The month was marked with major developments as the year 2023 is crucial for Myanmar with the announcement of elections. On 31 January, the two years of emergency rule is supposed to end, and the National Defence and Security Council has to conduct elections in the next six months. With the expiry of the emergency rule, one needs to ask whether the elections will take place and, if yes, whether they will be free and fair. The country witnessed many events preceding the elections, with the changes in the elections rules and regulations and the meetings within different groups. Internationally, as the military rule enters its third year, more sanctions were imposed by the western nations and reports by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights raised concerns over the worsening situation in the country.
04 January 2023 marked 75 years of the country’s Independence. The military celebrated the day with parading of troops and weaponry. In earlier years, the day was celebrated with great festivities, but since the coup, celebrations have been largely muted.  Min Aung Hlaing presided over the parade in which he stated that the regime was preparing for the elections with compilations of voters list and creating household registration data and other personal information. He reiterated that aim is to set up a “genuine, discipline-flourishing” democracy to return the nation to a state of stability and normalcy. In addition, on 06-07 January, the State Peace Talk Team, led by Lt-Gen Yar Pyae, held meetings with representatives of ethnic armed groups, including the United Wa State Party, the National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Shan State Progress Party to discuss plans to hold elections in their areas.  The preparation of elections has also led to increased attacks from the resistance side.
The military replaced the 2010 law with the new law on political parties, which bars parties and candidates deemed to have links to individuals or organisations “designated as committing terror acts” or seen as “unlawful”. The parties also need to secure at least 100,000 members within three months of registration and have funds of 100 million Myanmar kyats i.e. 100 times more than previously. The new law also states that the existing parties must apply for registration within two months of the legislation being announced, or they will be “automatically invalidated”. Furthermore, the law restrains the parties from lodging any complaints against the Union Election Commission (UEC) decisions on registration. This clearly will prevent any of the resistance forces from being part of the elections and thereby questions the fairness of the elections.
The military regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) also stepped up its efforts to solidify its position ahead of polls. On 05 January, Khin Yi held an informal meeting with 37 pro-military parties to discuss how they could strengthen their position in the upcoming elections. In the 2020 elections, the USDP contested almost all the constituencies but only won 71 seats.  Following the meeting, two also met 235 representatives of Yangon-based organisations and charities in Yangon. The pro-regime Pyu Saw Htee militias are also forcing voters in Sagaing and Mandalay regions to attend election campaign meetings. 
The Acting President Duwa Lashi La of the National Unity Government (NUG) also delivered his speech that 2023 would mark the turning point in the war against military rule and called for continuous revolution with an offensive strategy. The NUG released a New Year Joint Declaration on the People’s Revolution, which has drawn up a one-year plan to eradicate the military dictatorship. They have also called Myanmar’s neighbours and other concerned countries in the Indo-Pacific region to help the people of Myanmar and their legitimate representatives.
There were also statements by Three Brotherhood Alliance and Kachin Independence Organisation chairman General N’Ban La demanding dialogue between all relevant stakeholders without Min Aung Hlaing. The NUG further stated that it had raised more than USD 100 million to fund its movement. About 45 per cent of the funds are from the sales of Spring Revolution Special Treasury Bonds. Funds were also raised through the auction of military-linked properties. Finally, the NUG earned three billion kyats (USD 1.89 million) from collecting taxes in 38 out of 330 townships across Myanmar.
The conflict has intensified within the country, and there has been a 361 per cent increase in airstrikes by the military in February-November 2022, according to data collected by ACLED (Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project). Over the same period in 2021, 81 air strikes were conducted by the side of the military. The military was forced to engage in 3,127 clashes with resistance forces, compared to 1,921 clashes over the same period in 2021, a 94 per cent rise in armed conflict.  In addition, a report by the Ministry of Women, Youths and Children Affairs of the NUG stated that Myanmar’s regime had killed at least 265 children and 414 women since the 2021 coup. The NUG’s ministry reported this week that 13 per cent of the victims are female, and nearly 9 per cent are under-18s, including infants.
The World Bank “Myanmar Economic Monitor: Coping with Uncertainty” report described the ongoing struggle in the country to recover from the twin headwinds, COVID-19 and the military coup. The growth is estimated at 3 per cent for the fiscal year ending September 2023, with per capita GDP expected to remain about 13 per cent below its pre-COVID-19 level. The conflict has disrupted business operations, household incomes remain weak, and as a result, nearly 40 per cent of the country now lives below the poverty line. There has also been an increase in opium production. The UNODC estimated that production in 2022 was around 790 tonnes, and potentially as high as 1,200 tonnes, with an expansion in both the amount grown and the yield per hectare. Much of the increase in opium production has occurred in Shan State. Using a combination of satellite imagery and field reporting, a new UNODC report has found an increase of 33 per cent in opium production since February 2021.  To stabilise the economy, the Military Council established the Fund for Uplifting of National Economy with 400 billion kyats and a new fund MSME Development Fund for micro, small and medium enterprises, was set up.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its report “World Report 2023”, accused Myanmar’s military of war crimes and crimes against humanity since the takeover in February 2021. The report noted that the military had committed mass killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, and attacks on civilians in conflict areas. Furthermore, the military hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid to communities most at risk. The report called for international commitment through targeted sanctions against the military and emphasised the role that Indonesia needs to play as an ASEAN chair. In another report, HRW accused Japan of transferring over USD one million in 2022 to Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) under the Yokogawa Bridge Corporation project. HRW urged the Japanese government to suspend all ongoing non-humanitarian aid benefitting Myanmar’s military, which has been accused of committing widespread crimes since February 2021.
