Weekly Update for Humanitarian Responders

14 - 28 April 2021

Contributing information sources to the CASS Weekly Update include public and non-public humanitarian information provided by open traditional and social media sources, local partners, UN Agencies, INGOs, and sources on the ground. The content compiled by CASS is by no means exhaustive and does not necessarily reflect CASS’s position. The provided information, assessment, and analysis are designated for humanitarian purposes only.

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Rakhine and Southern Chin

1. The SAC Steps up IDP Evictions and Relocations

Rakhine State

On 21 April, Rakhine State Administration Council authorities evicted more than 20 ethnic Rakhine IDP households from Bumay ward in urban Sittwe, the Rakhine State capital. Police also detained three people from the site on 25 April for unknown reasons. The majority of the evicted IDPs are now sheltering in a nearby monastery or in other makeshift sites.

Bumay ward is majority Rohingya, and most of the Rakhine IDPs had settled on the land since 2018. The ownership of the land is a matter of some dispute. Authorities have laid claim to the land under Myanmar’s Natural Disaster Management Law, which states that the government may confiscate land on which structures have been destroyed by fire, whether accidental or deliberate. Local sources report that the land was burnt during violence in 2012, when Rohingya residents were forced to flee into camps. Since evicting the IDPs, authorities have erected signboards stating that the land will be redeveloped as staff housing for the Department of Urban and Housing Development.

Meanwhile, Muslim IDPs in Kyaukphyu Township are also facing forced relocations. Following the State Administration Council’s reconstitution of the Kyauk Ta Lone Camp Management Committee earlier this month, camp residents remain concerned that a forced relocation to the military’s preferred site is imminent. The Tatmadaw is enthusiastic for the closure of IDP sites in Rakhine State, and likely sees Kyauk Ta Lone as an easy win. There was some semblance of consultations with communities there under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, and the Kyaukphyu Muslim community has little influence to push back against the military.

Since Min Aung Hlaing’s public address on 8 February – his first after seizing power – it has been clear that he has made camp closures a priority issue. The administration likely wishes to suggest they can deliver what the NLD could not in Rakhine State, and present some pretence of peace and progress in western Myanmar. As such, humanitarian responders can expect more forced evictions, unsafe and involuntary returns, and land disputes to emerge. One unanswered question in the equation, however, is the position of the Arakan Army. Abuses against Rakhine populations, and the outrage from communities, will strain the fragile détente between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, and may push the region back towards armed conflict.

Finally, in Maungdaw Township authorities have this week evicted some 11 ethnic Rakhine households from Gyantaw village and requested the remaining 17 to move within seven days. According to local sources, the households are recent arrivals in the village. Township authorities are requesting they relocate to Inn Din village, and the Township Administrator has told media that land was designated for ‘ethnic nationalities’ in the village. Inn Dinn was formerly a mixed Rakhine-Rohingya village before the 2017 violence, when it was the site of a massacre and the remaining Rohingya population fled. A large Border Guard Police station now occupies the Rohingya land. The resettlement will raise concerns that the military junta is attempting to ‘change the facts on the ground’ to prevent the return of the Rohingya from Bangladesh.

2. Arakan Army Expands Administration, Turns Down NUG

Rakhine State

When the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) announced the line-up of its National Unity Government (NUG) on 16 April, the absence of ethnic Rakhine representation was quickly picked up by social media users. That evening, the Arakan Army (AA) leader Twan Mrat Naing took to his Twitter account to announce that the AA was approached by the CPRH to join the NUG but they declined, citing divergent interests. Days earlier, on 12 April, he had told the Irrawaddy media outlet that he did not want to see the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and street protests in Rakhine State, as these run counter to the Arakan Army’s attempts to secure greater autonomy. Since the lull in armed clashes between the AA and the Tatmadaw began following the 8 November 2020 election, the AA has sought to expand its administrative functions across much of the state – taxing business and training local officials. Armed clashes or CDM strikes in western Myanmar would threaten this crucial stage of the AA’s revolution.

