Weekly Update: 096

by mohingamatters

Folks, there’ve been these protests against junta chief Min Aung Hlaing. Some think it’s a shady move to set him up for a presidential gig, but others reckon it’s just people in the military getting fed up with his leadership. Either way, any protest in Myanmar without arrests or beatings is considered a bit fishy. Let’s not get too caught up. What really deserves attention are the stories from various prisons across the country. Women in Maubin Prison are facing serious harassment and humiliation, and there’ve been two political prisoners who died in Mon State in less than a week due to lack of proper medical treatment. On top of that, 28 political prisoners have been stuck in solitary confinement in Kalay Prison for almost two years. 

Internal Politics

  • Six brigadier generals from Laukkai replaced

Following the surrender of Laukkai Regional Operation Command, six brigadier generals who led the Laukkai ROC were transported to Lashio on January 6, and they have been detained in Northeastern Regional Command. They were then transferred to Naypyitaw on January 7, and kept their detention. Sources close to Irrawaddy News said that while Deputy army chief Soe Win agreed to surrender the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing ordered them to continue fighting, and this further created the divide between two leaders. On January 12, news circulated that the military tribunal plans to prosecute the six brigadier generals, and on January 19, appointments of new generals to replace these six generals were announced. A CDM captain speculated that dismissals will likely take place due to the announcement of the replacements. 

  • Wa territory expands although the EAO reiterates its neutral position

As part of Operation 2017, the Three Brotherhood Alliance sieged Hopang and Panglong towns in Northern Shan State on January 5. After the surrender of the regime’s forces, the Three Brotherhood Alliance handed control of these towns to the United Wa State Army (UWSA) by holding a celebration of power transfer at Hopang Town Hall on January 10. Hopang and Panglong regions were initially ruled by Shan saophas (kings) but the region was controlled by the military government when a peace treaty was signed between then-military government and ethnic armed group in 1989. Even though the 2008 Constitution grants self-administration to the Hopang region, the central government continues to control the region. This power transfer on January 10 marked that Wa leaders regained control of these regions for the first time in 34 years. Due to their close relationship, many questioned if UWSA officially joined Operation 1027. On January 16, UWSA issued a statement and reiterated that the ethnic group remained neutral in the current political landscape. 

  • Protest against junta chief in military stronghold Pyin Oo Lwin

On January 16, military supporters including ultranationalist Ma-Ba-Tha monks staged a protest calling junta chief Min Aung Hlaing to resign and to be replaced with deputy chief Soe Win in Pyin Oo Lwin. The town in Mandalay Region is the home of Defence Services Academy and is usually filled with military cadets and officers. The protest was led by a second generation of Ma-Ba-Tha monks, and protesters demand coup leader Min Aung Hlaing to leave the military and to take a minister position in the government. Speakers and supporters also showed their support to deputy army chief Soe Win and said that he was a better fit and a real soldier. On January 17, regime-controlled newspapers covered the news about the protest but excluded the demand of removal of the junta chief. 

  • Four-day CDM Congress to be held

On January 15, the working committee announced that the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) Congress will be held from January 20 to 23. The Congress will be chaired by CDM professors, representatives from labor organizations, chairperson of Pa-O National Federal Council Khun Myint Tun, Dr Zaw Wai Soe and Dr Thein Oo from the National Unity Government (NUG). According to the working committee, the CDM Congress is organized with five principles: to end the military dictatorship; to build a federal democratic union; to strengthen the consolidation of CDMers and to reflect the voices of CDMers; to guarantee the freedom of CDMers; and to rebuild a new civil service system that is fair and dignified. The committee was formed with 25 representatives from different entities on 3 November 2023. According to the NUG, more than 300,000 civil servants have joined CDM. 

International Affairs

  • ASEAN’s new special envoy visited Myanmar

ASEAN, currently chaired by Laos, appointed a veteran diplomat Alounkeo Kittikhoun as a special envoy for Myanmar according to Thai PBS news on January 7. The news said that he took this position on January 1 ahead of the first Ministerial Meeting of the year which is scheduled to be held on January 28 and 29 in Laos. Mr. Kittikhoun was a diplomat to the United Nations for more than 20 years and also served as deputy foreign minister. The 73-year-old diplomat visited Myanmar and held a meeting with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on January 10. He also held a meeting with representatives from seven ethnic armed groups that had signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the military council. 

