Weekly Update: 001

by mohingamatters

Folks, as you know we have stopped writing daily on January 31 and decided to switch to a different format. This is the first weekly update which covers February 1 to 13. Starting next week, we will be sharing our updates every Sunday. Since this is the first ever piece, bear with us while we curate and adjust the most fitting contents for our readers and our platforms. 

Internal Affairs

The Silent Strike on February 1 was a success. The junta forced local businesses to open their stores but shop owners were witty and creative. They opened their vendors and stores yet refuse to sell. Unfortunate news came from Kyaukpadaung Township of Mandalay Region that on the day of Silent Strike, a man set himself on fire to protest in front of an electricity supply office with a note which said “May the people get 24 hours electricity. We don’t want to go back to 2001/2002”. He was rushed to a hospital but died later in the day. Last February, frustrated people took to the streets to peacefully protest against the military junta, but this incident of self-immolation shows the world that multiple ways of nonviolent protests were conducted despite the junta’s violence. 

If we recall, Karen National Union (KNU) issued a statement on January 29, warning junta-appointed civil servants to leave Brigade 1 and Brigade 5 territories. The ethnic armed group reiterated the warning on February 7, including members of Border Guard Force (BGF) and their family members. Up north in Kachin State, more clashes were observed after February 1, and Kachin Independence Army (KIA)’s spokesperson Colonel Naw Bu speculated the escalation of conflicts in near future. Amidst its killing spree, junta has been initiating “preliminary peace talk” to honor the “75th Union Day”. However, conflicts were witnessed between the Arakan Army (AA) and the regime forces in the first week of February. Local news outlet Narinjara reported that two Rohingya civilians died due to the clash which broke out on February 7. This marked a serious clash since the coup, but the political wing of AA was in attendance of the Union Day celebration in Naypyidaw. More on that later. 

As the fighting between the regime troops and the resistance groups intensified in Kayah (Karenni) State, more military-imposed communication blackouts were reported across the state, the residents said. Most of the blackouts were not even imposed consistently across the state’s seven townships or even continuously. The communication blackouts reportedly happened at the time of escalating fights, and were suspected to be caused by the junta troops jamming the telecoms signals. In early November last year, residents of Demoso reported weak phone and internet signals, and in late December as well, the same thing was reported in Hpruso and Loikaw townships. More additional blackouts were reported in mid-January this year and in the first week of February in Hpasawng and Bawlakhe. The most recent and extensive communication blackout reportedly started on February 1, the day the military council’s second-in-command Soe Win visited the state. 

Sometimes, we wonder to what extent a person’s ego can ruin a country with 53 million. The coup leader Min Aung Hlaing was planning for a North Korean style military parade on the Union Day on February 12. Netizens pledged not to pay any attention or share any post about the Union Day celebration on social media. However, the junta decided to shut down the internet once again on February 12 from 4am to 11pm in 24 townships of Yangon and several other townships across the country. From the very little news coverage, we learned that representatives from some EAOs were present at the event, including KNU Dupalayar District chairperson, and representatives from AA’s political wing United League of Arakan (ULA). KNU dissociated itself with the attendance of Pado Shwe Maung, and declared that it was his own decision, not the entire EAO. We sincerely hope we don’t see more cracks and divisions among EAOs because that’s what Min Aung Hlaing wants.

Humanitarian Affairs

In the aftermath of the coup, the number of refugees due to the conflicts in Kayin (Karen) State has risen to more than 70,000 in one year, the Karen National Union announced on February 8. The refugees are mostly from Doo Tha Htoo, Nyaung Lay Pin, Myeik-Dawei, Mutraw and Dooplaya districts. With continuous military operations and airstrikes, some villages had to evacuate the entire village in those areas.

In Sagaing Region, regime troops carried out airstrikes on eight villages in Ye-U townships between February 6-7. The targeted villages were identified as Taung Pyin Nge, Palu Zawa, Auk Yae Twin and Aung Thukha. The soldiers were reportedly sent into the area by helicopter and carried out raids on the villages, causing residents to flee for their lives. Currently, about 7,000 residents from Ye-U and Mingin townships of Sagaing Region are reported to have been displaced.

Civil Disobedience Movement & Campaigns

A year later, participants of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) have remained resilient against threats and struggles. In Mandalay’s Myitnge railway station, CDM participants have been asked to move out of the staff housing by February 18. According to Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, more than 3000 railway staff have joined CDM for six long months after the coup, but around 500 staff have returned to work by now. Around 310 CDM teachers have returned to work, but they were punished with no promotion for two years although they were reassigned to previous positions. In Chin State’s Thantalang Town, CDM teachers are organizing classes for the children as paid teachers. In the Thai-Burma border, Maesot, CDM participants and refugees/displaced people have been given vocational training.

The NUG issued an announcement that the government will start selling revenue stamps on February 12 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the signing date of the Panglong agreement in 1947. There will be five different types of revenue stamps with prices ranging from 200 kyats, 300 kyats, 1000 kyats, 5000 kyats to 50,000 kyats. NUG asked the people to use these revenue stamps when they sign contract agreements. Myanmar people inside the country and from nine different countries have organized a fundraising campaign called Dawn of Revo to sell the lottery tickets. The winners will receive paintings and photographs of well-known artists on March 13, Myanmar’s Human Rights Day. All the proceeds will go to the anti-coup resistance movement.