The absence of any Rakhine representation in the NUG, however, risks driving a wedge even further between western Myanmar and the rest of the country. At a time when the rest of Myanmar appears united against the military takeover, Rakhine State’s leading political party, the Arakan National Party, has joined the junta’s government, and the Arakan Army continues to maintain an uneasy truce with the Tatmadaw while other ethnic armed organisations are taking strong anti-coup positions. There are of course complex reasons for the positioning of ethnic Rakhine representatives, not least the previous two years of intense conflict, which saw a large number of civilian casualties and other negative implications for communities in western Myanmar. However, should Rakhine leaders continue on a different track from other ethnic representatives, the social cohesion gap between the ethnic Rakhine and wider Myanmar population will widen.

3. Arrest Threats Loom Despite Terror Revocation

Western Myanmar

Since armed clashes between the Arakan Army (AA) and Tatmadaw escalated in late 2018, the Tatmadaw routinely accused and arrested ethnic Rakhine civilians on suspicion of affiliation with the AA. No arrests have been reported since armed clashes ceased in the aftermath of the 8 November 2020 general election. The two sides are now engaged in the early stages of negotiation via video conference and in-person meetings in the absence of a bilateral ceasefire. According to Rakhine State-based Thazin Legal Institute, a total of 362 people were arrested on the suspicion of having ties with the Arakan Army since late 2018. Among them, 82 were released due to a lack of evidence (one each from Mrauk-U and Maungdaw districts, eight from Kyaukphyu District, 67 from Sittwe District and five from Thandwe District). On 26 April, Radio Free Asia reported that the Rakhine State Administration Council is negotiating with the Napyidaw-level Counter-Terrorism Central Committee to drop charges against all those accused of affiliation with the Arakan Army under the 2014 Counter-Terror law. The same day, a court in southern Rakhine State’s Taungup Township dropped charges against four people, including a local Arakan National Party leader and the chair of township’s municipal council, who were charged under the law in 2020.

Terrorists? Or just unlawful?

The release and amnesty of those accused of affiliation with the AA would improve relations between the Tatmadaw and AA. But the AA continues to send mixed signals on the coup. On 10 April – the twelfth anniversary of Arakan Army Day – the AA’s Commander in Chief Twan Mrat Naing warned its ground officers that they would need to stay alert during this crisis. In recent weeks, the Tatmadaw has been moving its troops to Rakhine State, according to reports by Myanmar media and local sources. In response, the AA has deployed its troops again into conflict hotspots across the state. Although the military junta removed the AA’s terrorist designation in March, the group remains designated as an unlawful association, and authorities can also press charges on civilians for affiliation with the AA under this law. This designation has historically only been removed when ethnic armed organisations sign onto the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

Many residents of Rakhine State, and especially its northern townships, are growing increasingly worried about the potential for renewed fighting and repeated abuses by the Tatmadaw, including arrest on affiliation with the AA – who have expanded their administrative activity in the state considerably. Family members of those who remain detained require legal advice, counselling and financial support to challenge charges brought against family members. Human rights advocates should continue demand the release of innocent people who have been arbitrarily arrested and charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law, and monitor for any further civilian arrests under the Unlawful Association Law.

