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.
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.
The military has steadily escalated efforts to quell an uprising against their seizure of power two weeks ago, which saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained along with hundreds of other members of her democratically elected government.
Myanmar’s junta cut the nation’s internet and deployed extra troops around the country on Monday as fears built of a widespread crackdown on anti-coup protests, but defiant demonstrators again took to the streets.
The military has steadily escalated efforts to quell an uprising against their seizure of power two weeks ago, which saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained along with hundreds of other members of her democratically elected government.
With protesters refusing to back down, the generals imposed an internet shutdown on Monday morning and ratcheted up the military’s presence across the country.
Extra troops were seen in key locations of Yangon, the nation’s commercial hub and biggest city, including armoured personnel carriers near the central bank.
Live-stream images shared on social media platforms before the internet blackout showed more military vehicles and soldiers moving through others parts of the country.
However fresh protests again flared in Yangon on Monday morning, including near the central bank.
Hundreds of engineering and technology students protested in a northern district of Yangon, according to an AFP journalist.
Monitoring group NetBlocks initially said the “state-ordered information blackout” had taken Myanmar almost entirely offline.
However some internet services in Yangon resumed at the start of the working day, according to an AFP reporter in the city.
Deepening fears the military was going to impose a far harsher crackdown, troops in the northern city of Myitkyina fired tear gas then shot at a crowd on Sunday night.
A journalist at the scene said it was unclear whether police had used rubber bullets or live rounds.
Local media outlets said at least five journalists monitoring the protest had been detained and published pictures of some people wounded in the incident.
A joint statement from the US, British and European Union ambassadors urged security forces not to harm civilians.
“We call on security forces to refrain from violence against demonstrators, who are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government,” they said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed that call, pushing authorities to “ensure the right of peaceful assembly is fully respected and demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals”.
Through his spokesman, Guterres also asked the military to “urgently” allow Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener to visit Myanmar “to assess the situation first hand”.
The US embassy advised American citizens to shelter in place and not risk defying an overnight curfew imposed by the regime.
The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots.
Myanmar on Friday (December 25) officially inducted submarine handed over by India in the month of October. INS Sindhuvir was commissioned as UMS Minye Theinkhathu and inducted on the 73rd anniversary of the Myanmar Navy. During the commissioning ceremony, Indian ambassador to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar was also present along with top brass of Myanmar’s Navy.
The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots. UMS Minye Theinkhathu is named after an ancient warrior and can operate for 45 days. It is equipped with 40 km range wire-guided torpedoes and 3M-54 Klub anti-ship cruise missiles. Myanmar has built a submarine base for it in a highly classified location.
Kilo class submarines are operated by Indian, Chinese, Russian and Iranian Naval forces and were designed by the Rubin Central Maritime Design Bureau, St Petersburg.
India and Myanmar have decided to exchange intelligence input in a timely manner to conduct follow-up investigations into cases relating to the seizure of drugs, new psychotropic substances and their precursors.
The decision was taken at the 5th India- Myanmar bilateral meeting on drug control cooperation between the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), India and the Central Committee on Drug Abuse Control, Myanmar held virtually on Friday.
The Indian delegation was led by the Director-General Narcotics Control Bureau Rakesh Asthana and the Myanmar delegation was led by the Commander of the Drug Enforcement Division (DED) cum Joint Secretary of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control Brig Gen Win Naing.
Asthana during the meeting highlighted issues particularly the trafficking of Heroin and Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) in the country.
He said that the high prevalence of drug abuse in the northeastern states abutting the Myanmar border is a major cause of concern for India. Apart from the porosity of the India-Myanmar border, drug trafficking through the maritime route in the Bay of Bengal has emerged as a new challenge for both countries.
“NCB has remained committed to strengthening the existing mechanism of sharing information and assistance with Myanmar, for combating the drug menace in the region,” Asthana said.
The Commander of DED Brig Gen Win Naing elaborated on the growing threat of the production of Yaba tablets (methamphetamine) which has caused grave concern in the region, even though the cooperation mechanism between Myanmar and India has been enhanced over the past years.
He urged India to develop frequent information exchange on the trafficking of drugs and precursor smuggling activities at every level.
The Commander of the DED complimented the Government of India and the NCB for their continuous efforts to combat the growing threat of the drug menace.
Both countries agreed on the exchange of intelligence information in a timely manner to conduct follow-up investigations in drug seizure cases, new psychotropic substances and their precursors.
They also agreed to conduct Border Level Officers/Field Level Officers meetings on a regular basis between frontline officers to strengthen the existing cooperation on drug law enforcement.
It was decided to exchange information on illegal entry and exit points of illicit drug trafficking on the Myanmar-India borders and information on the technology being used to interdict drug trafficking.
The meeting also decided to hold the 6th India – Myanmar Bilateral Meeting on Drug Control Cooperation in India in 2021.
Japan firm to deliver 246 cars for Yangon Circular and Mandalay routes
Mitsubishi Corp. has signed two contracts with Myanmar’s state-run railway, Myanma Railways, to deliver new rolling stock, the Japanese trading house said Tuesday.
The total cost of the two projects is approximately 69 billion yen ($663 million), which will be covered by an international yen loan agreement between the governments of Japan and Myanmar. The projects are part of the Japanese government’s railway infrastructure export drive.