International Affairs

Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, newly appointed Special Envoy to Myanmar, irked the people of Myanmar by suggesting “power-sharing arrangements” between democratic revolutionaries and the military junta. Her other remarks, which included claims such as “the military is in control”, made during the interview with Channel News Asia, were criticized by the people and activists alike as out of touch with the reality of Myanmar and empowering the military to continue brutal campaigns.  In the following days: Dr. Heyzer issued the statement that her comments were misinterpreted and she had never proposed power sharing as an option, and that any peace process had to be led by the people of Myanmar; Dr. Heyzer also reiterate this statement upon meeting with Daw Zin Mar Aung, Foreign Minister of NUG.

Daw Zin Mar Aung has been on a roll. On February 1, she explicitly said in an interview with Aljazeera, that the world is “sitting and watching” as Myanmar slides to war. Again in an interview with India newspaper Deccan Herald, Ms. Aung expressed her disappointment at India’s ongoing engagement with the junta, by claiming “People of Myanmar will not forget where India stood in our trying times”. On February 9 in an interview with South China Morning Post, Daw Zin Mar Aung urged Beijing and other regional players to step up pressure on the military junta, and claimed NUG is not taking any antagonistic stance towards any external party.

Last month, we witnessed the arrival of Cambodia Prime Minister and ASEAN Chair Hun Sen in Myanmar, flirting with the junta. It seems that Mr Hun Sen overestimated his influence over Min Aung Hlaing during the trip. Phnom Penh based media, which is also known to be close to the government, reported that Australian Professor and NLD’s economic advisor Sean Turnell was “reportedly released” on February 6. Unfortunately, the news was identified to be untrue, and Mr Hun Sen had to formally apologize for the wrong information the next day.  

In other news, the junta reported NUG as terrorist and request to take action against them, but Interpol responded that it will not provide help to any requests intended to crush political opponents, critics of a government, or in the context of a coup d’état. 

Business Matters

Telenor is facing an uphill battle when it comes to selling off its Telenor Myanmar subsidiary. The top management has reportedly been rushing the sales quickly these days to fulfill the remaining paperwork to get approval from the military council, Myanmar Now reported on February 9. Telenor has refused to confirm who the final owner of its operation will be, but industry sources and leaked documents show it will be Investcom Myanmar, a joint venture between a gems and petrol conglomerate named Shwe Byain Phyu and Lebanon’s M1 Group. Investcom Myanmar is yet to be listed on the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration database, but a company called Investcom Pte is registered in Singapore, where its owners are listed as Shwe Byain Phyu and M1 Group. Industry sources told Myanmar Now that Shwe Byain Phyu Telecom, whose name was changed from Shwe Byain Phyu Manufacturing Co Ltd on November 3 last year, would be the eventual majority owner of Investcom Myanmar. Founded in 2000, Shwe Byain Phyu has a long history of working with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Limited according to corporate data reviewed by Myanmar Now, and the founder and chair, Thein Win Zaw is also a director of Mahar Yoma Public Company, part of a consortium that also has a stake in the military-owned telecoms operator Mytel.

Amid all these, another investigation by Myanmar Now on February 7 revealed that Telenor has been fulfilling multiple requests from the junta for sensitive user data since the coup. The junta-controlled Ministry of Transport and Communications has made about 200 requests to Telenor since the coup for call records, call locations and the last known location of a number, the source said. The Norwegian-owned telecom giant also shut down specific mobile numbers at the junta’s request. There were said to be more than 200 requests, possibly affecting thousands of Telenor customers. A Myanmar citizen also filed a complaint with the Norwegian Data Protection Authority against Telenor Group on February 7 in an attempt to stop the sale of Telenor Myanmar as it risks a potentially dangerous breach of privacy, the law firm representing the plaintiff, SANDS said. The complaint to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority asks it to investigate and ensure the sale will not infringe on the data rights of those affected. 

On the political front, the Acting president of the National Unity Government, Duwa Lashi La sent an open letter to the prime minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre on February 10 to prevent the Telenor Myanmar sales to a junta-linked company. The letter said Norway’s government should use its position as Telenor’s majority shareholder to place a request for the decision to sell to be reversed or deferred as the sale will see the sensitive personal data of its more than 18 million subscribers being handed over to the military-linked organization.

Arbitrary Arrests, Violence, and Killings

On February 2, three civilians in Alone Township, Yangon were abducted following an explosion in Mytel’s office. And six apartments in the building where the explosion took place that belong to the family members of the detainees were sealed and declared as state’s own. Those who lived there were only given two hours to move out.