More from Rakhine and Southern Chin

    • On 21 April, in two separate incidents, two groups totalling 22 Rohingya attempted to cross into Bangladesh from Rakhine State. They were stopped by Border Guard Bangladesh and returned to Myanmar. Bangladesh does not wish to see any more Rohingya refugees arrive in its territory, and clearly has no qualms with returning them to Myanmar – despite the fact that the military is now in charge.
    • Police are conducting inspections of fishermen before allowing them to depart from the Sittwe camp area for fishing activities. Inspections are lengthy, and some fishermen miss the tides as a result and are unable to fish. Alongside other restrictions, including essential registration documents, fishermen are struggling to make consistent income, threatening food security for a significant number of households in the camps.
    • Various Rohingya armed groups, including the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation and the Arakan Rohingya Army, have pledged their support to the National Unity Government. There are serious doubts, however, as to whether any of the armed Rohingya outfits are at all representative of the community they claim to stand for. The parallel government is unlikely to respond or invite them to join it.
    • This week, a civil society leader posted images of Sittwe’s central Jama Mosque to Facebook, and reported that it was in a state of decay and abandonment. Western Media then picked up on the topic and reported on its disrepair. A number of influential young Rakhine people have since advocated online for the maintenance of the mosque, citing its place in Rakhine history and heritage value. Often these comments are placed in the context of the war in western Myanmar and efforts to create an autonomous Arakanese state where communities must live together in harmony. While there has been some backlash from more hardline elements of Rakhine social media, who object to the sentiment, the mere fact that this conversation is occurring is significant. Prior to 2018, it would have been unthinkable for such a public conversation to occur on the topic of Muslim heritage conservation, and it is young people and community leaders at the forefront of changing how Rakhine communities think about their Muslim neighbours.
    • The Chinland Defence Force, formed by anti-coup demonstrators in Chin State on 4 April, has claimed to have killed 18 Tatmadaw soldiers in Mindat Township this week. On 27 April the Tatmadaw reportedly released a number of detainees, a key demand of the civilians, suggesting that the Chinland Defence Force was able to raise a significant contest.  On 10 April, a Chinland Defence Force (Matupi) was also formed, and says it will collaborate with the Chinland Defence Force and the National Unity Government against the ‘terrorist’ State Administration Council. The military has reportedly sent reinforcements to the area in an attempt to coercively reassert control, but this is likely to only escalate the situation. The situation in the Mindat-Matupi area – used by humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to conflict-affected Paletwa Township –  is rapidly deteriorating, and the risk of mass violence against civilians is high.
    • The military has announced the partial re-opening of the Kyauktaw-Paletwa waterway as of 22 April. The Kaladan river route, linking Rakhine State with southern Chin State, has been severely affected by armed clashes since 2018, and both the Arakan Army and Tatmadaw have sought to control passage on the riverway.
    • New year Thingyan celebrations in western Myanmar were quiet this year. While larger celebrations were expected to occur, the Arakan Army issued a last-minute request for communities to tone down events out of respect for those suffering across Myanmar. Thingyan celebrations in Rakhine State were also cancelled in 2019 and 2020, as a result of armed conflict and COVID-19 respectively.

Kachin

4. Healthcare Provision Stalls

Bhamo District, Kachin State

Kachin IDPs in Bhamo District, including Lwegel town on the China-Myanmar border, are concerned that their healthcare options are rapidly diminishing. Public health workers remain on strike, and all rural clinics and government hospitals are closed. It is no exaggeration to say that the government health system has collapsed. Moreover, the military council revoked the licenses of two private hospitals in Bhamo, saying that the employment of four Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) doctors there was not in line with ‘private business ethics’. Regular childhood vaccinations and maternity visits are no longer available, in part because CDM health workers and specialists have been relocating to Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) controlled areas for their security since the coup amid the Tatmadaw’s threats of violence and arrest.

As a result, childbirth is becoming increasingly risky. Pregnant women in need of a Caesarean-section delivery are mostly unable to afford private clinics, and will likely choose the nearest KIO-run public hospital over a (free) military hospital. The KIO health department runs 28 primary health service clinics and six hospitals within KIO territory, serving around 80,000 people – some 60,000 of whom live on the Chinese border.

Meanwhile, armed clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are intensifying. Over two thousand civilians from Momauk Township have been displaced to Bhamo Township and the numbers are rising daily. There are reports of fatalities and damage to property due to Tatmadaw airstrikes and artillery shelling, which have continued almost daily since last month. The Tatmadaw is enforcing movement restrictions with heavily militarised checkpoints on main roads, and the KIA’s 2nd Brigade issued a warning on 27 April for the public to only travel on the Myitkyina-Bhamo highway between 6am and 6pm. Consequently, the transport of most commodities is delayed, sending commodity prices through the roof, while essential medicines are in short supply.

Different threats

Before armed conflict escalated in March, IDPs in Lwegel were able to access the Mai Ja Yang public hospital in KIO/A territory, and patients with financial or transport difficulties in rural areas of Bhamo District were often referred to hospitals in the KIO/A controlled areas. A spokesperson of the KIO health department commented that transportation has been difficult since March, and humanitarian assistance is being delayed at a time when the number of patients is rising and there is a growing need for more facilities and equipment. There has been ongoing fighting between the Tatmadaw and the KIA for almost a month near the Alaw Bum military post in Momauk Township, which was occupied by the KIA in March.

