Myanmar Round-Up: March 2023
Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

The month marked the 78th Armed Forces Day, which was celebrated with a huge show of tanks and missile launchers. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing promised to crush the opposition forces and repeatedly called them terrorist organisations. The violence in the country further escalated with the increase in airstrikes. The United Nations (UN) released a report highlighting a “perpetual human rights crisis” that has been occurring in Myanmar. During the month, the military-led Union Election Commission dissolved the National League for Democracy (NLD) and 39 other parties for their failure to re-register under the new law, which in turn is arbitrary. The country was further sanctioned by the US. On the other hand, there are reports that China has ramped up work on its BRI projects, and a Russian trade delegation visited the country to enhance business relationship. India faced a further influx of refugees due to increasing number of attacks across the border and a consequent increase in drug trafficking.

Domestic and Political Situation

At the Armed Forces Day, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing vowed to crack down on opponents and stated that elections would be held once resistance was overcome.[1] Last month, the military announced a six-month extension of a two-year state of emergency and postponed elections that it had promised to hold by August because it did not control enough of the country for a vote to take place. The occasion was attended by officials from Russia and China, representatives from India and seven ASEAN members.[2] While on the one hand, the military claimed to hold the elections, and on the other hand, the military dissolved Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and 39 other political parties over their failure to register for the next general election.[3] Following the dissolution of the NLD party, the US, the UK, Japan, and Australia expressed their concerns.[4]

During the month, the military intensified aerial attacks on resistance forces’ hideouts and against civilian targets. According to Myanmar Witness, the military launched airstrikes in 10 out of 14 administrative divisions on an almost daily basis.[5] In one of the incidents in the upper Tamu district, which is close to the India-Myanmar border, the villagers across the Indian side heard the sound of the exchange of fires and fled to Kwatha Khunjaoda for their safety.[6] By increasing violence, the military is creating fear among the opponents, which has also resulted in slowing down defections. A report by Al Jazeera found that the defections from the military slowed down since the high numbers in 2021. One of the defector groups, People’s Embrace, said that in 2021, around 3,000 soldiers and 7,000 police officers deserted the military, but the numbers have since declined. The military, on the other hand, is also giving incentives to stay in addition to regular pay and serve the military interests.[7] Apart from Facebook, the Telegram chat platform is now under attack as the military is using it to spread its content. Rights experts have warned Telegram to monitor content more carefully. In response, Telegram blocked 13 pro-military social media accounts.[8]

Human Rights Reports

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the Myanmar military’s violent attacks from 01 February 2022 up to 31 January 2023. It stated that the military carried out at least 670 air attacks in 2022, 12 times more than the 54 recorded in 2021. The attacks were concentrated in northwestern and southeastern Myanmar, with at least 2,940 people dead and entire villages being bombed along with schools and clinics. The military also cut off supplies and food to rebel armies.[9] Amnesty International, Global Witness and Burma Campaign UK reported concerns about the procurement of aviation fuel by the military because airstrikes have killed and maimed civilians and forced thousands from their homes. They identified companies in Greece, India, Japan and Switzerland that have been involved in fuel shipments.[10] In response, Myanmar’s military slammed the UN's human rights chief for making "irrelevant" remarks and blamed the opposition/terrorist groups for killing more than 5,000 civilians.[11]

Another publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, named Atrocity Alert, highlighted that in the two years since Myanmar’s military launched a coup, they perpetrated a scorched earth campaign in an effort to crush the opposition. One of the most utilised tactics by the military is the systematic and widespread burning of villages, as a result of which nearly 39,000 houses have been burnt or destroyed in military operations since February 2022, marking a more than 1,000-fold increase compared to 2021. Both reports highlighted that the military’s continued access to aviation fuel has, in part, facilitated the commission of these indiscriminate airstrikes.[12] In this background, the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced additional humanitarian assistance of over USD 60 million to Myanmar through international organisations such as UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and the AHA Centre.[13]

International Developments

On 13 March, UN Security Council met to discuss the UN's Special Envoy for Myanmar report, which documented on the slow progress of reforms by the country's ruling military powers. Despite the adoption of the December 2022 resolution, the military leadership has not shown any inclination in moving towards reforms. The discussion concluded by stating that the UNSC should build on its December 2022 resolution on Myanmar by adopting tangible measures to hold the military accountable for ongoing abuses. [14] Even the members of QUAD countries, in their Foreign Ministers meeting in New Delhi, released a joint statement strongly emphasising the importance of maintaining peace, stability, and prosperity in the country. They also reaffirmed their consistent support to the ASEAN-led efforts, including the work of the ASEAN chair and office of the Special Envoy, and they called for the implementation of ASEAN’s five-point consensus.[15]

