Myanmar Round Up: April 2023
Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

The country suffered increased attacks from the military and resistance forces leading to casualties and displacements. According to a United Nations report, Myanmar’s military doubled the use of airstrikes in 2022 compared to 2021. The resistance forces continue challenging the military and have killed high-ranking officials since last year. The country also celebrated the traditional New Year, during which the military released 3,113 prisoners, including 98 foreigners. Internationally, Ban Ki Moon made a two-day visit to the country and held talks with Min Aung Hlaing. With the first round of talks started in March 2023 by Thailand, India hosted the second Track 1.5 dialogue on Myanmar in New Delhi. India also raised concerns with the Myanmar military over increasing Chinese construction on Coco Island. The following write up sums up the domestic and international developments in Myanmar.

Domestic and Political Situation

According to the United Nations Human Rights Office report released in March 2023, Myanmar’s military has doubled the use of air attacks to tackle the resistance movement in 2022. One of the deadliest attacks during the month was on Pazi Gyi village in Sagaing Region on 11 April, where around 200 people were attending the opening of the People’s Defence Authority office in Pazi Gyi. The regime admitted the airstrike on the PDF base but alleged the heavy casualties were inflicted when improvised explosive devices at the PDF base got detonated. During the month, areas of Chin villages were also attacked.[1] The United Nations (UN) and the United States (US) urged the Myanmar military to end its “campaign of violence”.[2] Indonesia, ASEAN’s chair, also strongly condemned the military’s air strike.[3]
On the other hand, the resistance forces killed Sai Kyaw Thu, deputy head of Myanmar’s military-appointed election commission in Yangon. This is one of the latest killings of a high-profile individual linked to the country’s military rulers. Previously, the deputy governor of Myanmar’s central bank and a top executive from Mytel were gunned down.[4]

Furthermore, a resistance group conducted a series of explosions at the Yangon International Airport, after which the airport was shut for the night. Resistance group Liberty Thunder claimed responsibility for the attack.[5] The Lion Battalion, Kaw Thoo Lei Army (KTLA) and other resistance forces also attacked the military-affiliated Border Guard Force (BGF) in Myawaddy Township near the Chinese-backed Shwe Kokko hub in Karen State and occupied five outposts. The fighting erupted in the area after three members of the Lion Battalion were arrested by Thai authorities and handed over to the BGF on 01 April. Additionally, they stated that Shwe Kokko is becoming a city of drugs and sex trafficking that funds the military regime. Following the attack, nearly 4,000 people have crossed the border, according to the Thai authorities.[6]

The National Unity Government (NUG) also invited military soldiers and police officers to defect from the military and become part of the ‘People’s Embrace’ programme. As of February 2023, 3,236 soldiers, and 9,091 police officers have defected from the military regime.[7] As a result of continued fighting, children are getting caught in the crossfire in myriad ways. Many children have been killed in air strikes or shot dead by military forces on the suspicion that they are part of resistance groups; while on the other hand, some have joined the resistance forces. This is despite the NUG instructing resistance groups to abstain from training and engaging children in the war. In 2022, a UN committee warned that as many as 382 children had been murdered by the military and its allies and another 142 tortured since 2021. Save the Children stated that the fighting in Myanmar has displaced over half a million children, with the highest numbers in Sagaing Region, Kayah, and Kayin.[8]

The month marked the 14th anniversary of the formation of Arakan Army (AA). Formed in 2009, the AA has been fighting the Myanmar military in Rakhine State since 2015 for self-determination for Rakhine. The AA has since established its administration and judiciary across much of Rakhine State. The fighting ceased for a short while after an informal ceasefire in the late 2020s but resumed in August 2022. The NUG President, Duwa Lashi La, congratulated Arakan Army on its anniversary and called for closer collaboration to establish a federal union. In response, AA Chief Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing said he was delighted to receive the congratulatory message and referred to Duwa Lashi La as “Dear Mr. President”. It is important to highlight that AA has supported the PDFs with training and weapons. Other AA allies sending messages on the anniversary of its formation included the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Chin National Organisation, People’s Revolution Alliance (Magway), and the Burma People’s Liberation Army-BPLA.[9]

Economically, the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) stated that the country attracted more than USD 1.64 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2022-23. During that period, the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) approved 87 foreign investment enterprises. During the fiscal year, the power sector attracted the most foreign investment, followed by the services and manufacturing sectors. Singapore, China and Thailand are the largest investors in Myanmar.[10]During the month, a Chinese delegation led by Wang Ning signed a power purchase agreement for the Dapein 1 hydropower plant with the military regime. Other agreements on rice, agricultural produce and fertiliser trade were also signed. Wang Ning visited from 01-03 April at the invitation of the regime’s international cooperation minister U Ko Ko Hlaing.[11]