The coup and intensifying armed clashes are threatening the healthcare, security and livelihoods of IDPs across Bhamo District. Local community health workers have expressed extreme concern for the health of the most vulnerable people, and the risk of an outbreak of seasonal flu or dengue fever increases with the monsoon season now underway. On the other hand, health workers worry whether a humanitarian response may inadvertently end up supporting the Tatmadaw. There is an imperative to respond, but they fear that doing so may undermine the CDM movement or legitimise the Tatmadaw’s regime. In order to address the current healthcare crisis of Bhamo District, international agencies and donor organizations should coordinate with local organizations, including the KIO health department and CDM health professionals, and provide timely and desperately needed assistance to non-government controlled areas.

5. Tatmadaw Seeks to Consolidate Militia Support

Putao Township, Kachin State

On 26 April, a meeting was held in Putao Township between Kachin State Administration Council (SAC) Chairperson U Hkyet Hting Nan, Rawang (Khaunglangphu) People’s Militia leader Ah Tang, Union Solidarity and Development Party politician U Ra Wan Jone, various religious groups and the Rawang Culture and Literature Association. The SAC leader explained to the group that the military’s retention of power was not a ‘coup’, and donated some 1.5 million kyat (1,000 USD) to religious groups and 1 million kyat (650 USD) to the Rawang Culture and Literature Association. In desperate need of friends amid a worsening armed conflict in Kachin State, the military council is attempting to forge closer ties with the militia and others who are likely sympathetic towards it or the SAC.

The Tatmadaw-affiliated Rawang (Khaunglangphu) People’s Militia had previously, on 9 April, released a notice saying they were aware of anti-SAC activity in Putao, and that they would not tolerate it. Days before the meeting, on 22 April, various news outlets reported that the militia group had abducted six civilians, who they accused of receiving training in Kachin Independence Army-controlled areas. Locals fear the abducted civilians may have been forcibly recruited into the Tatmadaw. In response to this incident, civil society group Rawang Alliance issued a statement on 25 April condemning the arbitrary detention and urging the Rawang (Khaunglangphu) People’s Militia to join with the National Unity Government rather than standing with the Tatmadaw. Since the military coup, disagreements have grown between Rawang pro-democracy youth and influential pro-military community elders, cultural leaders and political leaders on how the community should respond. In addition, there is advocacy on social media to boycott businesses owned by families linked to the militia or Tatmadaw. More young people are leaving the region, and young activists are fleeing for security reasons.

More from Kachin

    • According to a Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) health department spokesperson, COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to people over 18 years of age in KIO controlled areas of Laiza and Mai Ja Yang — including IDPs — since 14 February. The vaccines are from China. The second dose is given 2 weeks after the first shot, and those vaccinated are issued a certificate of vaccination. Only people who have been vaccinated are allowed to pass checkpoints into KIO territory. Unvaccinated travelers must quarantine for 21 days and undergo testing.
    • Between 14 and 28 April, armed clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) intensified in Myitkyina, Hopin, Moegaung, Hpakant, Tanai, Moemauk, Waimaw, Dawthponeyan townships, resulting in civilian casualties and displacement. In Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, gunfire and artillery shells could be heard at night in Mawhpawng village near the Myitkyina Air Force Base. The residents of Mawhpawng and people who live in the outskirts of Myitkyina are particularly worried about their safety. On 17 April, a-50-years-old man was injured when shells destroyed a house.
    • At around 11.30pm on 27 April a landmine explosion destroyed a railway and the Tada yi Naung road bridge in Kyar Gyi Kwin village, Hopin Township. Gunfire could be heard for an hour after the explosion. Tatmadaw Light Infantry Brigades 388 and 389 of the 40th Battalion are based in the area. The Kachin Independence Army is attempting to cut supply routes to intercept military vehicles to weaken the Tatmadaw. Civilians are on high alert and fear for their safety, and concerned that rising commodity prices will adversely affect their livelihoods.
    • Locals say that some 800-1,000 Tatmadaw reinforcements flew into Bhamo airport on 14 and 15 April, following high Tatmadaw casualties in battles with the Kachin Independence Army. Airstrikes, artillery shelling and movements of infantry units have been occurring daily for about one month in the battle for Alaw Bum Mountain post in Dawthponeyan Township, a strategic military base near the entrance to KIA-headquarters in Laiza, after it was occupied by the KIA in March. As the fighting intensifies in Momauk Township, people are being displaced from their homes to religious compounds in Bhamo Township, and there is therefore an urgent need for safe shelter and food assistance.
    • A music video produced by Kachin youth in Laiza titled ‘This Is Our Revolution’ calls on the young generation to stand with the Kachin Independence Organisation/Army in the battle against the military. Reflecting the ‘now or never’ mood at this revolutionary moment, the song contains lyrics like “You have to make a strong decision: do or die?” Featuring on-point dance moves and a K-pop beat, the video has gone viral across Myanmar.