The US placed three more sanctions against Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications and surveillance firms Fisca Security and Communication Co and Naung Yoe Technologies Co Ltd.[16] To date, the United States has imposed sanctions on 80 individuals and more than 30 entities in Myanmar. While on the one hand, the Western nations are imposing sanctions, the Russian trade delegation from Fund RC-Investments, an investment platform of the Roscongress Foundation, met Min Aung Hlaing for the second time in four months in Nay Pyi Taw (the last was held in November 2022). The delegation also held separate meetings with six regime ministers, including communications and transport, natural resources and environmental conservation, hotels and tourism, planning and finance, investment and foreign economic relations and cooperatives and rural development. The two sides discussed trade and investments and Russian assistance for research on environmental conservation, production of value-added forestry products, and survey for the feasibility of electric vehicles and subway systems in Myanmar.[17]

Furthermore, there are reports that Chinese state company is quietly resuming their work on a railway line which is part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). The railway is being developed by the state-run Myanmar Railways and the China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEG), which will connect Muse to Kyaukphyu in two phases. [18] Furthermore, the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) group of seven ethnic outfits released a statement welcoming China’s involvement in ending domestic conflicts happening in Myanmar, though details of how China is helping were not shared. Additionally, the Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai, met with the Home Affairs Minister of Myanmar, Lieutenant General Soe Htut and discussed enhancing cooperation in cracking down on cross-border crimes, including internet fraud and gambling. The talks came after police from the two sides recently cooperated in successfully rescuing four Chinese college students who were lured to Myanmar under cyber fraud. There are also reports that officials from China, Myanmar and Thailand held a conference in Bangkok over the issue of human trafficking.[19]

Finally, in a major turn of events, a 17-member delegation visited the Cox’s Bazaar district from 15-22 March to carry out the refugees’ “verification” to start the repatriation process of Rohingyas. The officials interviewed 449 Rohingya from 149 families in the Teknaf camps for “verification” for the pilot repatriation process.[20] However, Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about the repatriation process after interviewing 15 Rohingya. The Rohingyas accused that they were not informed in advance about the meeting, and they consistently said that they wanted to go home, but only when their security, access to land and livelihoods, freedom of movement, and citizenship rights could be ensured. In early March, Myanmar military officials took several diplomats to Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township to visit the Nga Khu Ya reception centre and Hla Poe Kaung transit camp. The camps are built on Rohingya land to process and house returnees and are surrounded by barbed-wire perimeter fences and security outposts.[21]

India-Myanmar Engagements

As the violence in Myanmar continues to rise, there has been a fresh influx of refugees in north-eastern India. The arrivals, mostly from Chin state, continue to take refuge in Mizoram. The Mizoram home department says 30,385 Myanmar nationals, including 10,013 females and 11,650 children, have taken shelter in the state.[22] Apart from Mizoram, Manipur has also witnessed an influx of refugees. The movement of refugees has also led to rising cases of narcotics trafficking. During the month, numerous incidents of state police seizing drugs were recorded in both Manipur and Mizoram. The accused were booked under sections of the Narcotics Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act).[23]

There were also reports that an Indian state-owned arms manufacturer shipped artillery barrels to military-ruled Myanmar. Justice for Myanmar claimed that the barrels supplied to the Myanmar military were used against its own civilians. In October, state-owned arms manufacturer Yantra India Limited sent 20 gun barrels of 122 MM Artillery gun to Myanmar according to data obtained by Justice for Myanmar. However, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has defended New Delhi's ties with the junta, saying India cannot avoid dealing with its neighbour because of cross-border issues such as organised crime. In January, Norway's sovereign wealth fund said it had divested its shares in Indian state-owned company Bharat Electronics over an "unacceptable risk" that it was selling weapons to the Myanmar junta.[24]


Given the prevailing conditions in the country, Noeleen Heyzer said that “the impact of the military takeover on the country and its people has been devastating.” Since the extension of the state of emergency, the military has intensified the use of force and committed numerous airstrikes targeting opposition groups. This has resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the country, with 17.6 million people in need of assistance, more than 1.6 million internally displaced, and an estimated 55,000 civilian buildings destroyed.[25] The neighbouring countries are witnessing a fresh influx of refugees as a result of an increase in violence, and consequently, incidents of drugs and human trafficking have increased. There are calls for an immediate cessation of violence, but the two sides continue to inflict attacks on each other. It is important that the military starts negotiations with the key stakeholders, as the continued violence is only going to push the country into a further economic, social and humanitarian crisis.

Endnotes :

[1]Armed Forces Day — marks the anniversary of the start of a 1945 uprising of a ragtag army against occupying Japanese forces.

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