Myanmar: Ongoing Updates

28 Feb 2022

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1 March 2022
There is a recent degradation of phone service from at least one of the prisons. I have only very very uneducated guesses. 1) The main theory is that the lines are overwhelmed with setting up numerous calls at the same time. It seems odd to me though that this is more of a recent phenomenon. But that does come from people who are in the best place to say so. 2) The foreign telcos are trying to get out and no longer servicing problem issues. 3) The regime is has shifted a ton of their old crappy soviet era listening equipment onto what, without those, was well functioning modern infrastructure. This gear also provided the ability to remotely cut off a live call and this had been deployed nationwide or to (targeted? all?) phone lines, going back at least 30 years, maybe 50 or more.

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4 March 2022
Degradation of phone (well, internet) service even worse in Sagaing now:

I’m frustrated with what I am sensing is a changing tone, or an insistence on only rising to a lukewarm at best response by the US State Dept to more vocally support the NUG. I didn’t see them ever publicly correct the lie that was told in answer to Congressman Sherman’s direct question about whether the NUG had done anything to support citizenship for Rohingya. (If it was a mistake, they have been clearly informed and reminded. The failure to correct this is perpetuating a lie.)

A reluctance to boost NUG may be in preparation for the ASEAN summit in the US which has been announced for the end of March. Certainly the US grassroots will push for a NUG representative to be on hand in some way. President Biden intends to invite a “non political representative” from Myanmar. I am still just as confused by this phrase as I was when ASEAN made a similar announcement (“Myanmar: Ongoing Updates” #151) back in mid-October.

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News of the day (well, Friday really): The coup regime has “revoked the citizenship” of several NUG ministers and some key activists. It seems pretty clear none of them are still in country having each escaped earlier warrants. Two ministers have responded on social media, but my favorite line is courtesy of FB translate (surprise!), from activist Myo Yan Naung Thein. I have spent some very memorable time with MYNT. He can be brash like me, and so we just “clicked.” He had hundreds of thousands of followers before having to kill off his social media accounts. He has unwavering support from a terrific partner.

This one he’d posted after a couple of days of retrospect:

This is no joke in writing, it’s a real story. I just want to tell you that Min Aung Hlaing is a watermelon and people don’t know that the dish is helping us.

Earlier on initial news of this:

What a joke.

They say we are stopped from being a citizen. It’s a shame to be a citizen if you allow yourself to be a citizen. Citizenship is about the heart, it is about the perception. Wherever I am, my thoughts, my mind, my heart is my mother’s kingdom.

He also says they spelled his name wrong on the revocation announcement. So maybe they accidentally banned someone else? :slight_smile:

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Included in Friday’s omnibus appropriations act signed by President Biden, about $160M related to Burma, $300M Ukraine, $1B for Israel’s iron dome. Burma details:

SEC. 7043. (a) BURMA.— not less than $136,127,000 shall be made available for assistance for Burma notwithstanding any other provision of law and following consultation (so this is not a cap), including:

  • groups/efforts supporting democracy / federal union to foster equality among ethnic groups
  • promotion of ethnic & religious tolerance, unity and accountability + to combat gender-based violence
  • Support the for the NGO’s in Thailand w/food, medical & humanitarian assistance including to IDPs inside, under the heading “Migration and Refugee Assistance.”
  • $$ for investigating & documenting human rights violations committed by the junta.

Notably, nothing under the same Act that elsewhere supports military training or financing may be made available for assistance for Burma. Those are more specified under (1) ‘‘International Military Education and Training’’ and (2) ‘‘Foreign Military Financing Program.’’ So, (1) references “For necessary expenses to carry out the provisions of section 541 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.” I’m not going on a cold war expedition as I’m sure this has nothing to do with Burma. (2) refers to the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2763). They don’t want to open a can of worms with China so direct military assistance is being strongly, officially, avoided.

Also in the Act:

SEC. 7044. (b) BANGLADESH
Not less than $23.5M to address needs of communities impacted by refugees from Burma, and an additional $2M for democracy programs for the Rohingya.

A contact who is active as a bridge builder between NUG, NLD and CRPH has asserted that the act supports NUG having control of some funds. I am not seeing it here. I don’t see any assertion about the National Unity Government.