  • Over 2.6 million people displaced at the end of 2023: UN reports

On January 12, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) issued a new update, stating that more than 2.6 million people in Myanmar have been displaced from their homes by the end of 2023. The report specified that an estimated 628,000 people have been displaced due to intensified clashes that broke out in late October. It also highlighted that humanitarian workers face restrictions from the junta, and that more than 142 aid workers faced arrests and detentions between January and November 2023. UNOCHA estimated that 18.6 million people are in need of assistance in 2024. It flagged the underfunding for humanitarian assistance as the fighting continued which resulted in more demand for aid. 

  • Thailand in agreement with the regime to provide humanitarian aid

Thailand has agreed with the military council to provide humanitarian aid for displaced people according to Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Parnpree Bahiddha Nukara. He said this during the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland according to Bangkok Post’s coverage on January 18. Mr. Nukara said that the agreement was made with the regime-appointed Foreign Minister U Than Swe although he did not provide further details. He explained that the cooperation is the first initiation, and the Red Cross associations from both countries will conduct implementation activities. The foreign minister also added that a coordination team will be formed at the end of January. He also encouraged other ASEAN member countries to actively participate in Myanmar affairs, and suggested other countries such as Japan, the United States, South Korea, Australia and EU countries should also partake in the effort to bring peace to Myanmar. 

  • Burmese arms broker fined for cash smuggling in Singapore

Burmese arms broker Kyaw Min Oo who has been sanctioned by the US faces charges for attempting to leave Singapore without declaring over SGD 500,000 in cash. The founder of Sky Aviator Co. Ltd. was detained at Singapore Changi Airport with two other accomplices who splitted the substantial amounts of cash and carried in their respective luggage. They knowingly exceeded the SGD 20,000 limit but failed to report it. The offense carries a maximum three-year jail term and/or a fine up to SGD 50,000. Kyaw Min Oo, who is an affiliate of the Myanmar military, worked for crony U Tay Za previously, and his company Sky Aviator facilitated the military’s purchase of spare parts for fighter jets and aircrafts from Russia and Ukraine. He was fined $10,000 while his associates were fined $5,000 each. 

Business Matters

  • Beach tourism enterprises faced financial woes

Businesses in Pathein Township of Ayeyarwaddy Region particularly at Chaungthar and Ngwe Saung beaches, grappled with financial woes due to the lack of tourists except on extended holidays. While weekends saw an influx of hundreds to thousands of visitors, other days witnessed minimal tourist activity. The decline in tourism has led to reduced revenue, impacting electricity bills, fuel costs, and employee salaries for beach-based enterprises. Business owners lamented the rising prices of commodities and expressed difficulties in sustaining operations. Previously vibrant tourist spots, Chaungtha and Ngwe Saung beaches now face economic challenges, affecting various sectors dependent on beach tourism.

  • Aungbarlay Lottery sales in Yangon surge 

Sales of the Aungbarlay Lottery in Yangon, which had dwindled post-coup, are resurging with tickets priced at MMK 1,200 each. The upturn began in December, leading to increased retail prices, as reported by Aungbarlay Lottery wholesalers. Wholesale stores have experienced a surge in sales, surpassing 10,000 lottery tickets in the first half of the month, compared to 5,000 tickets last November. Despite a boycott by many, lottery outlets affiliated with the military council actively promoting sales. Calls for continued public boycott of Aungbarlay Lottery persisted since the sales of tickets contributed to funding of the military regime. 

  • Border exports experience significant drop, losing hundreds of millions in value

The military council reports a significant drop in border exports, attributing it to resistance forces’ siege of trade routes with neighboring countries. From April to December 2023, border trade terminals witnessed over USD 4.1 billion in exports which was a decrease from the $4.5 billion in the same period in 2022. Myanmar’s trade with China, India, Thailand, and Bangladesh has been impacted with reduced exports of agricultural, livestock, and aquatic products. The disruption in trade routes, controlled by the Three Brotherhood Alliance in Northern Shan State, poses challenges for promoting trade, leading to potential economic losses and a rise in smuggling. The junta leader Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged economic sanctions, emphasizing reliance on export earnings.