International Responses

Former UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited Myanmar as a member of "The Elders" group of world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, which works to promote peace and defuse conflicts. During his two-day visit, he met military chief Min Aung Hlaing and exchanged views on the latest progress of Myanmar. He urged the military to take the first steps. Ban also said the NUG must be part of any "lasting solution". He stated that holding elections under current conditions would risk further violence and division. During his talks with the military, he emphasised making progress on the implementation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Five-Point Consensus and action on the December 2022 UN Security Council resolution, which included calls for an immediate end to violence and the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. However, there was no mention of whether Ban sought a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.[12]

Furthermore, the Foreign Ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) condemned the attacks of the Myanmar military. They called for a cessation of violence and the country’s return to a democratic path. The foreign ministers also condemned the exclusion of 40 political parties, including the National League for Democracy, from the political process by the country’s Union Election Commission. They reaffirmed their support to ASEAN in its peaceful efforts to realise the Five-Point Consensus.[13]

The Myanmar military responded to Japan’s concerns over the military using ships provided through Japan’s official development assistance programme for transporting soldiers and weapons. The Myanmar side expressed regret regarding the matter and stated that it misused two Japan-funded civilian vessels to transport soldiers and weapons in Rakhine State in September 2022.[14] In October 2022, Human Rights Watch revealed that two of three vessels delivered by Japan between 2017 and 2019 had been used to transport more than 100 soldiers and materials to Buthidaung town in Rakhine State. The Japanese Government had been requesting information from the military following that report.[15]

The International Court of Justice at The Hague rejected the Myanmar military’s appeal for a 10-month reprieve to file a counter-memorial to the Gambia’s case that Myanmar breached the International Genocide Convention. Myanmar stated that it objects to the case because Gambia has no standing to bring the case given that it is not a country directly related to the Rohingya crisis and had brought the case on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Countries. Given that the OIC is a coalition of states and not a state by itself, Myanmar has stated that it cannot bring a case against another country. However, the court rejected all such arguments. Finally, the court also stated that Myanmar not being party to the Genocide Charter does not limit the authority of ICJ to hear the case.[16] Furthermore, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen held a tripartite meeting in China with representatives from China and Myanmar to start the repatriation process.[17]

Engagements with ASEAN

India hosted Track 1.5 Dialogue on 25 April with officials and non-government foreign policy experts of countries neighbouring Myanmar. Thailand launched this initiative in March 2023, and India was a participant. In Delhi, it was held by the Indian Council of World Affairs. The theme for the session was “peace and reconciliation” and humanitarian assistance, with efforts to find a way to implement the ASEAN Five Point Consensus (5PC) in Myanmar.

Before the Track 1.5 dialogue, Thailand Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai visited Myanmar and held talks with Min Aung Hlaing. According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, both sides discussed cooperation to reduce trans-boundary smog pollution, peace and stability in the border regions and plans to cooperate in eradicating human trafficking, drug trafficking and arms smuggling. Mongkol Visitstump, Thai Ambassador to Myanmar, and Pornpimol Kanchanalak, Special Adviser for Myanmar, also visited the country. Mr. Kanchanalak met with Ko Kolai, Myanmar’s minister for international cooperation and discussed issues related to transport, tourism, energy, rural development, people-to-people connectivity, and humanitarian assistance in disaster management. Ms Pornpimol has been an advocate of greater engagement with the Myanmar military regime to find a way out of the crisis.[18] Additionally, it has been reported that Min Aung Hlaing has personally asked Thai authorities to remove his daughter’s name from a court case involving a Myanmar arms dealer indicted on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.[19]

Furthermore, Thai immigration officials forcibly returned three Myanmar opposition activists to Myanmar. According to Human Rights Watch, Thai officials have put them at grave risk of persecution and other abuses. HRW urged the Myanmar military authorities to immediately reveal the whereabouts of the activists – Thiha, Htet Nay Win, and Saw Phyo Lay. Thai authorities arrested three members of the opposition group Lion Battalion Commando Column in the border town of Mae Sot in Tak province on illegal entry charges on 01 April and on 04 April, handed them to Myanmar’s Border Guard Force in Myawaddy Township in Karen State.[20]

