Domestically, the country witnessed increased clashes and violent attacks during the month, and the military, along with USDP, is preparing for next year’s elections. The National Day marked the release of more than 5000 prisoners, along with international prisoners such as Australian economist Sean Turnell and Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota. Nevertheless, the military also uses its judicial powers to sentence members of the National League of Democracy (NLD) and opposition forces and give death penalties. During the month, seven students from Dagon University were sentenced to death. Internationally, the month was dotted with a number of significant events including the ASEAN, G20 leaders, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group meetings. The month also witnessed a two-day visit by the Indian Foreign Secretary to Myanmar for border and security concerns. The following article discusses all these developments in detail.
Though the military and its proxy party, USDP, are in full swing to prepare for the elections, the opposition forces have no confidence in the plan for elections. The NLD and most of Myanmar’s Ethnic Armed Organisations have rejected the 2023 election. Recently, the Karen National Union (KNU) refused to accept the military’s plan for a national election in 2023 and claimed that the military was conducting elections to legitimise its rule. The KNU had earlier also rejected the 2008 Constitution. The international community such as the United States has urged the countries to reject the poll, warning it would be neither free nor fair, threatening the democratic processes in Myanmar. Even Malaysia, after the ASEAN summits in November 2022, have rejected the elections.
As the number of clashes is increasing in the country, the military-affiliated Pyu Saw Htee militias have forced villagers in Sagaing Region to undergo military training. Led by the nationalist monk U Wasawa from the Association for Protection of Race and Religion, men from the age group 18 to 55 age years are forced to undergo military training. However, in July 2022, at a press conference, the military denied forming Pyu Saw Htee as its military proxies but also allowed the establishment, training and arming of militias at the request of locals for their security, thereby stating that the formation of these militias is legal.
The clashes and conflicts are increasing across the western and southern regions of the countries. The Landmine Monitor Report 2022, released in the month, stated that only two countries, i.e. Russia and Myanmar, actively use anti-personnel landmines. Since 1999, Myanmar’s military forces have used landmines and have surged their use since the February 2021 coup. Since the military coup in February 2021, 57 civilians have been killed and 395 injured by landmines and explosive remnants of war. The Monitor Report also cited the use of mines by non-state armed groups. At the 20th meeting of state parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, the governments stated that they should condemn Myanmar’s use of anti-personnel landmines.
Further clashes are rising against targeted civilians. For instance, the International Institute for Strategic Studies figures stated that attacks and armed clashes across Rakhine and southern Chin State jumped from two in July to 66 in October 2022. Some leaked documents revealed that the military is preparing to launch airstrikes against the Chin National Front in Chin State. Churches, hospitals, and schools in Myanmar’s Christian-majority Chin State are on the list of targets, especially the CNF headquarters on Mount Victoria in Thantlang Township. Christian-majority states such as Kachin, Kayah, Shan, and Chin states have witnessed intense fighting between the military and EAOs.
However, during the month, the Arakan Army and the military reached an unwritten ceasefire with the help of the Japanese government’s Special Representative for national reconciliation, Yohei Sasakawa. Following the measure on 24 November, there has been no armed engagement between the AA and the Myanmar military. The aim was to resolve the difficulties and crises that the people of Rakhine had faced since the blockade was imposed after the 10 November attack. The rationale for this humanitarian ceasefire is also that the harvest time is essential especially given that the yield is low because of a lack of available water. Since the renewed fighting, the regime blocked roads and waterways in northern Rakhine and neighbouring Chin State. It also banned the supply of cement, fertiliser and medicines.  Post the November 2020 elections, the AA and the military had reached a ceasefire agreement, but in August 2022, the fighting re-erupted.
The sentences by the military courts appear to be the longest and most arbitrary. During the month, the regime sentenced seven Dagon University students in Yangon to death. They were arrested in April 2022 for their involvement in the shooting of Global Treasure Bank branch manager Saw Moe Win, a former military officer. During the month, a military court handed a 148-year sentence to Win Myint Hlaing, a former parliamentarian from the NLD party. He had already been convicted of five offences, for which he received imprisonment of 25 years. Further, during the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, she denied corruption charges and testified that she was “just giving instructions according to the office procedures”. She has been convicted on 14 charges, and the remaining five corruption charges are still under trial.
On the other hand, the military released 5,774 prisoners to mark National Day on 17 November. Within these, a few important releases were Australian economist Sean Turnell, a former adviser to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; former British envoy Vicky Bowman and her husband Htein Linn, a citizen of Myanmar; Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota, and Counselor Office Minister Kyaw Tint Swe. The move was appreciated by the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Special Envoy for Myanmar, Prak Sokhonn. However, in their statements, both reiterated the call for the immediate release of those who continue to be arbitrarily detained and hoped that more progress could be achieved on the Five-Point Consensus (FPC).