  • Up to 7 CMP factories closed at the end of 2023

In December 2023, labor activists reported the closure of approximately seven Cut, Make & Package (CMP) factories, including garment facilities, with additional factories temporarily halted. The lack of orders, electricity shortages, fuel shortage, raw material difficulties, and labor problems lead to these closures. Notable shutdowns include garment and shoe factories, raising concerns about unresolved wage and compensation issues. The post-coup economic challenges have led to violations of labor rights, factory closures, and a shift in workers seeking employment abroad. The decline in Myanmar’s garment industry, which used to be a significant income generator and job opportunity, amplifies unemployment and poverty risks as major brands phased out and terminated their businesses in Myanmar due to the human rights violations committed by the military junta.

Humanitarian Crisis

  • Malaysia arrested 1,000 undocumented Myanmar workers in crackdown

According to labor aid groups in Malaysia, over 1,000 Myanmar nationals have been detained since December in a crackdown on undocumented workers. Operated by various groups, including the Malaysian Immigration Department, the Oprazy operation has led to the arrest of thousands of Burmese workers following complaints from Malaysian citizens. Throughout December, the operation targeted 2 or 3 places daily, primarily focusing on overstayers. While the specific locations are undisclosed, around 1,000 arrests have been reported, with the majority occurring in Kuala Lumpur.

  • Fire destroyed Rohinya refugee homes in Cox’s bazar

A fire broke out in the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on January 7, resulting in the complete destruction of approximately 85 houses, as reported by residents. The fire originated in refugee camp No. 5 around 1 am while residents were asleep. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that more than 85,000 houses were entirely razed to the ground, leaving over 7,000 refugees without shelter. The devastating incident also affected mosques, schools, clinics, and over 120 buildings, including toilets, showers, and solar panels used for power lines.

  • 700,000 people displaced in Karen State since the coup

The Karen National Union (KNU) reported that over 700,000 people have been displaced across its-controlled seven districts in Karen State since the military coup in 2021. The Karen Peace Support Network highlighted that heavy weapons and airstrikes, resulting in casualties among villagers, compelled many to leave their homes. It also emphasized the impact of nighttime attacks on sleeping civilians, causing deaths and injuries. The largest number of displaced individuals, exceeding 248,000, is in the area controlled by the KNU Brigade 3 in Nyaung Lay Pin District. The second-largest group, with over 149,000 refugees, is in Dupalaya District, Thai-Myanmar border where people fleeing the conflict have sought refuge in Thailand. Despite more than two years passing, some internally displaced persons (IDPs) near the Thaungyin River remain unable to return home. The challenges faced by over 700,000 war refugees extend beyond basic needs, encompassing issues such as education for children and healthcare for the elderly.

  • Refugees in Karenni State struggled to find stable income

Amidst the ongoing armed conflict in Karenni State, hundreds of thousands of residents are grappling with survival as they flee the war-torn areas. While some parts of Loikaw, the state capital, are controlled by the Karenni joint forces, the junta’s forces continue to employ heavy weapons and airstrikes. This has led to the displacement of at least 30,000 war refugees, who have sought shelter in Hsi Hseng Township in southern Shan State. As the number of war refugees increases daily and with limited external aid, their ability to sustain themselves becomes increasingly challenging. These refugees are forced to engage in various day jobs in the new areas while some also set up convenience stores and local food shops.

Attacks on the Junta’s Lackeys & Assets

  • Drone attacks took place in Sagaing & Magway regions

A regime checkpoint and a ward administration office in Pale Township, Sagaing Region and a police station, and a village in Magway Region were targeted with drone attacks. On January 15, two bombs injured three regime soldiers at the ward administration office and the checkpoint in Pale Town. Subsequent attacks on January 19 targeted Pakhanggyi police station and Sinchaung Village, a stronghold of the Pyu Saw Htee group, involving four bombs dropped with a drone. The collaboration included the Urban Underground Revolution Force, Yinmabin District Battalion 3, 4, 5, 6, and the Pakokku District Local Resistance Group.

  • Pyu Saw Htee leader shot dead in Shwebo tsp, Sagaing Region

On January 7, the leader of the Pyu Saw Htee group, U Htay Aung, known for causing trouble in Shwebo Township, Sagaing Division, was shot and killed by local revolutionary forces. U Htay Aung, who had aligned himself with the military and organized the Pyu Saw Htee group, was targeted by the resistance during a visit to a repair shop where his car had broken down. Previous attempts to apprehend him had failed, but this time, the local forces succeeded in eliminating him. The shooting resulted in the deaths of U Htay Aung and two others, while one person escaped, and a member of the revolutionary forces was injured. U Htay Aung, who had invested money to gain influence in the USDP party before the coup, later aligned himself with the military, causing trouble in villages after attending military training. 

