Myanmar Round-Up: May 2023
Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

During the month, the western region of the country suffered Cyclone Mocha, which further exacerbated the economic, social and humanitarian crisis in the country. There have also been reports about fuel shortages affecting supply of electricity to industries and households; and thereby negatively impacting the economic growth. As part of the Rohingya repatriation process, a 20 member Bangladesh delegation visited Myanmar’s Rakhine state and following that a 14 member delegation from Myanmar visited Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. However, Human Rights Watch has raised concerns over the safe return of Rohingyas. Internationally, the OHCHR report on the supply of international arms to Myanmar has raised concerns. Additionally, India inaugurated Sittwe port and sent the first cargo vessel via Kolkata port. Furthermore, China’s Ambassador and Foreign Minister visited Myanmar and held talks with Min Aung Hlaing. Lastly, ASEAN members concluded their 42nd summit in Indonesia reiterating its focus on Five Point Consensus. These issues are discussed in detail in the article below.

Domestic and Political Situation

The fighting continues between the military and opposition forces. Human Rights Watch accused the military of using a "vacuum bomb" in an air strike on an opposition village that killed dozens of people. [1] The military is also facing defections from its forces. In exclusive interviews with BBC, the soldiers who have defected recently stated that the military is struggling to suppress the armed pro-democracy uprising. Since February 2021, more than 13,000 soldiers and policemen have defected, according to the data provided by the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG). NUG is offering cash incentives and support to try and get more soldiers and police officers to switch sides. [2]

During the month, Hmue Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun, a camera operator for the Myanmar Press photo Agency, was convicted and sentenced at the Thingangyun District Court in Yangon, under Section 50(j) of the Counter-Terrorism Law. The conviction comes a year after she was sentenced to three years in prison, along with fellow Myanmar Press-photo Agency photographer Kaung Sett Lin. The pair was convicted under Section 505(a) of the country’s Penal Code, a broad and vaguely worded provision that criminalises any comments or communication that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” The case of Hmue Yadanar highlights the silencing of Myanmar’s media since the coup. The junta has forced independent outlets to shut down, pushing hundreds of media workers to flee the country and revive the exiled media outlets that reported on the country under the last military junta prior to 2011. According to one estimate, around 156 journalists have been arrested and around 50 journalists remain in prison since the coup. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Myanmar is now the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists as of December 2022, behind only Iran and China.

As the country suffers from fuel shortages, power outages have become frequent. In Yangon, planned electricity cuts have doubled in duration to eight hours a day in April 2023. This is affecting the manufacturing sector. Multiple rounds of sanctions by the U.S. and its allies have reduced the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves, leaving it with little to pay for fuel. According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, electricity output dropped almost 30 per cent from October 2021 to March 2022. According to an S&P Global report, companies are serving new orders for goods using existing inventories, but stockpiles are dwindling rapidly, putting the economic rebound from the pandemic at risk. Liquefied natural gas imports, which started trickling into the country in 2020 into the Yangon area, stopped in 2021 after the coup, according to shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. Furthermore, power cuts grew worse in July 2022 when the People’s Defense Force blew up the Zawtika gas pipeline, while also damaging a power transmission line. [3]

Cyclone Mocha

On 14 May, Cyclone Mocha - a category five storm - hit the Rakhine state, in western Myanmar, as well as the regions of Sagaing and Magway, with winds of up to 209 km/h (130mph). At least 145 people are known to have been killed, with most of the victims from the Rohingya minority. There have also been reports of military attacks on locals following the storm. Communities in Sagaing region have put up some of the strongest opposition to the military and it has a large number of anti-military militias, known as the People's Defence Force. [4]

The UN launched an appeal for USD 333 million in emergency funding for 1.6 million people who were affected by Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar. The United Nations called for Myanmar to open up and ensure life-saving aid can get to parts of the country hit by deadly Cyclone Mocha. To support Myanmar in these times of crisis, India launched “Operation Karuna”, an initiative to aid those affected by Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar. On 18 May, three ships, namely Indian Naval Ships Shivalik, Kamorta, and Savitri, arrived in Yangon with emergency relief materials, such as food supplies, tents, essential medicines, water pumps, portable generators, clothes, and hygiene items. [5]

