarding it. 

 “The purchase contract for buying the first batch of the vaccines from India has already been signed. As soon as the authorities concerned in India have issued permission to use this vaccine, we have made arrangements for the import of these vaccines into Myanmar,”

Last year the Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Army Chief MM Naravane had jointly visited the country. The visit saw high-level assurances from India that Myanmar will be a priority when it comes to the vaccine. Shringla also handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir as a symbol of India‘s commitment to helping Myanmar mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Myanmar has signed MoU with the Serum Institute of India for Covishield. Over the weekend, India’s drug regulator gave approval for its use.

The state counsellor highlighted that the first priority group to get the vaccine will be medical professionals and medical personnel which will take place in February. 

“There is a lot of competition as all the countries of the world are trying to get this vaccine. However, we believe that the vaccination programme could be carried out all over the country step-by-step,” San Suu Kyi added.

“During the period when the vaccines are still not available, I wish to appeal to the people to abide by the health rules and regulations and give support to our efforts to beat COVID-19. Please be vigilant; please be patient. Please brace yourself by visioning the future. We are all in this together,” she added.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, India reaffirmed its position as the pharma capital of the world by sending medicines like HCQ, paracetamol to more than 150 countries. 

New Delhi also organised training to build capacity. In fact, for the neighbourhood, India has organized two training modules in which about 90 health experts and scientists have participated.

Credit: www.wionews.com

Sailor from Myanmar dies after fight on tanker near Taiwan

The New Princess in Keelung Saturday (CNA Photo)

A sailor from Myanmar died after a fight with fellow crew members on a foreign ship off the coast of Taiwan, reports said Saturday (Jan. 2).

The incident occurred on the New Progress, a tanker registered in the Cook Islands, while it was sailing in international waters off the coast of New Taipei City, CNA reported. As a result, Taiwan has no jurisdiction over the case, according to the Coast Guard Administration (CGA).

When the ship reached a point 31 nautical miles (57 kilometers) from New Taipei’s Shimen District Friday (Jan. 1) evening, a fight broke out and Wai Phy Aung, 27, was stabbed. As his condition deteriorated rapidly, the crew called in assistance, and a helicopter flew him to Taipei Songshan Airport.

However, the man was declared dead after his arrival at the hospital, CNA reported. The tanker dropped anchor in the port of Keelung on Saturday morning.

The CGA said though it did not have jurisdiction over the incident, it would assist with the investigation if the shipowner requested.

Credit: www.taiwannews.com.tw

Chinese hold on Myanmar a concern for India

Canny politician: Aung San Suu Kyi has been voted to power again. Reuters

Myanmar, which is seen to be the springboard of India’s Act East policy and the third strategic frontier, held its third election last month, attracting considerable attention in New Delhi. Elections held under the military-drafted constitution of 2008 which is regarded as the roadmap to full democracy returned National League of Democracy’s (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi to power with a landslide victory despite incumbency, sub-par economic performance, the Rohingya crisis, failed peace talks with ethnic groups, nationalistic Buddhist resurgence and the Covid pandemic.

Myanmar has a unique hybrid civil-military power-sharing system in which the Senior General calls the shots. The clash of two power centres complicates decision-making.

The National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) is the apex body controlling the three services and police. The military calls itself the guardian of the nation justifying interference in domestic politics as it has to protect the constitution, according to which 25 per cent of the seats in the central, state and regional legislatures are reserved for it. Making a constitutional change which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses is very difficult, if not impossible. Internal, defence and border affairs ministries are reserved for the junta. De facto, the military controls politics, security, economy, wealth and the Buddhist clergy.

Relations between the NLD and the military have been worsening, though Suu Kyi defended the military at the International Court of Justice against allegations of genocide against the Rohingya, thereby tarnishing her international image but boosting her domestic standing. The military faces calibrated challenges from two dozen active and dormant insurgencies.

Suu Kyi is a canny politician in a party led by elderly politicians with no second-tier leadership. The NLD has not been able to stand up to the military. The Rohingya crackdown by the army in 2017 has led to the rise of the Rakhine Rohingya Salvation Army, a new anti-state insurgency.