  • 30 rescued from mandatory military training in Okpho tsp, Bago Region

In a successful operation on January 13, resistance forces ambushed the regime’s troops in Okpho Township, Bago’s Tharayawati District, preventing them from recruiting more than fifty local residents in Kannini Village for militia training. The rangers were able to rescue around thirty individuals, but over twenty people were still forcibly taken by the junta’s men, including villagers from Kanni and nearby Sintegone Village. Reports indicate that in Bago Division, the military is recruiting locals to form militias, with each village selecting participants through random selection, ranging from ten to fifty individuals per village.

Arbitrary Arrests, Killings and Violence

  • Regime’s forces arrested dozens of people in Khayan tsp, Yangon

Armed resistance forces reported that the military council’s army conducted raids on at least six villages in Yangon Region’s Khayan District in late December, resulting in the arrest of over 40 local residents. Approximately 60 armed troops, including militiamen known as Pyu Saw Htee, conducted the raids using five military vehicles in villages such as Ohwa, Kyinichaung, Kantha, Takawsu, Ngetpyawtaw, and Takaw villages. The military’s actions are believed to target villages suspected of harboring People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) following attacks on at least five military targets in Khayan Township between November and December. The indiscriminate arrests reportedly included suspects, elderly individuals unrelated to the operations, and even children under 10 years old, according to an official from Khayan Township Public Administration (PAA).

  • Shin Daewe, award-winning filmmaker sentenced to life imprisonment

On January 3, Shin Daewe, a prominent documentary filmmaker in Myanmar, was sentenced to life in prison by an Insein prison court in Yangon under terrorism charges. The 50-year-old filmmaker is known for works like “Now I Am 13,” which won a silver medal at the Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival. She was accused of financing and aiding terrorism, charges her family denies. They said she was only making donations to civilians in areas where the revolutionary forces were active. Shin Daewe was arrested by soldiers last October 15, 2023, after being spotted with a drone at the Aung Mingalar Express Gate. She faced torture during a week-long interrogation. 

  • Two political prisoners passed away within a week in Kyaikmaraw Prison, Mon State

Two political prisoners reportedly lost their lives within a week in Kyaikmaraw prison, Mon State, due to inadequate medical care according to an official from the Political Prisoners Network of Myanmar (PPNM). On January 16, 31-year-old Ko Pyae Phyo Aung, serving a seven-year sentence, passed away shortly after being given a shot for stomach pain by the prison doctor. Similarly, on January 12, 43-year-old Ko Rashin @ Hashin died as a result of insufficient medical treatment. Ko Pyae Phyo Aung, a CDM employee of the Insein Township Fire Brigade, Yangon, was arrested on January 3, 2022 in Hpa-an, Karen State, and sentenced to seven years under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Ko Rashin faced life imprisonment under the same act and passed away on January 12, 2023, as a result of the impact of torture endured during interrogation.

  • Female political prisoners humiliated and harassed in Maupin Prison, Ayeyarwaddy Region

Reported allegations of sexual harassment against female wardens and staff in Maupin Township prison, Ayeyarwaddy Region, have emerged, according to released political prisoners and advocates assisting those detained. The victims, primarily political prisoners, were subjected to invasive searches under the pretense of security checks upon returning from court. Forced to remove their clothes and underwear, the detainees endured groping in the genitals and anus, causing humiliation and psychological distress. The Political Prisoners Network in Myanmar (PPNM) called these actions inhumane, insulting human dignity, and a blatant violation of human rights, particularly Article 5 of the Declaration of Human Rights. These reported violations affect approximately 20 individuals held in Maupin Prison under political charges, including provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Section 505(a) of the Penal Code.