Cyclone Mocha exposed safety and security challenges for cyclone-affected communities. To date, shelter and other relief items have been distributed to more than 63,000 people. More than 230,000 people have received food assistance but household food reserves are dwindling, and communities are having difficulty buying food due to price rises and crop damage. Loss of agricultural inputs and livestock is a growing problem. The cyclone has created an education emergency with approximately 80 percent of schools and educational infrastructure reportedly sustaining damage. The affected population is exposed to risks including sexual and gender-based violence, loss of civil documentation, looting, extortion, and robbery and people are currently living in overcrowded conditions that lack privacy, sanitation and proper lighting. [6] Much more is needed to support vulnerable people and ensure the distribution of critical supplies.

Rohingya Repatriation Process

Bangladesh is currently working with China to start the repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar as a pilot case. Myanmar’s military government has offered to repatriate 6000 Rohingyas by the end of the year. In pursuance of the repartition offer, a 20-member delegation of Rohingya refugees along with Bangladesh government officials visited Maungdaw Township and adjoining villages in the Rakhine State resettlement plan. The settlements are built with support from China, India and Japan. However, on their return, the Rohingyas delegation expressed dissatisfaction over the arrangements and facilities made by the Myanmar authorities and stated that unless Myanmar guarantees their citizenship rights, freedom of movement, access to livelihood, healthcare and education, a sustainable repartition will be half-hearted. However, Myanmar’s military-led government remains silent over the returnees' citizenship rights but assured that the Rohingya will be given a national verification card (NVC). [7] Following this, on 25 May, a 14-member team from the Myanmar military government visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.

However, Human Rights Watch have criticised the repatriation plan. It said that it posed "grave risks" to the Rohingya. [8] Earlier, Olivier De Schutter, a U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, made a 12-day visit to camps sheltering the refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh. He reported that the international response to meet the requirement of funds is “grossly insufficient”. About USD 876 million is needed to support the community for a year, but only 17 percent of that has been pledged to date. He said the World Food Program was forced in May to reduce the value of the monthly food vouchers it gives to each refugee from USD 12 to USD 10. [9]

India-Myanmar Engagements

During the month, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met UN Secretary General's Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer and discussed the situation prevailing in Myanmar. Myanmar is one of India's strategic neighbours and it shares a 1,640-kilometre-long border with four northeastern states. The two countries share strong economic and bilateral relations. [10] In addition, Ambassador of Myanmar Moe Kyaw Aung and his wife Nilar Aung and First Secretary Ms May Zaw Maung arrived in Mumbai to celebrate 75 years of India-Myanmar bilateral relations and friendship and 75 years of Myanmar’s independence. The Indo-Myanmar Friendship Association is an association for bilateral relations and friendship between the two republics which organised this ceremony at Juhu in Mumbai. During the occasion, Moe Kyaw Aung was awarded with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Regular exchange, travel and bilateral programs are being initiated by the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Association and the Embassy of Myanmar. [11]

On 04 May, India-funded Sittwe Port in Myanmar was inaugurated. The port was inaugurated by India's Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Union Minister for Transport & Communications of Myanmar, Admiral Tin Aung San. They also welcomed the first Indian cargo vessel from Eastern India's Kolkata port. The project envisages highway/road transport from Mizoram (in Northeast India) to Paletwa (in Myanmar), thereafter from Paletwa to Sittwe (Myanmar) by Inland Water Transport (IWT) and from Sittwe to any port in India by maritime shipping. This port will allow for the rapid transportation of goods between India's Northeast and other parts of the country. It is also a major step that supplements India’s efforts to counter China’s growing influence in its immediate neighbourhood. However, work remains to be done on the Sittwe to Paletwa stretch of the project. [12]

