The country is reeling under political and economic crisis. The military initiated peace talks during the month in its efforts to meet the Ethnic Armed Organisations, but most of the armed groups that have been active in the fight with the military since the coup have refused participation. The National Unity Government (NUG), on the other hand, marked the celebration of the first anniversary of the People Defence Forces (PDF) on 05 May; they also called out to the international community to support them with funds and arms. Internationally, the United States-ASEAN summit was a landmark event, and the Malaysian Foreign Minister called upon the Myanmar military leaders for taking sufficient steps to resolve the crisis.
Myanmar is facing fuel shortages partly because of the Central Bank of Myanmar’s change in regulations in April 2022 and partly because of the regime’s orders that the fuel will be sold at fixed rates. The Central Bank of Myanmar announced that foreign earnings must be deposited with licensed banks and exchanged for kyats within one working day at the official rate. The restricted access to dollars has blocked fuel imports.
The cash shortage is also starkly visible as the military regime has not been able to pay dividends from its businesses since the 2021 coup. The dividends are usually paid at the end of the financial year. It’s mandatory for all ranks to buy MEHL shares. For instance, a captain is required to invest 3 million kyats in MEHL and lower ranks 1.5 million kyats. In the past year, MEHL profits have tumbled amid boycotts of beer and cigarettes, the main income sources.
Myanmar’s military regime has cancelled tenders invited under the previous National League for Democracy (NLD) government for 26 solar power projects. Chinese companies and their consortia won the bids to build 28 out of the 29 plants, but the military cancelled the tenders due to repeatedly post poking of signing power purchase agreements. However, only three solar projects are being implemented, and Chinese firms have stalled on the other projects. Just before the blacklisting of firms, the electricity and energy Minister U Aung Than Oo was replaced with U Thaung Han, the former chairman of the Mandalay Electricity Supply Corporation, amid severe power outages in Myanmar. Further, on 11 May, the military charged Bo Bo Nge, former Central Bank’s deputy governor, with corruption offences. He was arrested on the day of the military coup. The military has also removed Lt General Than Hlaing as chief of the military’s police force and deputy minister of home affairs, with Major General Zin Min Htet, the military’s Joint Adjutant General, since 2019.
Domestic and Political Situation
During the month, Aung San Suu Kyi was tried in a new corruption case, accusing her of receiving money from Maung Weik in 2019 and 2020. She is charged under the country’s Anti-Corruption Act with up to 15 years in prison and a fine. She has already been sentenced to 11 years imprisonment under different cases of corruption, sedition and violation of coronavirus restrictions. In another case of corruption, she was charged with receiving USD 600,000 and seven gold bars from Phyo Min Thein, the former chief minister of Yangon.
During the month, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing held the first face-to-face peace talks since the military coup with Yawd Serk, chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS). Myanmar has 21 ethnic armed organisations, out of which ten have accepted the invitation to the peace talks. But there is scepticism that the talks will do much to advance peacemaking because none of the groups attending are currently in armed conflict with the government. The major ethnic minority groups, such as Kachin Independence Army, the Karenni National Progressive Party and the Chin National Front, currently in armed conflict with the military, have not attended the peace talks.
Regions such as Kachin, Chin, Sagaing and Karen continued to witness clashes. In the first half of the month, regular interceptions by the military were recorded in Chin State. Casualties were reported on both sides. The Chin Defence Forces, on the other hand, claimed success in several clashes with the military. In the Sagaing region, the regime launched air strikes as local resistance forces attacked an army camp in a pro-regime village in the township. The military has further cut mobile phone service to eight townships in the Sagaing region. The military has also increased security in Yangon as it remains a hotbed of anti-regime resistance. The military aims to wipe out the urban resistance groups.
Further, the Karen National Union (KNU) stated that troops engaged in more than 500 clashes with regime forces in May 2022. In the statement released by the Union, they claimed to have killed around 356 junta forces and 194 injured. During the month, however, the military reclaimed the Maw Khee base. Waw Lay and Maw Khee, in the KNLA’s Brigade 6 territory. The KNU, on the other hand, is consolidating its control of Kyaukkyi and Mone townships in the eastern Bago Region. In a march from Hpa-An Township in Kayin (Karen) State to Bilin Township in Mon State, the regime forces used more than 100 civilians as porters and human shields earlier this week.
Major-General Tun Myat Naing, chief of the Arakan Army (AA) based in Rakhine State, issued a public warning about the prospect of renewed fighting in Rakhine. The military has attempted to counteract the AA with the increasing presence of regime troops inspecting villages and tightening security checks. Further, on 31 May, a submarine arrived at Kyauk Phyu Township. The regime has also again started detaining and interrogating people it suspects of having ties to the AA, which was done before the 2020 ceasefire. The AA has also not responded to the regime’s proposal for peace talks.  The fight erupted between the military and AA near Abaung Thar village, Chin State. Further, Major Aye Tun, an AA leader, warned through his social media posts to boycott military council products and not buy homes from the Shwe Yati beach project in Gwa township of Rakhine State.
Overall, boths ides, the pro-military and anti-military, continued with targeted assassinations of the opposite sides. For instance, local military council members in the Mandalay Region were shot by unidentified gunmen. On the other hand, the pro-junta militia claimed responsibility for slaying opposition party members and threatened to kill journalists and their families. During the month, eight members of the NLD and their supporters were found brutally murdered. However, the military deputy minister of information, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun stated that the military has no ties to the Thway Thank, the pro-junta militia taking responsibility for the murder. He also accused seven media outlets of being “destructive elements” in Myanmar, including RFA, Khit Thit Media, The Irrawaddy, Mizzima, DVB and The Irrawaddy Times.