The Special Advisory Council on Myanmar also released a report noting that several UN member states continue to sell weapons to the military. Around 13 countries, such as the US, India, France, and Japan, are supplying crucial raw materials and machines to Myanmar’s military for the production of a range of weapons. For instance, high-precision machines made by the Austrian supplier GFM Steyr are used in several locations to manufacture gun barrels. Similarly, raw materials, such as copper and iron from China, have been traced to weapons production in Myanmar. The key components, such as fuses and electric detonators, have been acquired from companies in India and Russia, and the software is believed to originate from Israel and France. The number of factories producing arms in Myanmar has multiplied from around six in 1988 to around 25 factories.
As the military rule is about to enter its third year, Canada announced amendments to the Special Economic Measures (Burma) Regulations on 31 January. These amendments list an additional six individuals under the Schedule of the Regulations and include a new prohibition on the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel (wherever situated globally) destined for Myanmar or any person in Myanmar. This is the ninth amendment to the Regulations, and in total, it includes over 150 parties.
With Indonesia taking over as the ASEAN Chair, on 11 January, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced that they would establish a special envoy’s office to enable a national dialogue to address the crisis and allow humanitarian assistance. The official added that ASEAN would also continue to collaborate with the United Nations special envoy in dealing with the Myanmar issue. In response, Myanmar’s military warned ASEAN not to interfere with its internal matters and warned ASEAN not to “engage with any terrorist groups and unlawful associations [recognised] by the Government of Myanmar”. In addition, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, during his two-day visit to Indonesia, urged the Myanmar military to implement peace plans drawn up by the regional grouping.
On the other hand, the meeting between the chief of Thailand’s Defence Forces, Chalermphon Srisawasdi, and Min Aung Hlaing from 19-21 January raised concerns about a uniform approach within the ASEAN members to deal with the Myanmar crisis. The meeting happened shortly after the assets of Min Aung Hlaing’s children and cronies were confiscated in Thailand over their alleged involvement in the illicit drug trade. The annual meeting of both military leaders did not happen in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, despite a Myanmar military offensive on the border raising security concerns, both sides went ahead with the decision to reopen the friendship bridge across Moei River, linking Thailand’s Mae Sot district and Myanmar’s Myawaddy on 16 January. The reopening of the bridge will facilitate the resumption of cross-border activities after three years of closure.
Earlier during the month, China opened three border gates to Myanmar on 08 January, but Myanmar refused to open the gates on its side of the border following fears resulting from surging COVID-19 infection rates in China. These three border gates, Nandaw, Sinphyu and Manwein, have seen the highest levels of border trade between China and Myanmar. Furthermore, Bangladesh requested China to discuss the issue with the Myanmar government to resolve the fresh unrest at the Zero Line on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
India in Myanmar
As the Myanmar military began airstrikes on Camp Victoria in Chin State, the fallouts of the same could be heard on the border with Mizoram state’s Champhai district near to the camp. As per media reports, at least one shell landed on the Indian side. Due to similar aerial bombardments, tensions have already been reported with Bangladesh and Thailand. However, India hasn’t yet responded in an official manner. Following the bombings, around 200 Myanmar’s nationals crossed the border into Mizoram. Myanmar’s NUG has also urged the Indian government and other neighbouring countries to stop military warplanes from using their airspace. Finally, there are hopes to complete the last 109 km of Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT) project, as IRCON was recently appointed as the Project Management Consultant (PMC).
Amnesty International accused the military of arbitrarily arresting, torturing and murdering people. Since the coup, more than 3,000 people have been killed, 1.5 million have been internally displaced, and more than 13,000 are still detained in inhumane conditions, with four people executed and at least 138 sentenced to death. There is a widespread call for increased collective international action ahead of the anniversary on 01 February 2023. There is an immediate need to implement a global arms embargo on Myanmar and cooperating countries such as China and Russia to suspend any direct or indirect supply of arms and ammunition. Even the supply of aviation fuel to Myanmar needs to be restrained to ensure that aviation fuel will not be used to carry out airstrikes. And most importantly, as the elections need to be held by the end of two years of military rule, it is crucial to engage with all stakeholders and ensure there is a re-establishment of an inclusive democratic and federal system in Myanmar.
The Thai military also ignored the violation of its airspace by a Myanmar MiG 29 fighter jet in June 2022. https://www.thaipbsworld.com/thai-militarys-close-ties-with-myanmar-junta-compromising-asean-efforts-to-resolve-crisis/