On the other hand, concerns have been raised in India that the elements involved in the ongoing violence in Manipur may be getting help from across the border. The central agencies and local administration confirmed that the administration expects at least 4,000 weapons to be missing but the quantity of ammunition has not been figured out. Sources have also said warehouses, armouries of various forces and reserve battalions have been looted. The Army said troops have recovered one INSAS Rifle with a magazine, 60 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition, one Chinese hand grenade and one detonator during the checking. Also, 25 accused were arrested with arms from different regions. The Indian Army mobilised three columns on 28 May to establish multiple Mobile Vehicle Check Posts (MVCP) in the area to apprehend the miscreants. [13] Meanwhile, the Manipur government has found the involvement of Myanmar’s militant outfits in igniting the violence in the state. Most of the militant outfits operating in Manipur have their base in Myanmar. The state has around 400 km of unfenced border, spread across five districts, with the neighbouring country. Following these concerns, the state government has been advocating that the free movement regime with Myanmar be reviewed. [14]

Because of the ongoing violence, on 31 May Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited Imphal and the India-Myanmar border town of Moreh in Manipur. He met Kuki civil society groups, besides reviewing security measures in place. He visited Kangpokpi district, and met various Kuki and Meitei leaders including a handful of Tamil traders who live in Moreh. Shah also held a security review meeting at Moreh in Tengnoupal district with the officials from various central and state forces. He was accompanied by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and Director of the Intelligence Bureau Tapan Kumar Deka. However, Chief Minister N Biren Singh was not present at these meetings. [15]

Despite international pressure to cut business ties with the ruling military, India’s state-owned Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) plans to enter Myanmar by setting up retail fuel outlets in Sagaing region, according to Indian media reports. NRL has been exporting oil to Myanmar via the 421-kilometre road linking Numaligarh in Assam state to Moreh on the border with Sagaing. But the regime change delayed the plan. The NRL has finalised the name of its Myanmar partner, but refused to disclose it. U Nay Zin Lat, a member of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and the operations commander of People Defense Force (PDF) Battalion 2 in Sagaing’s Kantbalu Township, criticised NRL move and stated that the attempt to invest during this time of junta rule is not the act of a good neighbour. [16]

China Myanmar Engagements

In May, Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai visited Myanmar for the second time since March 2023, and met with Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister of Myanmar Soe Htut. The meeting discussed actions to further coordinate their positions on cracking down on telecom fraud. In addition to existing crackdowns, more efforts are needed to root out these illegal activities. Following his visit, on 02 May, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang urged Myanmar to crack down on crimes linked to internet fraud along the border. [17]

Earlier, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Noeleen Heyzer, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Myanmar, in Beijing. Qin stated that the Myanmar issue is complex and has no "quick fix" and called on the international community to respect Myanmar's sovereignty, and support all parties in Myanmar, within the constitutional and legal framework. Qin reiterated his faith in the mediation of the ASEAN and stressed on the need to act prudently and pragmatically to prevent the escalation and spillover of the crisis. [18] Following his meeting with Heyzer, Qin visited Myanmar and met Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. He stated that China will accelerate the development of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and expressed China’s willingness to expand communication and cooperation with Myanmar, while strengthening support for the nation's economic development and political transition. He also made a trip to the China-Myanmar border, where he called for stability and a crackdown on cross-border criminal activity. [19] Qin Gang is the highest-ranking Chinese official to meet Min Aung Hlaing since his takeover in 2021.