In April 2021, the military supremo is likely to change after a decade, but Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said he will stay on in another civilian or military post. He has been hobnobbing with opposition parties and expressed a wish to become vice-president. If this happens, it will be the first time a C-in-C will occupy a government post which is number five in the pecking order. He is a political general, openly critical of government institutions for lack of discipline and efficiency.

Sharing a 2,100-km border, China is the Big Brother in Myanmar involved in domestic politics, development and economy, peace talks with ethnic groups and enjoying deep ties with both the NLD and the military, which is not entirely happy with Beijing’s enlarging footprint. China has said it will support Myanmar in safeguarding its legitimate rights, interests and national dignity.

Beijing’s flagship project under the BRI is the 1,700-km China-Myanmar Economic Corridor CMEC (38 projects of which nine approved) which packs infrastructure projects linking China’s Yunan province with the strategic deep sea port of Kyaukphyu in Rakhine province, which India had once eyed, that will provide access to the Bay of Bengal. Yunan, in fact, is integrated with North Myanmar up to Mandalay. The $100-billion CMEC which includes building the $8-million Yangon New City may outmatch the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the long run.

Myanmar is heavily indebted to China, which accounts for 70 per cent of the FDI in the energy sector alone. China holds 40 per cent of Myanmar’s $5-10 billion debt. Both countries have a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Agreement with the new 2+2 first ever dialogue arrangement.

Still, the seeds of mistrust have grown, prompting the military to accuse China of supplying military equipment to rebel groups, including the Arakan Army in Rakhine and Chin states. In 2011, Senior General Than Shwe had turned to India for reducing dependence on China, which it finds necessary but irksome.

In October, India showed rare prescience in dispatching its first ever joint civil-military delegation led by Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and included the Army Chief, General Naravane, to Myanmar, signalling its nuanced recognition of the civil-military power-sharing mechanism.

Connectivity through Myanmar, the centrepiece of India’s Act East policy, is hobbled by insurgencies in both countries and tardy decision-making. The India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral is moving at a snail’s pace and requires a loop line through Mizoram to bypass insurgencies in Nagaland and Manipur. The multi-modal Kaladan project, from Sittwe port to Mizoram through Rakhine and China, has been disrupted by the Arakan Army, reportedly aided by China after it failed to block the project, including Sittwe.

The Imphal-Mandalay bus service started in April 2020 will pick up after the pandemic. India has offered to build a $6-billion petroleum refinery as investment in energy security even as it has completed 140 infra projects. India’s assistance, which is mainly in grants is $1.4 billion (and line of credit of $1.5 billion) is minuscule compared to China’s $3.5 billion, but mainly as loans. India has provided debt service relief of Myanmar’s cumulative liability of $10 billion.

Though Myanmar’s military equipment is 80 per cent Chinese, defence and security cooperation has increased significantly. Besides supplying small arms, tanks, artillery, offshore patrol vessels, a kilo-class submarine was gifted recently.

With a two-million Indian diaspora as an asset, people-to-people relations and links of Buddhism need to be boosted. While playing catch-up with China is a bridge too far, increasing investment in education and agricultural sectors will be useful.

Like Pakistan, Myanmar is stuck with its generals, some of whom are being investigated for alleged genocide and will come under sanctions and, ultimately, be tried in international courts. Consequently, Myanmar’s relations with the West and the Islamic world have plummeted. There is little chance of the democracy deepening, the military submitting to civilian control and peace with ethnic insurgencies. Myanmar will suffer from status quo.

While China will remain a spoke in India’s Act East policy, it also has the potential to turn India’s two-front dilemma into two-and-a-half fronts. Defence diplomacy is India’s best card for now.

Credit: www.tribuneindia.com

‘Shocking’ killing of children allegedly used as human shields

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hold killers accountable’ 

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

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

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

‘Alarming’ increase in violations

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

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

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

‘Grave Violations’  

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

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

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

Credit: news.un.org