The NUG and PDFs
May 6 marked the PDF anniversary, a paramilitary group formed to protect Myanmar’s civilians against military forces. The NUG Ministry of Defense said the PDF has expanded to 257 units, with 80,000 and 100,000 PDF troops spread across 250 townships and maintains links with more than 400 local guerrilla groups. A statement claimed that around USD 30 million was spent on arms training and military equipment for the PDF since its formation. However, PDFs are facing cash and arms shortages. Four local PDFs based in Sagaing publicly reported that they were struggling with insufficient arms and other logistics issues. These groups have so far relied on donations from local people. Under such circumstances, the defence chief of NUG, Yee Mon, called for international help to arm its resistance forces.  On the other hand, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing urged the United Wa State Party (UWSP) not to supply arms to the PDFs. However, the UWSP liaison officer Nyi Rang denied discussing PDFs or Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the meeting.
During the month, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the legislative body of NUG, enacted its People’s Police Force Law to regulate law enforcement in areas controlled by resistance forces. Under the law, the People’s Police Force will be established under the civilian Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration to upgrade law enforcement from accepting complaints to prosecuting. The ministry has so far received more than 400 complaints against military atrocities against civilians. The CRPH said the law would take legal action against the military leaders who seized power illegally and expose the crimes committed by the regime against civilians.
The National Unity Government (NUG) also conducted an online meeting with AA to engage with armed groups. The shadow government’s Alliance Relations Committee, its foreign minister Daw Zin Mar Aung and prominent ’88 Generation leader U Min Ko Naing spoke to AA chief Major General Tun Myat Naing and his deputy Brigadier General Nyo Tun Aung. The two sides discussed the political landscape and current situation in Myanmar. However, the AA has avoided direct involvement in armed revolt against the military regime; it supports the PDFs by providing training and weapons.
In yet another move to issue a statement at United Nations Security Council, China and Russia blocked the attempt to push the military leaders to take steps to resolve the crisis and express concern about the violence and humanitarian situation in the country. The proposed statement was drafted by the United Kingdom, which had expressed concern at the “limited progress” in implementing a five-point plan for ending the crisis.
On 05-06 May, the ASEAN leaders held a meeting in Cambodia to discuss plans to deliver aid to Myanmar. The regime was represented by its Minister for International Cooperation, Ko Ko Hlaing. However, the military blocked the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, from attending the meeting. Though no reason was stated, her exclusion is believed to come after her recent discussions with the parliamentary body of Myanmar’s NUG and its relief and resettlement minister, Dr Win Myat Aye. However, the NUG criticised ASEAN’s decision to provide humanitarian aid to the Myanmar people via the military regime as it flouts the fundamental humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.
The United States (US) hosted the two-day US-ASEAN Special Summit. A host of issues were discussed, from COVID to the current situation in Myanmar. Out of the total ten, eight ASEAN leaders attended the summit; the Philippines declined to attend due to the presidential elections, and Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was barred from the summit. At the summit, Malaysia slammed the military for refusing to engage with the country’s shadow government, NUG. Instead, the US State Department officials met with the foreign minister of the National Unity Government, Myanmar’s shadow government of deposed leaders and other junta critics working to regain control of the country.
Earlier in the month, Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah proposed that ASEAN engage informally with the NUG to discuss humanitarian aid. Still, the regime rejected the remark as “irresponsible and reckless”. Thereby, the Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah called out Myanmar military officials in a series of tweets for failing to honour the Five Point consensus and refusal to allow the United Nations special envoy to attend an ASEAN meeting on humanitarian aid to Myanmar. He also became the first minister from the ASEAN to publicly meet a NUG minister.
Furthermore, the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Myanmar’s military to allow the ASEAN special envoy to visit and meet deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Hun Sen requested “further cooperation in facilitating the second visit to Myanmar by the ASEAN Chair’s Special Envoy, possibly at the end of May”. He also urged the military chief to release political prisoners, reduce excessive force use and facilitate humanitarian assistance delivery.  However, during the month, Cambodia organised a three-day meeting of senior defence officials, including Myanmar military representatives. This contrasts with the earlier decisions to exclude military representatives from ASEAN meetings.
The advocacy groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Justice for Myanmar again called on the Government of Japan to cease training Myanmar military officers after it emerged that a Japanese-trained air force commander took part in bombing raids in the country. According to HRW, Japan accepted two cadets and two officers to participate in the training programme in 2021, after the coup. This was followed by a further two cadets and two officers in 2022.  In the month, Japanese energy conglomerate ENEOS Holdings said it would withdraw from the Yetagun gas project in Myanmar, which has been operational for two decades. Also, to not legitimise the military regime, the Australian government said it would replace its ambassador to Myanmar, Andrea Faulkner, with a lower-ranked representative. Several western countries have downgraded their diplomatic relations since last year’s coup.
The Institute for Strategy and Policy (ISP Myanmar) reported that at least 5,646 civilian deaths have occurred since the coup till 10 May 2022. Given the humanitarian losses and the accompanying economic and political crisis, the military leaders must take steps to bring in all stakeholders and resolve the current situation. The country is sliding back into poverty, and there are cash and fuel shortages. Mainly Sagaing and Chin’s regions are suffering severe casualties in their fight against the military. Internationally, more efforts and concrete steps are required to address the crisis than mere statements.