  • Political prisoners kept in solitary confinement for almost two years in Kalay Prison, Sagaing Region

Political Prisoners Network in Myanmar (PPNM) has reported that 28 political prisoners, held in Sagaing’s Kalay Prison, have been locked in solitary confinement for nearly two years. In March 2022, during heightened tensions between prison authorities and political detainees, the authorities accused the prisoners of attempting to break into the facility, prompting the deployment of the army and police, who opened fire and subjected the prisoners to beatings. The crackdown resulted in the death of eight political prisoners, including Comrade Salai Shalon Shan Thanlian (known as Van Damme) of the Chin National Defense Force (CNDF), along with one other inmate. The rest 28 prisoners were tortured, shackled, and locked up by the prison authorities. Despite the removal of ankle shackles on January 4, 2024, political prisoners continue to be confined to solitary cells.

  • Junta’s men burned down over 100 houses for failing to form militia in Paungde tsp, Bago Region

On January 14, the junta’s military reportedly set fire to over 100 houses in the rural area of Paungde Township, located in the western part of Bago Division. According to local revolutionaries, a 50-member column from the 66th Division arrived and burned down 33 houses in Mau Kwin village, as well as 72 houses in Taung Khamauk village. This resulted in approximately 400 people being left homeless, prompting residents to flee into nearby forests. The incident is believed to be retaliation for the villages’ refusal to cooperate in providing a list of people for the military’s militia formation efforts.

Armed Resistance

  • Four CDF officials arrested by fellow revoluntary group in Paletwa tsp, Chin State

Tensions within Chin’s revolutionary forces unfolded as four individuals associated with Chinland Defense Force-Mara (CDF-Mara), including their strategist, were reportedly arrested by the Maraland Defense Force (MDF). The incident occurred in Paletwa Township near the Myanmar-India border, where the MDF operates jointly with the Arakan Army (AA). The arrests took place in early January, with the commander and soldier detained on January 5, and negotiators attempting their release were also reportedly apprehended on January 7. The motive behind the arrests and the current condition of the four individuals remain uncertain.

  • TNLA released video of captured regime’s Brigadier General 

The TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army) released a video on their YouTube channel on January 10, featuring Brigadier General Min Min Tun, a high-ranking prisoner of war captured during “Operation 1027.” The 48-year-old former commander of Infantry Division No. 101, based in Pakokku, Magway, was arrested by the TNLA on December 15 during the battle to capture Namsan. In the video, Brigadier General Min Min Tun expressed sadness over civilian casualties and destruction caused by heavy weapons and airstrikes under his command. He claimed no intentional targeting of civilians but admitted responsibility, offering apologies to the people of Ta’ang. The video also conveyed his appeal to the regime leaders to cease war crimes. In a reassuring message to his family, he stated that TNLA is treating him well.

  • KIA shot down another fighter jet in Kutkai tsp, Shan State (North)

In the ongoing battle in Namphatka village, Kut Khaing Township, Northern Shan State, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) successfully shot down a regime jet fighter on January 16, as confirmed by a KIA spokesperson. The intense fighting, initiated by the KIA’s offensive against the Light Infantry Division 123 of the regime has been ongoing since the final week of December. This recent achievement follows the KIA’s previous success on January 3rd when they shot down a Mi-17 helicopter, resulting in the confirmed deaths of junta men onboard.

  • Civilians stuck amid intensifying clashes in Momeik, Shan State (north)

Fierce fighting is reportedly escalating in Momeik Town, Northern Shan State, where the regime’s forces have imposed blockades by closing the Momeik Bridge and city entrances and exits, as reported by residents. The offensive, led by a coalition of forces including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and All Myanmar Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), along with the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), commenced on January 18. The regime’s army council has responded with heavy weapons and at least 10 airstrikes, causing injuries to approximately six civilians, including children. As of January 19, residents are said to be attempting to break out of the city. 

  • AA captured Pauktaw Town, Rakhine State

Pauktaw, situated near the Rakhine State’s capital Sittwe, was reportedly captured by the Arakan Army (AA) on January 19, according to local residents. The conflict in the area originated from an AA attack on a police station on November 15, 2023, leading to prolonged fighting. The regime’s Air Force and Navy joined the battle on January 19, resisting the AA. By 4 pm, regime soldiers were evacuated from the town via a military vessel, with the AA capturing ten junta soldiers alive. Residents returning to Pauktaw confirmed the absence of regime soldiers, stating that the AA is currently clearing the area and restricting access for the time being. The majority of residents have reportedly been fleeing Pauktaw Town for over two months.

Sources: Myanmar Now, Khit Thit Media, The Irrawaddy, UNOCHA, DVB, RFA Burmese, VOA Burmese

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