Northern Shan

6. Armed Clashes Persist Among Ethnic Armed Groups

Namtu and Hsipaw Townships, Northern Shan State

Armed clashes between ethnic armed organisations have continued in Northern Shan State, with the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) clashing with the combined forces of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) in Namtu Township since early February. RCSS-Tatmadaw clashes have also continued. On 14 April, local news reported that the military has held its ground in Panglong village, Namtu Township since their arrival on 5 April, whereas RCSS troops remain on the mountain areas to the east of the village. In addition, armed clashes between the RCSS and SSPP in Manton village, Hsipaw Township broke out on 16 April, resulting in civilians fleeing the area to safer areas around the village and monasteries in nearby Manli village. In Namtu Township, local news reported that at least seven houses were burned down following armed clashes in Panglong, Yay Oo and Mansa villages on 21 April, while another five houses were burned down in Mansa village on 23 April – at total of 63 houses destroyed by fire in Panglong village tract alone.

IDPs need emergency assistance

Continuous armed conflict between EAOs in Namtu Township, Northern Shan State prevents civilians from returning to their home even though it is harvesting time for farmers. For some, farmlands and stored produce such as corn have been destroyed during the clashes. It is likely that armed conflict and the presence of EAOs in the area will continue to remain as parties attempt to reclaim territory.

Amid threats of malaria and other diseases with the rainy season underway, many displaced people are forced to sleep on open-air vehicles outside. Local sources reported that out of the 350 IDPs in Mansam village, the Ta’ang are reportedly receiving less support from humanitarian agencies. Additionally, Shan News reported that 1,036 displaced people in Hsipaw are in need of emergency medicine. Thus, humanitarian assistance is urgently needed in Namtu and Hsipaw townships as the current political situation will likely lead to IDPs requiring longer periods of displacement. Urgent needs include food and shelters.

New displacement since mid-March 2021 (Hsipaw and Namtu Townships)

IDPs Location

No. of IDPs

Namtu Township, Kaung Hone village, Kuang Hone Monastery (overcrowded)

150 

Namtu Township, Mansan village, Mansan Monastery & Nunnery

350 

Namtu Township, Pantaphay village

700 

Namtu Township, Mang Mine village, Monastery

200 

Hsipaw Township

700+ (from Namtu Township, Manli village)

7. Trafficking Risks Rise as Illicit Economy Booms

Northern Shan State

The Tatmadaw requested this week that People’s Militia groups – typically subsumed under Tatmadaw command — increase their recruitment, signaling a preparation for increased offensives in Northern Shan State. Militia groups are also likely to have seen an opportunity in the current instability in new business openings in the illicit economy.

Meanwhile, the Tatmadaw’s violent crackdown on peaceful anti-coup protests has convinced young people from urban and rural areas across Myanmar to take up arms against their oppressors. With civil war now raging once again in Karen and Kachin states, otherwise non-aligned youth are seeking training in armed organisations. The increased supply of recruits has seen the ranks of ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) swelling. This Reuters report documents the training of a group of demonstrators in EAO territory. Well-placed sources suggest that some high-ranking officers from ethnic armed organisations in Northern Shan State are also recruiting and training young people without a consensus or the knowledge of higher-level leaders. Whether this will result in intra-group cohesion issues is yet to be seen – as many EAOs allow local commanders a high degree of autonomy in their operations.