This is the nearest it gets IMO:

…and other entities that support peaceful efforts to establish an inclusive and representative democracy in Burma and a federal union to foster equality among Burma’s diverse ethnic groups, following consultation with the Committees on Appropriations…

Seeing how NUG was getting beaten up by congress and the State Dept. in a public hearing a couple of weeks ago, I think it’s a bit of a stretch, but he may know some things I don’t.

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Munitions experts? FB translate says this is a FAB - Fuel Air type bomb.

Cheap & nasty:

The [blast] kill mechanism against living targets is unique—and unpleasant. … What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs. … If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as with most chemical agents.

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16 March 2022

YES. This was used word for word in one of the FB posts. Thanks. Also noting from the link:

International law

International law does not prohibit the use of thermobaric munitions, fuel-air explosive devices, or vacuum bombs against military targets.[83][84] Their use against civilian populations may be banned by the United Nations (UN) Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).[85] As of February 2022, all past attempts to regulate or restrict thermobaric weapons have failed.[86][87]

I continue to focus on approaches re political prisoners. And it comes with such a mind f-ck: How to wrest foreign citizens from MAH’s grip without seeming to legitimize his rule? While I’ve argued against the concept that he is firmly in power, with respect to prisoners he does hold all the cards. It’s a tough spot.

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17 March 2022
Both Putin and Min Aung Hlaing do not have a whole lot of access to a whole lot of money right now which for each of them is mostly locked up in SWIFT. Putin has reached out to China for help. One theory is this is a story of three superpowers in which China can ignore the whole thing and let Russia and the US bleed out economically fighting each other. A weakened, broke Russia AND a strengthened China are not a good thing for MAH.

China has not gone all in with MAH either. And there’s the matter of China’s renewed push on a canal through Thailand just enough beyond Myanmar’s border to stay away from taxes, fees and general corruption for traversing the Myanmar waters of Andaman Sea.

image
This is no Suez. It shortens a route that presently must ship around Singapore by about 1200km (Suez = 7000km. Panama = 13000km). Still, it could be seen as a humiliating sign for Myanmar that China doesn’t trust its stability enough to rely on it’s massively wide rivers or north/south railways to get products to market even faster.

From the same publication (Irrawaddy) I read a terrific overview of the relationships with Russia and China and the implications surrounding the Ukraine invasion.

Annnd, I buried the lede.

To facilitate Total’s quick if not graceful exit from the Yadana partnership, Chevron is buying up Total’s share. They’re saying it’s to prevent MOGE from doing just that. I think it’s that Total was the operating partner. So possibly whoever buys the Total shares, becomes operator. And Chevron is not going to leave that in the incapable hands of MOGE.

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20 Mar 2022

I got some other insight suggesting it will be PTTEP that will ultimately become the operating partner.

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21 March 2022
Thanks @FGD135. I had faith someone would post this as I’ve been doing some follow up re the prisoner today. I got news about this on Friday (same source as my previous post). I wanted to so much to tell all my Rohingya contacts.

I’m so glad. It is the result of many people putting in many many hours. It removes a difficult talking point and will hopefully help everyone move forward in a unified manner. For me personally, hearing state dept people earlier (in recent weeks) refer to these events as “ethnic cleansing” has given me very disturbing flashbacks of the Clinton administration’s contortions to avoid calling out the Rwanda genocide, as well as events in eastern Europe. Just after the coup, before the formation of NUG, I had talked a bit about the combined military/NLD’s going after this phrase swap as part of their legal response to the tribunals.

However, in the DW article, and when the story broke yesterday in a lengthy exclusive from Reuters, and in the AP story, and in The Diplomat (I really appreciate Sebastian’s nuanced perspective there) and others… not one article mentions the National Unity Government. This is to me a glaring omission. We are reminded of the old story, and not how the movement that arose immediately in February 2021 to unseat the same military regime has shown a sea change in public sentiment around the Rohingya issue - and I say this because absent that sea change, there can be no justice and no return for the Rohingya. If the only options are, military rule continues or DASSK reassumes her previous post, this cannot turn out well for them. They NEEDED this change in the society AND to see it reflected by NUG who have also worked their asses off and taken a great stride to do this in the absence of their appointed President, DASSK. It is really important.