In addition, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) stated that only 402 were political prisoners or were the ones who were about to complete their sentences. According to the AAPP, 12,923 people are still detained who were arrested since the coup for political reasons. According to AAPP Joint Secretary U Bo Kyi, “it is a deliberate tactic meant to deceive foreign governments”. It should also be noted that those who were released were the people who were arrested as a preemptive measure by the Myanmar military to prevent them from opposing military rule. Furthermore, a week later, a district court in Myawaddy sentenced two former MPs, U Wai Lin Aung and Dr Pyae Phyo of the deposed NLD, to 26 years in prison for Terrorism and Treason (Section 112) charges.
During the month, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) said it would cease its Myanmar operations by early 2023, making it the first international bank to withdraw from the country. The withdrawal follows the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ruling in October 2022, which blacklisted Myanmar. Also, ANZ said it had been facing “increasing operational complexity” over the past several months and was “working with its institutional customers to transition to alternative banking arrangements”. Early in the month, Justice for Myanmar targeted ANZ after leaked records showed the bank had facilitated payments that foreign companies dealing with Innwa Bank – owned by a military conglomerate, the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).
The military also released data on the performance of the country’s foreign trade and investments during the first eight months of the financial year starting April 2022. The Ministry of Commerce released data regarding foreign trade and investments. The data revealed that Myanmar’s foreign trade went up by 22.32 per cent in eight months from April to November 2022, exports rose by 16.84 per cent from the previous year, and imports rose by 27.99 per cent. Further, Myanmar received 52 investments from foreign countries, adding up to USD 1.451 billion over the seven months of the 2022-23 financial year. Singapore is Myanmar’s largest foreign investor, making up nearly 80 per cent of the total foreign direct investment, followed by investments from Hong Kong and China. However, it must also be noted that the investments made by Singapore and China fell after the military coup. The level of FDI has fallen, and many Multinational Corporations (MNCs) have either suspended or withdrawn their businesses from the country. Moreover, the listing of Myanmar on the blacklist by the Finance Action Task Force (FATF) has raised concerns among several foreign investors.
There have also been concerns over the shortage of electricity across the country. According to Thaung Han, the Union Electricity and Energy Minister, not enough electricity can be produced to meet the daily demands of all of Yangon’s population and electricity will be rationed by providing it in four-hour windows. The Ministry of Electricity and Energy said that currently, it could only generate 3,200-megawatt hours (MWh) of energy whilst demand across the country stands at over 4,000 MWh. Since the coup, power cuts across the country have become more frequent. Even high inflation has pushed up the price of electricity.
Furthermore, Myanmar’s military issued new rules, “Organization Registration Law,” requiring international and domestic aid groups to legally have a government-issued registration certificate to work in the country. The law bans “indirect or direct” contact between aid providers and groups blacklisted by the military. The law could eventually impact deliveries of humanitarian assistance from the aid groups. It states that NGOs that fail to register will be punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a fine of nearly €2,500. The military already has a vast list of groups it claims to be “terrorists” and could expand it further to stop international aid flows into territory controlled by resistance forces.
The Final Report on “Global Response to the Crisis in Myanmar” was released by the International Parliamentary Inquiry (IPI). The report criticised the response to the post-coup crisis in Myanmar by countries and international blocs. The report was released right before the ASEAN meeting scheduled for 10-11 November. Charles Santiago, a Malaysian lawmaker and chairman of the APHR, stated that ASEAN’s FPC reached with Myanmar military leader in April 2021 has been “an utter failure”. In its recommendations, the report called for ASEAN to negotiate a new agreement with Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government (NUG), ensuring the new accord has enforcement mechanisms.
The United States and European Union announced new sanctions against Myanmar’s military regime. Moreover, the US Embassy issued an alert on 29 November warning its citizens of a rising number of violent attacks in Myanmar and advised them to exercise vigilance in Yangon and avoid suspicious objects or people. The United States has also supported the NUG, and on 18 November 2022, the NUG prepared to open its first representative office in Washington. The EU sanctions apply to 19 more individuals and entities. But on the other hand, the Justice for Myanmar reported that the German Government was funding the training of Myanmar military personnel in violation of EU sanctions. The German Federal Foreign Office continues to train under the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law project. Justice For Myanmar has called on the German government to immediately exclude the Myanmar military from remaining activities in the project. As part of the training, the Max Planck Foundation has invited the junta to nominate three representatives for a workshop, to be held in Singapore from 28 November to 02 December 2022, on maritime security and the law of the sea.