Some peoples’ militia groups are now posing as EAOs in order to recruit those seeking training. At the same time, these same militias are also investing in new illicit ventures in the hotel, casino and entertainment sectors, recognising that the illicit economy can expect a resurgence in the wake of the Tatmadaw’s recent seizure of power. Young people are recruited into these groups with promises of high salaries. Once recruited, however, leaving is not straightforward.

Meanwhile, a collapse in economic and political security in Myanmar will push young people and other migrants to seek better opportunities in Myanmar’s borderlands and neighbouring countries. In the absence of livelihood options, informal migration to countries such as Thailand, China and India can be expected to rise – despite the ongoing challenge of COVID-19. Brokers, people smugglers and traffickers will emerge to exploit these vulnerabilities, and humanitarians should expect human trafficking to increase under these circumstances. A new wave of migration is likely to occur – as they did in the 1990s and 2000s. Safe migration awareness raising and cooperation with authorities from neighbouring countries will be essential to minimise the risks for those seeking better futures abroad.

More from Northern Shan

    • Following the Tatmadaw’s 30 March warning to the Tachileik Township Border Committee in Mai Sai, Thailand, that they would shell Restoration Council of Shan State bases at Loi Tai Leng along the Thai-Myanmar border, the Tatmadaw launched its attack on 18 April. Despite strong-worded RCSS statements against the coup, they have not initiated any greater offensives against the Tatmadaw following the shelling.

Nationwide and Geopolitical

8. Formation of National Unity Government

Whole of Myanmar

On 16 April, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) announced the formation of its rival National Unity Government (NUG). NUG representatives include leaders from some ethnic political parties and ethnic armed groups, strike committees and civil society, alongside a strong National League for Democracy (NLD) presence. However, leaders of prominent ethnic armed organisations (EAO), such as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) or the Karen National Union (KNU), remain absent. KNU spokesperson Pado Mann Mann, however, has said that the KNU welcomed and will support the NUG as it marks the beginning of a federal union. For his part, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) Colonel Tar Phone Kyaw posted his support for the NUG on social media, while the Arakan Army (AA) leader Twan Mrat Naing wrote on his Twitter account that the CRPH invited the AA to join, but they declined, citing divergent interests. Leading Shan political party the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) also has not joined the NUG, but expressed support for its formation. Many civil society groups and strike committees across Myanmar released statements welcoming the NUG, and expressed their support in street demonstrations. On 21 April, the junta declared the NUG an illegal association disrupting the ‘peace and stability’ of the country, and said it will take effective action against its members and supporters. Meanwhile, the NUG is striving for recognition and international support to challenge the military junta and restore democracy in Myanmar.

Mission impossible?


The CRPH formed the NUG in accordance with the provisions in part 2 of its Federal Democracy Charter, released on 31 March. However, the formation of a National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), also detailed in part 2 of the charter and to include representatives from various pro-democracy groups, has not yet been announced. According to the Federal Democracy Charter, the NUCC will have primary responsibility for mobilising diverse pro-democracy forces, overseeing the NUG, and facilitating the development of a federal democratic constitution. According to sources close to the KNU, their field commanders are eager to join the NUCC and are planning to convene a meeting of their central executive committee to decide collectively on engagement. Sources closed to CRPH remarked that Shan political forces, including the SNLD and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), are reluctant to participate in a CRPH-led political dialogue process because CRPH members and some pro-democracy groups do not accept the ‘eight-state principle’ (currently seven ethnic states and the formation of a Burman state) that they see as the essential basis for a federal system. Given that the NUG has been outlawed, the safety of politicians still on the ground in Myanmar will also be of consideration for those wishing to join the NUG. Various pro-democracy forces, including political parties, civil society and ethnic armed groups in Kachin, Kayah and Chin states, have formed interim political consultative councils, and appear poised to become involved with the NUCC in state and union level political dialogue. As the NUCC’s role in the emergence of a federal democracy is crucial, it is important that it can demonstrate effective leadership and encourage the participation of a broad spectrum of democratic forces. Given the overwhelming popularity of the NUG in Myanmar, especially when compared with the Tatmadaw’s State Administration Council, international humanitarian actors should consider the benefits of engagement with the NUG. While engagement with the Tatmadaw’s administration may be necessary to continue life-saving assistance, and engagement with the NUG risks jeopardising that access, a failure to engage the NUG may put community acceptance of international aid on the line.