International Reactions

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released a report titled “The Billion Dollar Death Trade: International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar.” It is the most detailed study on post-coup arms transfers to the Myanmar military till date highlighting the use of imported weapons by the Myanmar military to perpetrate atrocities and human rights violations against civilians. The report states that at least USD 1 billion worth of weapons, dual-use technology, and materials used to manufacture weapons were brought in by the Myanmar military from Russia, China, Singapore, India, and Thailand. The report also highlights that these imports have circumvented international sanctions prohibiting arms trade with Myanmar and calls on member states to step up and stop the flow of these arms. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar has called for member states to step up and stop the flow of these arms, and for Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank to be a prime target for international sanctions. [20]

During the month, Justice for Myanmar criticised the Tokyo-based ASEAN-Japan Centre on Trade, Investment and Tourism for providing a grant to the Myanmar investment and foreign economic relations ministry for a capacity-building programme for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The Centre is also promoting tourism in Myanmar as part of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan “friendship and cooperation” and has launched a website in Japanese along with other various initiatives. The ASEAN-Japan Centre has refused to disclose to Justice for Myanmar details of funds provided to the Myanmar military. Justice for Myanmar asserts that the provision of the grant and active partnerships in a way legitimises the junta and adds to its foreign revenue. Therefore, Justice for Myanmar urged the Centre and all other organisations to immediately remove the junta from its council and end all support. [21] Additionally, Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar at the end of his official visit to Japan, urged the Japanese government to assume a greater leadership role to address the deteriorating crisis in Myanmar. He called on Japan to work with regional and global allies to increase humanitarian funding and impose targeted economic sanctions to weaken the capacity of Myanmar’s military. [22]

Another advocacy group, Fortify Rights, filed a complaint with the German Office of the Federal Prosecutor, accusing the Myanmar military of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Since the military coup in 2021, numerous arrests and detentions of those supporting the anti-coup movement have taken place. Amnesty International has also shown its support through protests, vigils and events to show solidarity with the people of Myanmar. Earlier, resolutions condemning Myanmar military actions were adopted by the European Parliament, ASEAN, UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, and General Assembly. [23]


42nd ASEAN summit (10-11 May) concluded in Labuan Bajo in southern Indonesia. The summit was held in the backdrop of Myanmar's military intensifying attacks and air strikes and after a convoy of regional diplomats and aid workers was shot in Shan State, Myanmar. The leaders called for an end to hostilities in military-ruled Myanmar to allow inclusive dialogue and humanitarian assistance. As the ASEAN Chair, Indonesia has been quietly engaging Myanmar's military, its shadow government and armed ethnic groups to start peace talks. [24] The leaders condemned the armed attack on an aid convoy and called for an immediate cessation of all forms of violence and for the military government to comply with the Five Point Consensus plan. For the second year, the top general of member state Myanmar was not invited to the summit. In an additional concern involving Myanmar, Indonesian officials stated that 20 of their nationals were trafficked into Myanmar and were forced to perform cyber scams; they had been freed from Myanmar’s Myawaddy Township. Myanmar’s transnational crime and “job scams” formed the hotbed of discussion among ASEAN foreign ministers. More than 3,450 civilians have been killed by security forces since Myanmar’s military forcibly took power, and thousands more remain imprisoned. [25]

ASEAN leaders have also promised to cooperate in combating human trafficking, providing humanitarian aid, protecting migrant workers and supporting the electronic vehicle industry. [26] The Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) was followed by the 26th ASEAN Political-Security Community Council (APSC) Meeting and the 33rd ASEAN Coordination Council (ACC) Meeting in West Manggarai city. Malaysia welcomed the progress in the implementation of the “Recommendations for Strengthening ASEAN’s Capacity and Institutional Effectiveness”, as well as improving ASEAN-led mechanisms.


Myanmar continues to face armed conflicts, particularly in the northwest and southeast, with heavy fighting and air strikes killing civilians and destroying civilian properties. The humanitarian situation has worsened with Cyclone Mocha, with a rise in health crisis and new displacements. [27] Furthermore, journalists and lawyers are under attack. Various international reports have highlighted the prevailing violence and accused the military of committing atrocities. ASEAN members concluded their meetings with a focus to end the violence in the country and implementation to FPC. There is a need to engage with all stakeholders to ensure the cessation of violence and return to normalcy.


Contact Us