It is also interesting to note that New Zealand has decided to reopen a diplomatic post in military-ruled Myanmar. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) will send a high-ranking diplomat to Yangon to reopen New Zealand’s embassy. Mfat has said none of its actions “infer” the military is legitimate. Officials have also been speaking with members of the NUG, and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta conducted an online meeting with the NUG’s Foreign Minister, Zin Mar Aung. Also, during the month, Daw Zin Mar Aung was invited to join the Global Town Hall 2022 meeting, and a pre-recorded message was sent for opening remarks, but her remarks weren’t aired as planned because she was dropped from the meeting’s agenda at the last minute.
Furthermore, on 29 November, General Min Aung Hlaing met with the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Russian Ground Forces in Nay Pyi Taw. In the meeting, the two sides discussed the conditions to promote cooperation in defence, education, health, and technical aspects and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. They also discussed the enhancement of friendly relations between the two armed forces, bilateral exchange measures, and strategic cooperation in both countries’ economic and technological sectors. In addition, the Myanmar military delegation attended Transport Week and other international forums in Moscow. The two countries agreed to open direct flights to Yangon and establish a nuclear technology hub in Yangon.
To further boost their relationship, China opened a direct shipping route linking its port in the South China Sea to Myanmar’s business hub, Yangon. The new Beibu Gulf Port-Myanmar shipping route was jointly launched by Beibu Gulf Port Group and SITC Container Lines (Shanghai). The embassy said four cargo ships would travel the route weekly. The ships will call at ports in other coastal cities in China, Malaysia and Indonesia before arriving in Yangon. The new route aims to reduce enterprises’ logistics and storage costs. Moreover, on 29 November, a consul from the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar, Lin Tao, paid a call on U Khin Yi, the new chairman of the military’s proxy USDP. The meeting, which was the first between the two sides, focussed on cooperation and came after the junta said it was planning a “national election.”
The month also witnessed the conduct of the 8th Director General-level conference between Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and the Border Guard Police (BGP) of Myanmar after a gap of two years. A nine-member team, led by BGB Director General Maj Gen Shakil Ahmed, participated in the meeting. The conference concluded with the signing of a Joint Records of Discussion (JRD). The conference highlighted the need for joint efforts of both forces to curb the drugs and narcotics inflow and combat transnational crimes, including illegal border crossing. In this regard, Bangladesh emphasised a zero-tolerance policy with an all-out effort to prevent trafficking along the border. In addition, the Myanmar side will continue anti-drug measures following its national drug control policy. The DG of BGB also reiterated the national concern about the early repatriation of Rohingyas. Finally, both sides agreed to share information on a timely basis between the designated contact points and agreed to work together against various terrorist groups along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
The 40 and 41 ASEAN Summits were held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Myanmar military was not invited to the meetings and was asked to send a non-political representative, to which the regime did not agree. The members admitted that “little progress” has been made in implementing the FPC, and ASEAN leaders urged Myanmar’s military regime to comply with its commitments. They decided to follow a timeline “that outlines concrete, practical and measurable indicators” to support the peace plan. The meeting also stated that the ASEAN would initiate talks with the opposition groups. The meeting concluded with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen handing over the hammer symbolising ASEAN chairmanship to President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, who announced the theme of ASEAN 2023 as “ASEAN Matters: The Epicentrum of Growth”.
Following the meeting, the Myanmar military on 11 November slammed a decision by ASEAN to engage with opposition groups, which include NUG and EAOs. The military blamed the lack of progress on the pandemic and was hindered by armed resistance movements that it calls terrorists. In contrast, the NUG released a statement on 12 November regarding the ASEAN decision and agreed that the ASEAN 5PC is not progressing and that there is a need to reframe or expand the 5PC, vowing to work with the ASEAN. During the month, concerns were also raised as the ASEAN member Laos handed over the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference chairmanship to the Myanmar military. The Myanmar military and Russia continue co-chairing the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) – Plus Experts’ Working Group on Counter Terrorism, for which a meeting is scheduled in December 2022.
On 23 November, the 9th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+) was held, and the ASEAN Defence Ministers, except Myanmar, discussed the changes in the global security environment. Cambodia hosted ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Retreat (ADMM Retreat) under the theme ‘Solidary for Harmonised Security’, along with the 9th ADMM-Plus, the ASEAN-US Defence Ministers’ Informal Meeting and the ASEAN-India Defence Ministers’ Informal Meeting. The meetings highlighted the numerous traditional and non-traditional security challenges faced in present times. The Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh joined the meeting of ASEAN Defence Ministers. In addition, the second meeting of the Golden Triangle Prosecutors Network on “Cooperation to Counter Narcotics Trafficking in the Region” was held in Laos. Laos, Thai and Myanmar officials met to discuss joint efforts to crack down on transnational crime, especially drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle border area.