On February 3, two youths in Insein Township of Yangon were shot and killed during a raid near a Chin Church. Also in Kyimyindaing Township, Ko Myo Win Than who was suspected and abducted by junta’s forces for an explosion was killed during interrogation. In Kyaukse Town of Mandalay Region, Ko Phyo Thiha Zin, a prominent social worker aka the founder of We Love Kyaukse was found dead on the early morning of February 5. He was reported abducted the previous night and tortured to death. The dead bodies of Ko Phyo Thiha Zin and two others including a NLD youth member were dumped in Myoshaung Road. The corpses had bullet holes as well as sword wounds.  

Around 10am on February 9, Ko Kaung Htet Paing who showed three-finger salute towards a military truck was shot and killed on the spot in North Dagon Township of Yangon. The 27-year-old man who lost a job due to the coup was getting off from a bus together with his mother when he spotted the army vehicle and rushed towards it to show his protest gesture. His body was not returned to the family. Two civilians from Loikaw Township of Karenni (Kayah) State were burned to death on February 10. The victims have not been identified yet but according to local sources; they were security workers from a factory. 

On the early morning of February 10, junta’s forces stormed into the villages of Mingin Township in Sagaing Region and set 300 houses on fire. At least 120 households from Mauttat Village and 130 from Muthar Village were turned into ashes including a building from village monastery. The residents of both villages had already fled to safety hence no casualty was reported. Taze Township’s Pechaung Village with at least 180 households was also set ablaze on February 9 and February 10, looting properties and forcing all the villagers to flee.

Two protest leaders and two freelance journalists have been abducted and tortured since February 9 in Mandalay City. The victims are Ko Thura Aung (protest leader), Ko Phoe Lone @ Ko Ye Zin Htun (protest leader), Ko Soe Lin Aung (freelance journalist) and Ko Hla Myo Aung (freelance journalist), all of whom were arrested during a raid of a house in Maharaungmyay Township. As of February 13, about 60 journalists/reporters have been abducted by Min Aung Hlaing’s regime according to Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Even before that coup, Myanmar was ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index. 

Attacks on Junta’s Lackeys and Properties

On February 10 evening, the Dalan/military informer Myint Soe was attacked with a sword by a resistance clan named Black Hawk Force Myinmu-BHFM in Myinmu Township of Sagaing Region. He was immediately killed. 

On the morning of February 11, junta-appointed ward administrator Aung Khine Win from Mandalay Region was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in Mahlaing Township, Meikhtila District. Similarly, another ward administrator Phay Win from Pindaya Township of Shan Region was shot and killed on the spot on Pindaya-Ywarngan Road in the evening. On the same day, Win Khet from Sagaing Region with the administrative position was also found dead with bullet wounds. 

On February 11 around noon, a dalan/military informer Zaw oo from Bago Region was shot and killed in his home in Okpo Township. A 19-year-old youth who happened to be at the location also met the same fate although he was the target. Okpo Commando claimed responsibility for the attack and left a letter asking for forgiveness from the family about the loss of the young man. On February 12, Ko Pauk Si, a notorious military informer was shot five times around noon in Mandalay’s Chanmyatharsi Township. And in the afternoon, the electricity supply staff from Taungoo Town who had been cutting off people’s power supply for the lack of payment were shot and killed in Bago Region. 

Armed Resistance

More than 89 skirmishes were reported across the country since February 1, 2022. Most of those took place in Sagaing Region. On February 10, a detonation blast by Shwebo Defense Force (SBDF) destroyed two military trucks and killed 20 soldiers while a similar attack in Khin-U Township saw four deaths of junta’s troops. On the same day, joint local resistance forces carried out an ambush against SAC’s soldiers and Pyu Saw Htee members in the Kyanthar Village of Kalay Township. The 3-hour-long battle resulted in at least 15 deaths on the junta’s side. Moreover, an army outpost in Tada-U Township of Mandalay Region was attacked on the morning of February 11 in which three of junta’s policemen were killed.  Likewise, five SAC soldiers were killed during a bomb explosion on a railway road of Kyaikhto Township, Mon State. An encounter between junta’s troops and local resistance forces on the Salween River also resulted in seven deaths and injured at least ten from junta’s side on February 11. Over 570 regime’s soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the month. 

While the armed resistance has accelerated, the guerrilla protests have also been going strong. Over 30 flash mobs were reported in the media during the same period. 

Skirmishes by Region
Non-Violent Movement vs Armed Resistance

Others: COVID 4th Wave

COVID-19 cases with Omicron variant were detected at the end of 2021 via the arrivals coming into the country. Throughout January 2022, the Omicron cases gradually began to rise, and about 72 local transmission cases were detected in Sagaing Region on January 28, according to a report from the junta-controlled Ministry of Health. Over the course of February, COVID-19 cases began to increase with the first week of February only seeing around 300-500 cases, but on February 8, the cases jumped over 1100 and about 350 cases with Omicron variant were detected as of then.

Just six months ago, the country went through a devastating third wave with the Delta variant, and health experts who spoke to Frontier Myanmar are warning that the Omicron wave could threaten the already-overwhelmed health system. Even though the Omicron variant is reported to be less deadly than the Delta variant, Omicron still posed a serious threat as barely half of the adult population is vaccinated and most only have received Chinese-made vaccines which are less effective against the super spreader Omicron.

Sources: Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now, BBC, DVB TV News, Frontier Myanmar

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