Mitsubishi will deliver 66 cars for the Yangon Circular Railway, which runs in a loop in Myanmar’s largest city, and 180 cars for the Yangon-Mandalay Railway, which connects Yangon, Naypyitaw and Mandalay.
The new cars will shorten travel time on the 46-km Yangon Circular Railway from about 170 minutes to 110 minutes, and on the 620-km Yangon-Mandalay Railway from about 15 hours to around eight hours.
Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, Spain’s leading rail car manufacturer, better known as CAF, will manufacture the train cars using Japanese equipment for part of its electrical systems and deliver the cars from 2023 to 2025.
Myanmar has been overhauling its national rail system, neglected during decades of military rule, starting with two major arteries pivotal to economic revitalization.
Work started in February 2018 to upgrade the Yangon Circular Railway. In addition to cutting travel time, the overhaul aims to boost service frequency by 40%.
The project has fueled development along the line in anticipation of a jump in commuters.
The redevelopment will extend to government-owned tracts surrounding Yangon Central Railway Station, the main stop on the loop. Along with a new domed transport hub next to the existing station, the site will house high-rise office buildings and shopping spaces.
The country also envisions establishing urban subcenters along the Yangon Circular Railway.
Meanwhile the improvement of the 60-year-old line between Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, would be a boon to the northern Mandalay region, home to the country’s main producers of agricultural products and natural resources. The line also runs through Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.
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.
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.
Dozens of Naga tribes yearn to reunite the 3 million living in India with their 400,000 estranged cousins in Myanmar.
The king of the Konyak tribe sleeps in Myanmar, but eats in India – his house, village and people divided by a mountain border which serves as a vulnerable lifeline now severed by a coronavirus lockdown.
The Konyak are just one of dozens of Naga tribes, a people yearning to reunite the 3 million living in India with their 400,000 estranged – and much poorer – cousins in Myanmar’s isolated far north.
Many from Myanmar cross the border to attend school, sell vegetables or visit a hospital, as it is a days-long journey by foot to the nearest town in Myanmar.
Even in normal times, they live at the mercy of Indian soldiers guarding checkpoints against the threat of armed groups fighting for reunification.
Tonyei Phawng claims to be the 12th generation of his family to rule the Konyak, whose feared tattooed warriors once brought home their enemies’ heads as trophies.
His son, the crown prince, will one day take over in a lineage many believe possess supernatural powers.
Dressed in a tracksuit and trainers in his village of Longwa, the 43-year-old king described to AFP news agency in February how his Myanmar brothers were often stopped at the border and detained as they were trying to enter India.
“Their rights are denied.”
Days later, the border was shuttered, not at the whim of Indian soldiers, but because of COVID-19.
For the town of Longwa, which straddles the border, the shutdown has impacted the two sides differently.
The Indian government was providing some emergency rations, but Myanmar’s authorities were not doing the same on their side of the border, Longwa-based tour guide Nahmai Konyak, 34, told AFP by telephone.
Those living hand-to-mouth in Myanmar are finding it very difficult, he said. “We just can’t help them.”
Retreating British colonialists left behind the frontier after World War II, cleaving the Konyak tribe of 44 villages in two – alongside several other tribes.
The Naga on both sides enjoy some degree of autonomy, but there is a huge disparity in the level of development.
Indian roads lead right up to the frontier, bringing business and even some hardy tourists.
Over the border, off-grid villages with few schools or amenities dot thickly-forested slopes, connected by muddy paths in one of Myanmar’s poorest regions.
Thousands of Naga have taken up arms over the decades to try to win a united homeland by force.
The rebels splintered in the late 80s into two main groups, one fighting for the Naga cause each side of the border.
Civilians must pay taxes to help finance the groups and many families “sacrifice” a son to the resistance, says Myanmar Naga activist Jacob Ngansa.
But New Delhi’s relative investment is chiselling away support over the border, the 23-year-old admits with sadness.
“They are brainwashed by the Indian government.”
With India-Myanmar relations blossoming, these are ominous times for Naga nationalists.
Myanmar is hungry for new allies after being snubbed by the West over the Rohingya crisis, while India is keen to counter China’s regional influence over its smaller neighbour.
The allies recently held joint military exercises and Myanmar’s president in February signed numerous deals on his visit to the subcontinent – also reaffirming a pact to prevent rebels mounting cross-border attacks.
Politics over force
Other Naga unionists choose politics over force.
The newly-formed Naga National Party aims to woo the Naga vote in Myanmar’s elections due later this year.
Once they are in power, chairman Shu Maung says, they will work within the system to bring change. “You cannot live in your uncle’s house forever.”
The battle for the ballot box has already started.
Regional National League of Democracy MP Kail, who goes by one name, is Naga but says his immediate priorities are education, healthcare and food.
“Once we have those, then maybe the younger generations can take up the fight again for the dream.”
But analyst Bertil Lintner believes the best the Myanmar Naga can hope for is more autonomy within the country.
A united Nagaland is “never going to happen,” he says, not least because the tribes are so divided among themselves.
At a viewpoint overlooking Longwa village, smartly-dressed Rongsen Ao was one of the last tourists to make it to the border before it closed.
Excitedly hopping from one side of a demarcation post to the other, the 65-year-old Indian Naga doctor said he had fulfilled a childhood dream by seeing the frontier in person.
But his smile faded when asked about the Naga’s quest for a homeland.
“Everyone feels bitter about being divided…but this is beyond our control.”