India in Myanmar
On 20-21 November, India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra visited Myanmar, during which he discussed border management and security issues. Kwatra’s visit came amid escalating tensions between ethnic armed organisations and the Myanmar army that could have an impact on the border regions in India’s northeastern states. The discussions were held on bilateral issues relating to border management, security and ongoing bilateral cooperation projects. Foreign Secretary also reiterated India’s commitment to continue with the projects under the Rakhine State Development Programme and Border Area Development Programme. Furthermore, India raised the issue of human trafficking of its citizens in the Myawaddy area of Myanmar by international crime syndicates.
Earlier in the month, Myanmar Minister of Commerce Aung Naing Oo visited Kolkata and stated the intentions to expand the government-to-government (G2G) trade basket by including more agro items, such as green mung beans. The G2G Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on trade cooperation for urad and tur pulses was signed in June 2021. The MoU provided that Myanmar can export 250,000 tonnes of urad and 100,000 tonnes of tur to India annually for three years. He stated that the MoU has been “very successful”. Myanmar is also encouraging bilateral trade settlement in local currencies with India. Myanmar has similar arrangements with Thailand and China. Notably, the Centre has allowed international trade settlements in Indian rupees for export promotion schemes under the Foreign Trade Policy.
Incidents of cross-border movements and transport of goods were also reported during the month. Security agencies in Manipur apprehended a Myanmar national for allegedly entering India illegally and procuring an Aadhaar card. The illicit trade of areca nut, also known as betel nut or ‘supari’, is also reported by the security forces, including the Assam Rifles. To curb the trade of areca nut, the Assam government recently imposed strict restrictions to ferry areca nut through its territory, preventing Tripura and Mizoram farmers from supplying their produce to other parts of India.
Further, unconfirmed sources have stated that the Myanmar military has been getting arms from India and transporting them from the border through Sagaing Region. According to the Kalay People’s Defence Force (PDF), a junta convoy carrying weapons from India travelled from India to Sagaing Region on 25 November. However, when the Indian embassy in Yangon was contacted, they rejected reports that the country was involved in arming the Myanmar military.
The UN chief Antonio Guterres urged the Myanmar military to immediately return to democracy and stop the “unending nightmare” engulfing the country. As per the various meetings and statements by countries and regional organisations, implementing ASEAN’s 5PCs is crucial to establishing stability and peace in Myanmar. The solution to the current impasse lies in initiating negotiating with all stakeholders rather than having any one fraction in power.
These students are Ko Khant Zin Win, Ko Thura Maung Maung, Ko Zaw Lin Naing, Ko Thiha Htet Zaw, Ko Hein Htet, Ko Thet Paing Oo and Ko Khant Linn Maung Maung https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-sentences-seven-students-to-death.html
Win Myint Hlain was elected to the local parliament of Magway region in 2015. He did not take part in the 2020 election but participated in protests against the military before being arrested in November 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/3/myanmar-court-sentences-ex-lawmaker-to-173-years-in-prison
The IPI held six public hearings along with several private hearings and received dozens of written submissions. Malaysia’s Santiago and Indonesian House member Chriesty Barends travelled to the Thai-Myanmar border in August to gather information. The IPI investigation team included officials from African countries, the Americas and Europe. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/asean-myanmar-11022022162047.html
The upcoming Singapore workshop is the fifth in a series of six planned activities. Two in-person workshops were held in Vietnam (September 2022) and the Philippines (July 2022). The Max Planck Foundation’s project started in October 2020, with the objective “to strengthen preventive diplomacy and regional cooperation in SEA to improve maritime peace and security”. https://www.mizzima.com/article/german-government-training-myanmar-junta-soldiers-possible-eu-sanctions-breach
The organisers dropped her name after the UN complained to a co-organiser that the inclusion of Daw Zin Mar Aung and her deputy would amount to taking sides in Myanmar’s conflict. The event was hosted by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) and Global Citizen. https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/the-world-myanmar/myanmar-nug-foreign-ministers-unaired-global-town-hall-speech.html
The agreement was signed in 2019 between Beibu Gulf Port and Yangon Port of Myanmar to establish a sister port relationship, providing favourable conditions for Myanmar to strengthen cooperation with ports in the pan-Beibu Gulf region https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/china-opens-new-shipping-route-to-myanmar-from-south-china-sea.html
The Border Agreement-1980 between the countries aimed to enhance bilateral cooperation in combating illicit drugs and psychotropic substances and to prevent illegal border crossing. The agreement aimed to resume coordinated patrols between the two guarding forces to counter the potential threats posed by terrorist groups along the border. https://en.prothomalo.com/bangladesh/5vl5kchs70
The first meeting was held in Thailand in 2018. The Golden Triangle region is an area where the borders of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet along the Mekong River. https://borneobulletin.com.bn/laos-thailand-myanmar-seek-ways-to-crack-down-on-drug-trafficking-2/