I felt as if the DW.com article shortchanged this fact by only saying:

Gambia brought the case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice in 2019.

However, the case has been complicated since the military ousted the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and her government in February 2021.

To my mind, that does not complicate the case at all! It doesn’t change any facts on the ground for the Rohingya. The military has never followed the orders of the civilian DASSK. “Her government” never had any control over the military.

But, I have to acknowledge, it did indeed complicate the case in another way, in that the NUG and the coup regime each sought to represent the Myanmar response, and the court uncomplicatedly recognized the coup’s legitimacy in allowing it to defend the case.

I also worry about potential myopia in prioritizing these symbolic (though as I say above, very important) measures specific to Rohingya. From the AP article, quoting Jen Psaki:

“Our view is that shining a light on the crimes of Burma’s military will increase international pressure, make it harder for them to commit further abuses,” she said.

I get that she was asked about this issue, and it was a good answer. But I wish we’d shine more light on more of their crimes and the original Reuters piece, to me, screams, “nobody wants to talk about the NUG.”

This conversation and the international community have also kind of let DASSK off the hook - or rather, seem to recognize that she’s on another hook right now. So the NLD is not part of the conversation any more. This was a big consideration within State Dept to figure out how and whether and when to make the genocide determination. But… NUG does not equal NLD, and we are failing to tell that story.

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23 March 2022
Some great processing now of the announcement. NUG in the US is mostly in NY and they don’t always get down to DC. They’ll be there in early April and while they are talking with the mucky mucks they will also be angling to connect with Rohingya and visit the museum. All good things.

Blinken’s full speech from Monday (video & transcript) goes into great detail on the history leading to this determination. He cites a joint report by the museum and Fortify Rights from November 2017. I talked tonight with a Rohingya leader who credits Fortify Rights with really leading the charge on the reporting and legal strategies toward achieving accountability. He also directed me to a new report issued tonight also by Fortify Rights.


Refreshing the conversation about Starlink, it appears that it can’t be done for Myanmar, either because of a lack of infrastructure which did already exist in Ukraine, and/or legal technicalities. With Ukraine you had a seated government asking for help so it was all technically legal under the existing laws of the host country.

If it’s only about this legal issue, I am thinking Elon is maybe the one business leader capable of throwing such a curveball as recognizing NUG as the the rightful government of Myanmar before any actual government does. Like, “its CRAZY, but it just might work.” Thoughts?

I’m reminded also tonight that China & US were able to get on the same page about denying MAH a seat in the UN. There are very different perspectives and interests at play for either superpower w/Burma. Maybe that recent act of good will can be leveraged while Putin is otherwise occupied.

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24 March 2022
Points re the determination c/o a longtime Rohingya advocate:

  • Genocide is ongoing, therefore
  • Must do the steps to end it - US has OBLIGATIONS having determined this under the genocide convention. Treaties are only as good as the observance.
  • Per the Blinken announcement Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar of UN has been given $1M (not much) to take more evidence to use in the justice cases.
  • I’m asking if there’s an actual file somewhere, the determination itself. All I found was the State Dept page with the Blinken speech.

EarthRights this week has a good take on how Total and Chevron can divest responsibly.

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29 March 2022
This week was Armed Forces Day. Big deal for the military. They do the parades. Before Naypyidaw existed, they sent compulsory attendance notices to all residents surrounding the sports stadium in the then-capital city of Rangoon and would run the parade through the stadium. At specific junctures, instructions were given over the loudspeaker (like in North Korea) - when to stand, when to applaud, etc.

For Armed Forces Day 2022

Other News
I had thought DASSK was being held in total isolation. Apparently not. But now she is because everyone else got Covid. Her quarantine makes her unable to attend court and thus pushes out her trials on 17 bogus charges.

LGBTQ prisoners are being targeted for special punishment. Rights groups are urging ICRC to investigate.

Although it is a police state, Myanmar has had a separation of police and military systems. Faced with the abovementioned defections and with sagging morale, they have implemented a rule calling up police to the front lines and also expanding their power to curtail liberties.

Two civilians tortured to death in Magwe. I won’t link.

Ahead of Armed Forces Day, sanctions from US, UK & Canada were put on the air force and those supplying arms to the Burmese military.