A quadrennial Mekong River Commission (MRC) Summit was held in Laos’ capital Vientiane, and member countries Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia pledged to take proactive measures to adapt to climate change, build a more effective notification system for unusual water flows and other emergencies, and explore innovative financing to pursue these efforts. Myanmar is a dialogue partner of the MRC and was represented by Mr Hla Maung Thein, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, at the summit. Though Hla Thein stated that no political agenda must be involved, the countries present as partners endorsed the statement by Mr Zwahlen, Chairman MRC that violence must end in the country, and the military must respect human rights and the rule of law as per United Nations Security Council resolution passed in December 2022. Other MRC development partners, including Australia, the European Union, France, Germany, Japan and the United States, endorsed this statement. The current crisis has therefore hindered the regional cooperation process from saving the Mekong River.[21]

India-Myanmar Engagements

On the eve of Myanmar’s New Year, Myanmar Ambassador to India Moe Kyaw Aung hailed the strong cultural ties between both nations and wished the citizens' peace and prosperity.[22] The two countries are working closely to build ties. During the month, Myanmar Airways International (MAI) announced that it would commence a direct non-stop flight between Chennai and Yangon every Saturday from 06 May to enhance the connectivity between the two countries. Chennai is the fourth city to have a direct connection after Delhi, Kolkata and Gaya.[23] However, the prevailing violence in the country is forcing Myanmar people to cross borders. Following the 12 April airstrike at Chin National Army’s headquarter of Camp Victoria, around 500 Myanmar nationals entered Farkawn village of Mizoram’s Champhai district, leaders from the Village-Level Committee on Myanmar Refugees said.[24] The Manipur government is also setting up shelter homes in Churachandpur district's Singngat for illegal immigrants who have fled Myanmar. Earlier, the government announced similar shelter homes in the Tengnoupal and Chandel districts, both of which share borders with Myanmar. [25]

To curb infiltration and illegal activities, Indian authorities have erected barbed wire fences along the around 400 km India-Myanmar border in Manipur. Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey inspected border fencing in Moreh, and Assam Rifles officers briefed the Governor about the security preparedness along the border. Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai also recently reviewed the prevailing security situation, operational preparedness, and ongoing border fence construction along the India-Myanmar border in Manipur. Additionally, the Manipur government has asked the Assam Rifles to step up border vigil and deploy additional security forces in the border villages. [26]

Along with these security issues, India has raised concerns about China upgrading Myanmar’s Coco Islands with military infrastructure. The issue was brought to light by Chatham House, a think tank headquartered in London. In January 2023, Maxar Technologies captured satellite images that showed the construction of two newly-built hangars, as well as several new buildings. The Coco Islands Airbase’s runway has also been widened to 2,300 meters from 1,300 meters a decade ago. The Indian government representatives have shared satellite imagery with Myanmar counterparts that showed Chinese workers helping to construct a listening post on the Coco Islands in the Indian Ocean. Previously in 2009, India had raised similar concerns with Myanmar. There were numerous reports of China using those islands for military and naval purposes since the 1990s. [27] However, representatives from Myanmar denied any Chinese involvement and dismissed India's concerns. Major General Zaw Min Tun, Myanmar's State Administration Council spokesman, rejected the claims that China was building a spy facility in the Coco Islands. However, India remains worried because Coco Island is strategically important as it lies just 55 kilometres north of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[28]


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 in Myanmar remains volatile, with a rise in new displacements.[29] Furthermore, despite releasing prisoners on New Year, at least 17,460 people still remain in detention, and 3,240 have been killed by the military, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.[30] There is a need to engage with all stakeholders to ensure the cessation of violence and return to normalcy.


[6]The KTLA was formed in July 2022 and is led by Brigadier General Saw Nedah Mya, who split from the Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest ethnic armed group in Myanmar. The KTLA has been fighting the regime alongside other resistance forces in Karen State.
[19]Arms dealer Tun Min Latt was arrested in Bangkok in September 2022, along with three Thai nationals. Tun Min Latt runs the Star Sapphire Group of companies, which brokered imports of Israeli reconnaissance drones and aircraft parts for the Myanmar Air Force. Thai police found bankbooks and title deeds to a luxury condominium owned by the junta chief’s daughter, Khin Thiri Thet Mon, and her brother Aung Paye Sone among the items seized during the raid in September. Min Aung Hlaing’s daughter was a co-founder of the group’s subsidiary Star Thiri Investment Limited, which is now operating as Royal Mawtaung Mining Company Limited.
[20]Punishment and signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Thailand has incorporated the provisions of both treaties into its newly enacted Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance. The law prohibits actions to deport or extradite a person to another country where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of being tortured or forcibly disappeared. Even though Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it is bound to the principle of nonrefoulement under customary international law. In addition, Thailand has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
[27]UK-based Chatham House came out with a paper titled: 'Is Myanmar building a spy base on Great Coco Island?'

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