9. ASEAN’s Response to Myanmar’s Political Crisis

Jakarta, Indonesia

After an emergency meeting on Myanmar held in Jakarta, Indonesia on 24 April, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) released a ‘5-Point Consensus’ statement outlining agreed points for Myanmar moving forward: 1) immediate cessation of violence by all parties; 2) dialogue among all parties; 3) a special envoy of the ASEAN Chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process; 4) provision of humanitarian assistance via ASEAN Humanitarian Aid (AHA); and 5) a visit by the special envoy and delegation to meet with all parties concerned. ALthough reportedly discussed at the meeting, the release of detainees was not included. In a statement, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that the interests of the people of Myanmar must come first, and called for an end to violence, the immediate start of all-party talks and the immediate release of all political prisoners. The Tatmadaw Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing also met with the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar on the sidelines of the meeting. He remained uncommitted on whether to let her visit Myanmar – suggesting no visit should be expected.

Days later, on 27 April, the Information Team of the Tatmadaw’s State Administration Council (SAC) announced that it would take into account the five points of ‘consensus’ only after stability was restored, and if they facilitate the Tatmadaw’s ‘five-step roadmap’, which includes the holding of new elections after a undetermined period of ‘State of Emergency’. Somewhat surprisingly, responses from the National Unity Government (NUG), the parallel government challenging the military junta, varied. Despite the NUG Union Minister of International Cooperation, Dr Sa Sa, welcoming the statement, the NUG Foreign Affair Minister, Daw Zin Mar Aung, openly criticised the statement, saying it offered no significant change and accusing the junta of using ASEAN to buy more time to consolidate its power. Meanwhile, the European Union and Australia expressed their appreciation for ASEAN’s initiative in addressing the current political crisis in Myanmar, and committed their support to those efforts.

Managing humanitarian aid under the military 


Although ASEAN’s statement was intended to provide a space to find a short-term solution to the political crisis in Myanmar, it is already proving illusory given the ongoing killings and arrests that have continued everyday since its release. It is equally unlikely to be effective for long-term political aspirations of the people of Myanmar, such as the elimination of military leadership in politics and establishing a federal democratic state. As the statement does not include a call for the release of detained political leaders, the people of Myanmar are likely to oppose the intervention, demanding that ASEAN leaders put more pressure on the SAC. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that an ASEAN intervention was able to provide humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. However, due to the mismanagement and corruption of the government at the time, most international aid, including financial assistance, was either wasted or ended up in the hands of the then junta. At present, international aid is at risk of being equally wasted if the junta’s government agencies were simply handed funds. Therefore, humanitarian assistance should advocate for ASEAN programmes to be managed directly by local and international organizations, rather than via the SAC.

10. The Way of Sanctions

Whole of Myanmar

To compensate for financial losses caused by sanctions, private business disengagement, and an economy at standstill due to the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), the Tatmadaw is increasing the pace of its natural resources extraction.

Over the past two weeks, foreign countries have taken new measures to limit the Tatmadaw regime’s access to financial resources. On 19 April, the EU imposed additional sanctions on Tatmadaw-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited. It also designated 10 members of the junta’s State Administration Council (SAC), including U Chit Naing, Minister for Information, who is responsible for propaganda, disinformation, media crackdowns and other serious human rights violations. On 21 April, the US Department of the Treasury prohibited any economic relations with the Myanmar Timber Enterprise and the Myanmar Pearl Enterprise, both state-owned under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Australia is treading cautiously and slowly, but several activist voices have recognised its potential for influence and are calling for more concrete measures from the regional power.

However, like illicit trade, natural resources extraction is an industry that is harder for the CDM to disrupt, and its outputs can still be sold to foreign partners that are choosing not to cut ties with the Tatmadaw.

While the EU and US have been imposing sanctions on the natural resources sector, it still represents a major source of revenue for the military. It profits from the extraction and sale of precious stones, timber, coal and much more, and extraction areas are being increasingly militarised. Myanmar’s annual jade and gems emporium took place in Naypyidaw during the first ten days of April, granting over six million USD in revenue by its sixth day. An extraction rush, however, risks huge losses. The destruction of the natural environment, mining accidents, forced labour and drug addiction, are growing hand in hand with profits for the SAC.

