Myanmar Round Up: April 2022
Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

Addressing 8,000 soldiers on the occasion of Armed Forces Day, 27 April, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing vowed to “annihilate” all forms of opposition. His speech coincided with a disturbing escalation in the military’s crackdown. The month witnessed significant international developments as the military’s Foreign Minister met with his Chinese counterpart and Australia’s outgoing ambassador. Reports of fuel and energy crises were also being received. Incidents of drug and arms trafficking were reported at the India-Myanmar border. The following article summarises all the major domestic and international developments in the country.

Domestic and Political Issues

On 27 April, former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to five years in prison in the first of 11 corruption cases against her. During the month she was also sentenced to another five-year sentence, which totals 11 years imprisonment from six charges, with 12 more charges pending. In addition to this, RFA records that since the coup last year, a total of 64 people, including NLD leaders and cabinet members, have been charged with corruption.[1] During the month, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported intensified judicial persecution of journalists in the past three weeks and reiterated its call for the unconditional release of all media personnel held in Myanmar’s prisons.[2]

During the month, the military restarted attacks on the Kokang region of northern Shan State. The attacks were halted after the death of the founder of the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). However, attacks began on 31 March and continued during the month. The MNDAA has been a target of army assaults since 2019 when the group refused to transform into a border guard force under the military’s control. During the month, the military reclaimed the Maw Khee base in Karen State which was taken by the Karen forces on March 21. [3]

The Christian-majority Chin State in Myanmar continued to witness its churches being targeted and attacked by the military. The ICC recently reported that there have been more than 100 religious buildings destroyed by the military. For instance, within the Chin State, the military destroyed over 35 churches and 15 other Christian-affiliated buildings between February 2021 and January 2022.[4]

Inter-ethnic conflicts were also recorded during the month between the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) near the Thai-Shan border. This inter-ethnic conflict between the UWSA and RCSS is generally seen as a proxy war to push the RCSS out of northern Shan State, to protect China’s economic interest in the region. [5]

Myanmar’s regime has officially endorsed pro-junta militias that are increasingly targeting civilians who oppose military rule. Major General Zaw Min Tun stated that the regime was implementing a “public security system”, which will strengthen them to eliminate “terrorist” forces. He stated that the combined force of regime supporters, the military and police will fight against the resistance forces. [6]

The tensions are rising between the military and the Rakhine people’s authority led by the Arakan Army (AA). Clashes broke out between the military and AA in Arakan State’s Myebon Township. There has been an increased stationing of the military in the state. On 05 April, AA spokesman U Khaing Thukha warned that fighting would continue if the military interferes/disrupts efforts by the AA to administer Arakan State. The AA warned the military not to interfere in its administration in Rakhine State as it will then reignite an armed conflict. [7] While commemorating the 13th birth anniversary of AA, the commander of the AA warned the ethnic armed organisation’s members to ready themselves for war against the military.[8] The AA, which is part of Three Brotherhood Alliance, extended its support to the Bamar People’s Liberation Army (BPLA) on its first anniversary (17 April 2022). The BPLA was founded by a group of activists, with the political goal of overthrowing the military dictatorship and liberating the Burmese people from oppression.[9]

Amid rising armed resistance, Min Aung Hlaing invited the leaders of ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) for talks “to end armed conflict” and to register for the same by 09 May 2022. However, the NUG and its armed wing People’s Defence Forces and other resistance forces are believed to be excluded. [10] The key ethnic armed groups in Myanmar have unsurprisingly rejected the offer. According to a report in The Irrawaddy, representatives from the Karenni National Progressive Party, Karen National Union, Kachin Independence Army, and Chin National Front have rejected the offer.[11]

The celebrations of Thingyan, the traditional New Year’s water festival celebrated around mid of April and this year the military is trying to force the citizens to celebrate Thingyan. The military is building Thingyan stages in Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Daw and other areas, and also urging hotel and bar owners to arrange parties. But there is little public support, especially for the military-sponsored celebrations. On the other hand, local People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) have issued strong public warnings not to attend Thingyan celebrations.[12] To mark the festival, the military also released more than 1,600 prisoners, but no political detainees were freed. This is just a fraction of 2021 when 23,000 people were freed from jails. [13]

Economic Situation

On 17 April, the military also announced resuming international flights and reopening the country for tourism. However, only those vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to enter the country along with a week-long quarantine with two PCR tests. Other challenges tourists will face include a lack of access to cash, power blackouts and safety concerns.[14]

The Central Bank announced that up to 100 lakh MMK could be withdrawn per week from each bank account for health and religious reasons. The applicability of easy monetary policies is due to the global crisis, especially the sharp increase in fuel prices. [15] Further, the Central Bank announced that the foreign exchange must be deposited in foreign currency accounts at licensed banks and must be converted into kyats within one working day. The bank also stated that exceptions to the rule will also be laid, after which many countries reached out for exemptions. For instance, citing bilateral relations, the Japanese Embassy in Myanmar asked the military’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to exempt Japanese companies and governmental organisations from the new directive. [16] Further, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi revealed that Japan will once again accept Myanmar military personnel for training at Japan’s defence facilities on 26 April. This is the second time since the February 2021 coup in Myanmar that Japan has accepted members of the Myanmar military for a programme that began in 2015. [17] It was later cleared that approved foreign investors, embassies, United Nations agencies and non-government organisations were exempt from these rules.