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31 March 2022

India’s after a free trade initiative under BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal nations) and is including the Burmese junta.

Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP) has filed a criminal complaint against the tatmadaw in Istanbul for their “widespread and systematic” use of torture since the coup. It targets the torturers AND the leadership.

As Myanmar’s people are speaking out for Ukraine, their country continues to suffer, in part because of Russia’s support of the Burmese junta.

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This is it!

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3 April 2022
While “nothing is happening” I am sensing more back channel efforts by US & Biden. I find these things both occurring around the same day to be of great interest:

  • President Biden met with Singapore President Lee Hsien Loong and they issued a joint statement covering a number of issues, including:

The United States and Singapore share deep concerns about the situation in Myanmar and the challenges it poses to regional stability. We continue to call for an end to violence against civilians in Myanmar, the release of all political detainees, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and foreign detainees; unhindered humanitarian access; and for Myanmar to return to its path of democratic transition. We appreciate the constructive role played by Singapore and ASEAN in facilitating a peaceful solution in the interest of the people of Myanmar, and we call for the Myanmar military regime to urgently implement the ASEAN Five Point Consensus. We are concerned the crisis has reversed years of economic progress in Myanmar and increased the risk of illicit finance.

  • Here’s a zinger I didn’t catch on my first read: A White House statement using the name “Myanmar” and not “Burma.” That may be a first. It was probably necessary as part of a joint statement with an ASEAN nation that recognizes Myanmar as part of ASEAN. I think it’s kinda pointless to keep pressing the Burma thing because DASSK and NLD had accepted the name by accepting the constitution and participating in the political process. So, who are we doing it for?

  • Thanks to the Irrawaddy’s headline on this statement, I noticed another key phrase: “foreign detainees.” Possibly Singapore will step up to try to free Sean Turnell and others which, if you’ve been reading all of these, you can imagine…

  • Singapore is really important here. Lee Hsein Loong is a fascinating figure. He’s working closely with China economically while also in a long term defense pact with the US. Singapore is Myanmar’s #1 trading partner. Singapore’s banking institutions held all of the Myanmar government money which that Biden was able to throw the SWIFT blanket over immediately after the coup. Lee could be helping smooth things out between US and China as well.

  • Via a not so good FB translate of an RFA Burmese report, I gather that the foreign ministers of China and the coup regime (SAC) were meeting around the same time. China, whose influence ASEAN was created to counterweight, is (in a sense…you’ll see) throwing the whole thing back to them, pushing the regime to follow through on its commitments in the 5 point consensus with ASEAN, and to cooperate with the UN. China had endorsed ASEAN in this process a year ago.

  • However (like I was saying), China also is throwing the regime an awefully meaty bone: 500M Yuan ($78.6M US), per a “technological and economic cooperation agreement” which China disappointingly struck with the coup regime eight months after the coup.

  • Critiques are being leveled with the same concerns outlined previously re the whole ASEAN thing, along with this rewarding cash to the regime before they’ve made the progress. But this is an ongoing debate / crossed beliefs which have been previously characterized under a banner of “the Asian way to democracy” or maybe more easily described as “carrots vs. sticks.”

Telenor completes sale of telecom stake sold to cronies
Min Aung Hlaing’s daughter now owns a piece of the telecom/surveillance network.

Soldiers Unpaid
Item above and here per ALTSEAN’s CoupWatch Tracker which is pretty darn cool. Note, 1 million kyat is roughly $565, or to a Burmese soldier, a small fortune.

Myanmar Now reported that military conglomerate MEHL was six months late in sharing profits with soldiers, who are required to buy and maintain a stake in the company. The payout usually happens in September, but troops have yet to receive any funds for 2021; which may indicate that the regime is struggling financially. Soldiers are reportedly unhappy about the situation, as this money makes up a major part of their family income–between MMK 600,000 to 1 million. NUG Finance Minister Tin Tun Naing speculated that the MEHL profits typically shared with soldiers were likely being designated to buy arms.

Family of Slain Rohingya Peacemaker Muhib Ullah being resettled in safety behind the Maple Curtain.

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It could be that MEHL isn’t making any profit and there isn’t any dividend to pay out to shareholders (or divert).