Rare earth minerals are another resource for the Tatmadaw, and are utilised in telecommunications, defence and transportation worldwide. Myanmar is a key rare earth mineral supplier for China. However, the demands of the Chinese market are no longer being met as a result of the crisis in Myanmar, potentially encouraging a new intervention from Beijing.

While western governments are trying to sanction Myanmar’s extraction businesses, foreign private companies’ stands are varied. POSCO, the South Korean steel giant, had initially indicated it would disengage from Myanmar military-owned partners – only to state on Monday that it will continue its gas activities. French energy giant Total refused to stop its operations and said it will continue paying taxes to the SAC, while US energy company Chevron is lobbying the US government to refrain from sanctions that would disrupt its activities. Risk-management firm Access Asia, managed from Singapore and Australia, is facing public criticism of its alleged gold mining partnership with the Tatmadaw in Shan State. Bestseller, a Danish fashion retailer, meanwhile, has urged the EU to provide guidance on how businesses should respond to sanctions and ethically withdraw from affected locations.

The military’s oil and gas partners are clearly crucial to its revenue flows, and their withdrawal from the country would be a huge success for the anti-coup movement. On 20 April, over 400 Myanmar-based CSOs published a letter to Total and Chevron, stating that the Myanmar population is willing to endure an economic crisis if that is what is needed to undermine the junta. The cost, however, will not just be a societal one. The Tatmadaw’s rush for extraction could have long term consequences on livelihoods and ecosystem impairment, and some locations in extractive hotspots are already unrecognizable.

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Disturbing reports of Tatmadaw and police commiting sexual assault against detained female anti-coup demonstrators emerged this week. In response, activists started the hashtag #sister2sister to highlight the assaults. International actors should protect individuals who are sharing such stories to the media, as they may be at risk. Meanwhile, agencies should invest in resources for survivors across the country.

On 27 April the Tatmadaw’s State Administration Council declared the civil society group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners as illegal, and said they would take legal action against it. As of 28 April, the activist group reports 756 people killed by the Tatmadaw and 3449 detained.

The Tatmadaw’s State Administration Council has begun a campaign against locally hand-produced daily newsletter The Molotov Journal. The Molotov, a short, black and white printed pamphlet, began production on 1 April, as an effort to share updates in the absence of internet accessibility. The military’s media have been issuing daily warnings that action will be taken against anyone who operates the journal or provides assistance.

State media announced that universities and colleges will reopen on 5 May. Whether they will actually reopen is another question. Teachers across the country have put their support behind the Civil Disobedience Movement, and student’s unions are lobbying students and parents to boycott schools until the military government is removed. Upcoming weeks may see Tatmadaw reprisals against teachers and professors, not unlike current arrests of striking healthcare workers.

Following a meeting between the UK’s Minister of State for Asia, Nigel Adams, and the National Unity Government’s minister for international cooperation, Dr Sasa, the British embassy in Myanmar has said it “supports the important work” of the National Unity Government, but has stopped short of recognising it as the legitimate government, something no country has yet done — despite the NUG’s aspirations. However, the UK government has called on the Myanmar military to “engage with the newly nominated Interim National Unity Government to restore civilian rule”, and to end its campaign of violence.

In the wake of the ASEAN summit over the weekend, the Tatmadaw has relaxed internet restrictions by a small degree. Perhaps in recognition of the contradictions inherent in demanding banks reopen while maintaining an internet blackout, the junta has granted users access to mobile banking applications on mobile data. The nightly 1am to 9am internet shutdown was imposed for the last time on 27 April, but this change in policy will only benefit users with fibre connections, a tiny minority of internet users in the country.

The UN’s World Food Programme has estimated that within the next six months in Myanmar up to 3.4 million more people will be hungry, and identifies urban centres as particular areas of concern. In response it is launching a new operation to provide food assistance to two million people. Myanmar social media users have welcomed the assistance, but fear that any delivery through the Tatmadaw may compromise effectiveness.