The Central Bank has also instructed domestic banks to halve the monthly maximum amount limits of international prepaid cards, international credit cards and international co-brand cards. According to the bank's instruction, monthly maximum amount limits per international prepaid card such as Master Card, Visa and UPI prepaid cards have decreased from USD 5,000 to USD 2,500. [18]

The country witnessed incidents of panic buying as there was information about shortages of fuel and gas. However, the military government denied such shortage issues and claimed them as rumours. [19] It was also clarified that the recent power outages were caused by surging costs for liquefied natural gas, weakening currency and damage caused to power lines by "terrorist forces”, i.e. armed groups fighting the Myanmar military. [20]

Forest Trends published a report highlighting the export of timber from Myanmar to countries, including countries with active sanctions, of more than USD 190 million worth in 2021. Despite active sanctions by countries like Canada, the European Union, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States on military leaders and military-run enterprises in sectors such as mining, forestry, and oil and gas, the exports have raised concerns about the poorly enforced sanctions that have led to incidents of illegal logging, cronyism and siphoning of public funds. [21]

International Responses

The United States House of Representatives passed the BURMA Act, which was introduced in October 2021. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration. The BURMA Act aims to alleviate the current crisis in Myanmar. If passed by the Senate, the BURMA Act would allocate USD 221 million in humanitarian aid, establish a special role to promote democracy and human rights and authorise the use of sanctions against those undermining Myanmar’s democracy. [22] Furthermore, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report has drawn parallels between the situation of minority Christians in Myanmar with the persecution faced by Rohingya Muslims since 2017. [23]

From 31 March to 02 April, Wunna Maung Lwin, Foreign Minister of the State Administration Council (SAC), met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China. The meeting signals China’s eagerness to push the economic projects in the country. During the meeting, Wang Yi assured Wunna Maung Lwin that China would support the military’s efforts to safeguard the independence and territorial integrity and find a path to development that suits Myanmar's situation. On the other hand, Zin Mar Aung, Foreign Minister of NUG, said the Chinese government’s meeting with SAC Foreign Minister raises questions about China’s support for Myanmar citizens. So far, China has been in contact only with the SAC and has yet to formally engage with the NUG. [24]

The month also witnessed Australia's outgoing Ambassador Andrea Faulkner meeting with military leader Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar. Following this, the Human Rights Watch slammed the meeting and stated that such actions lend credibility to the regime that is accused of war crimes. The state-owned media outlet Global New Light of Myanmar reported that the two sides discussed "enhancement of cooperation in various sectors”. In addition, Katrina Cooper from Australia's foreign affairs department stated that the ambassador had used the meeting to reiterate calls for Myanmar to cease violence and release detainees. Australia has repeatedly called for the release of Australian economist Sean Turnell, who was working as an adviser to Suu Kyi, who was detained after the coup. He has been charged with violating Myanmar's official secrets law and faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison if found guilty. [25]

On 25 April, Thailand appointed its first special envoy for Myanmar, Pornpimol Kanchanalak, who will represent the country at meetings and summits on Myanmar’s crisis. According to the letter of appointment, she will have five main responsibilities: to “drive and monitor the tasks among agencies within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”; to coordinate activities outside the ministry and with the private sector; to represent Thailand in domestic and international negotiations, meetings, and seminars relating to Myanmar; to report directly to the foreign minister on essential developments in the country; and to carry out sundry tasks and duties assigned by the ministry. [26]

During the month, the Philippines announced it will donate “excess” Sputnik COVID-19 vaccines that are due to expire. Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, the acting presidential spokesperson, said the donations are “part of our current plans to help other countries since we are one with the World Health Organization in terms of equity and distributing these vaccines.” It was clarified that the country has about 27 million COVID-19 vaccines that are due to expire and since Myanmar and Papua New Guinea, are using Sputnik V, hence, they were donating to the required countries.[27]

During the month, a resolution was raised at the United Nations General Assembly against Russia and its suspension from the Human Rights Council. Myanmar’s UN Envoy, Kyaw Moe Tun voted against Russia over its military action in Ukraine. A total of 93 countries voted for the resolution and 24 against it. UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun’s stance typically runs counter to Myanmar’s SAC which has supported Russia.[28]

India Myanmar Engagements

A combined team of police personnel from the 43 Assam Rifles arrested three drug traffickers from Assam. Brown sugar worth ₹1.44 crore and gold and precious stones were recovered, believed to be smuggled from Myanmar was recovered from them. Those arrested were from the Karimganj district of Assam and have been handed over to the Moreh police. In another incident, the police recovered 684 gm of brown sugar packed inside 60 concealed soap cases from a jeep coming from Moreh. [29]

The Mizoram government aimed to finish issuing certificates of identity to around 24,000 Myanmar refugees for better management of providing relief to the displaced foreign nationals. He said that this temporary photo-affixed identity card is for identification only and shall serve no other purpose, official or otherwise and the card is not transferable. The 26 Sub-Divisional Officers under the 11 districts have been providing certificates of identity since January 2022 to the refugees sheltered in those areas. The identity certificate has details like the name of bearer, father’s name, date of birth, place of origin, and present address in Mizoram. [30]

Conclusion

The data collected by the Institute for Strategy and Policy-Myanmar stated that nearly 2,200 clashes had taken place between the military and ethnic armed organisations between July 2021 and March 2022. These clashes have economic, social and humanitarian effects. While the military is in no mood for negotiating with all stakeholders, initiation of peace talks with a few EAOs will merely be lip service. As reiterated in previous round-ups, the only solution to the current crisis lies in the complete participation of all stakeholders.

Endnotes :

[1] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/sentences-05022022214247.html
[2] https://rsf.org/en/news/three-weeks-intensified-judicial-persecution-journalists-myanmar
[3]https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/myanmar-military-reclaims-control-of-maw-khee-base-seized-by-karen-forces
[4]https://www.persecution.org/2022/04/02/church-chin-state-vandalized-looted-junta/
[5] https://www.bnionline.net/en/news/uwsa-rcss-conflict-pure-proxy-war-or-autocracy-versus-democracy-conflict
[6] https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-officially-endorses-militias-to-attack-anti-regime-civilians.html
[7]Since 2020, the United League of Arakan (ULA), the political wing of the AA, has built a parallel administration in Rakhine with a judiciary, revenue department, public security offices and other governmental institutions. https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/arakan-army-threatens-war-with-myanmar-junta.html
[8]https://www.myanmar-now.org/en/news/arakan-army-prepares-for-war-against-junta
[9]The three members of the alliance — the AA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). https://www.bnionline.net/en/news/three-brotherhood-alliance-backs-bamar-peoples-liberation-army
[10] https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/engulfed-with-mounting-resistance-myanmar-junta-boss-calls-for-peace-talks.html
[11]https://thediplomat.com/2022/04/ethnic-armed-organizations-reject-myanmar-junta-peace-talk-bid/
[12] https://www.mizzima.com/article/public-boycott-thingyan-despite-myanmar-juntas-best-efforts
[13] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/17/myanmar-military-government-to-release-1600-prisoners-in-amnesty
[14] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/04/everything-is-not-ok-here-tourists-urged-to-avoid-myanmar-as-junta-prepares-to-reopen-to-world
[15]https://www.mizzima.com/article/spring-revolution-daily-news-3-april-2022
[16]https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/japan-appeals-for-exemption-from-myanmar-juntas-foreign-exchange-rules.html
[17]https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/27/japan-train-new-cadets-officers-abusive-myanmar-military
[18]https://www.thestar.com.my/aseanplus/aseanplus-news/2022/04/10/myanmar039s-central-bank-to-lower-amount-limits-of-international-cards
[19]https://ktar.com/story/5015903/myanmar-military-government-denies-rumors-of-fuel-shortages/
[20]https://www.startribune.com/military-led-myanmar-seeks-to-reassure-foreign-investors/600166626/
[21]https://www.eco-business.com/news/countries-that-sanctioned-myanmars-junta-still-patronise-regimes-timber-report/
[22]https://theparadise.ng/icc-welcomes-passage-of-the-burma-act-by-u-s-house/
[23]https://www.ucanews.com/news/persecution-of-myanmar-christians-akin-to-rohingya/97041
[24] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/foreign-ministers-meet-04072022191914.html
[25] https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/2291802/australia-myanmar-junta-meeting-unacceptable-hrw
[26]https://thediplomat.com/2022/04/thai-foreign-ministry-appoints-special-envoy-for-myanmar-issues/
[27]https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1578830/ph-donating-excess-covid-vaccines-to-myanmar-png
[28] https://www.mizzima.com/article/myanmar-envoy-one-93-vote-russias-un-rights-body-suspension
[29] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/manipur-town-bordering-myanmar-emerges-smuggling-hotspot/article65300544.ece
[30] https://easternmirrornagaland.com/mizoram-to-complete-issuing-identity-certificates-to-24000-myanmarese-this-month/

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