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

01 February marked the completion of two years of military rule in Myanmar. Though as per the 2008 Constitution, the state of emergency was due to expire by the end of January, the National Defence and Security Council concluded that the country "has not returned to normalcy yet". Thereby, Min Hlaing postponed the elections. To mark the second anniversary of the coup, the democracy activists and opposition forces staged a silent nationwide strike, and the NUG issued a statement of defiance to end the military's illegal power grab. On 12 February, the country also celebrated the 76th Anniversary of Union Day in three major cities, such as Naypyidaw, Yangon and Mandalay regions. The month witnessed the highest number of arrests since the coup and the use of airstrikes and landmines from the side of the military to break down the resistance forces. Internationally, the US, UK, Canada, EU, and Australia imposed further sanctions; but Russia and China continue to engage with the military. The month also marked the celebration of 75 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Russia and Myanmar. Indonesia, on the other hand, hosted ASEAN members for a few of the meetings without any representatives from Myanmar.

Political Developments

The National Security and Defence Council claimed that the country "has not returned to normalcy yet," and the opposition forces were trying to seize "state power by means of unrest and violence."[1] Min Hlaing also acknowledged that out of 330 townships, 198 were out of control of the military, and thereby announced an extension to its state of emergency for another six months, effectively delaying elections, which were to be conducted in August 2023. Though the Constitution states that a state of emergency can be only granted two times, the acting President claimed that due to unusual circumstances, extending it one more time of six months is suitable. And even though the elections were postponed, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) re-registered itself as a political party in addition to 12 other parties, as required by the new Political Parties Registration Law.[2]

Soon after extending the emergency, the State Administration Council (SAC) declared martial law in 37 towns of four regions and four states, namely Sagaing region, Chin state, Magway and Bago regions, Kayah state, Taninthayi region and Kayin state and Mon state. The council gave the administrative and judicial power to commanders of respective military commands to perform security and maintain the rule of law and tranquillity.[3] By the end of the month, martial law was imposed in three more townships in the Sagaing region, totalling 40 townships under direct military control.[4] In addition, SAC announced a cabinet reshuffle, wherein new appointments were made for the Chairman of the Union Civil Services Board, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and four new Chief Ministers of regions and states. A Deputy Minister and a member of the Union Election Commission (UEC) were transferred, while the State Chief Minister, three members of the UEC, a Deputy Minister and a member of the ACC were relieved of duties.[5]

Furthermore, Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal against two corruption charges. She was sentenced in October 2022 to three years in the two corruption cases that involved charges of accepting money from Maung Weik. So far, she has been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison in 19 cases. Suu Kyi’s lawyers filed an appeal in the Union Supreme Court for five cases in which Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were accused of buying and leasing a helicopter under the NLD government.

While the military has accused the opposition forces of the instability in the country, the military has increased its air and landmine attacks. To further amp up its attacks, the military imported two of the more advanced SU-30 fighter jets from Russia, in addition to long-range artillery, including mobile howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems from China. During the month, the military attacked a school, which it later justified as a legitimate target, as it claimed that the PDFs and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who it labelled as “terrorists”, were using the school building to attack its forces. According to UN figures, around 670 air attacks were carried out by the Myanmar military in 2022, which was a 12-fold increase from the 54 aerial assaults recorded in the year 2021. Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded that an estimated 31,022 people in total were killed by the military in its two years rule. Data for Myanmar adds that the military has burned down 55,484 houses since the 2021 coup until 31 January. And 80 per cent of the destroyed houses were in Sagaing Region, followed by the Magwe Region and Chin State.[6] As a result of intensified use of airstrikes, the NUG and Amnesty International, along with many other rights groups, have called for an embargo on jet fuel sales.

In addition, the use of land mines and unexploded munitions killed or wounded 390 people in 2022, an almost 40 per cent spike compared to 2021, according to UNICEF. The northern Sagaing region was the most affected. Myanmar is not a signatory to the United Nations convention that prohibits the use, stockpiling or development of anti-personnel mines. Around two-thirds of the incidents were reported in border areas where ethnic rebels have battled the army and each other for decades over autonomy and control of resources like timber, jade and the drugs trade. And almost one-fifth of the casualties were reported in the northern Sagaing Region. This area was largely peaceful before the coup but has since emerged as a hotspot of resistance to military rule. Even Amnesty International accused the military of laying land mines on a “massive scale”.[7] Apart from using airstrikes and landmines, the military is now arming civilians with its new law. The new law allows civilians “loyal to the state” to apply for licences to carry firearms.[8] This law would only escalate further violence and everyday clashes. In response, the PDFs have responded with bombings, focussed assassinations and ambushes on military convoys. For the first time, the resistance forces in the Sagaing region shot down a military helicopter.

Apart from the attacks and violence, the military sentenced 2384 people to prison terms in February alone, more than doubling the number of prisoners it sentenced since taking power in the 2021 coup to nearly 4,700, according to the statistics given by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The government is using these arrests as a tool to instill fear among the citizens. The citizens are arrested under Section 505 of the Penal code, which concerns spreading rumours or reports with the intent to cause fear or alarm among the public and the anti-terrorism law.[9]

International Developments

As the month marked the two-year anniversary of military rule and state of emergency, the US, Canada, the UK and Australia imposed sanctions on the election commission, energy and mining enterprises, among others. The US targeted six individuals, including Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) officials and three entities, i.e. Mining Enterprise No 1, Mining Enterprise No 2 and Union Election Commission. The sanctions aimed to make it difficult for the military "to acquire arms or to generate revenue" as well as restrict the military-appointed UEC.[10] However, the sanctions were not imposed on the MOGE entity itself, which was criticised by the activists.[11]

Furthermore, Chevron agreed to sell its 41 per cent stake in the Yadana gas project to Canada’s MTI Energy. In response, Justice for Myanmar claimed that Canada and UK sanctions need to sanction the MOGE entity itself as it is the major source of revenue for the military. Yadana was formerly operated by Total Energies until the French super-major pulled out in 2022, leaving its equity to be absorbed pro rata by the remaining co-venturers, that is, Chevron, PTTEP of Thailand and MOGE — and PTTEP subsequently took over operatorship.[12] Furthermore, Myanmar's opposition NUG officially opened a shadow embassy in Washington following the passage of the BURMA act in 2022. U.S. government officials were present at the opening, which signalled the state of official engagement between the US and NUG.[13]

Canada targeted six individuals and prohibited the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel. The UK also designated two companies and two individuals for helping supply Myanmar's air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns. Also, Australia announced targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against 16 individuals and two military-controlled entities. Australia has also raised deep concern over Myanmar military annulment of Turnell’s amnesty and issue of notice for him to appear in court.[14] The European Union further adopted its sixth sanctions package against the nine persons and seven entities. The latest package raises the total number of sanctioned individuals and entities to 93 and 18, respectively, in addition to the embargo on arms and military equipment and restrictions on exporting dual-use goods.[15] On the other hand, Japan announced that it would provide an additional USD 60.3 million in humanitarian assistance to Myanmar.[16] During the parliamentary budget session, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said his government would “appropriately handle” Japan’s Bago River Bridge Construction Project, being built partly by Japanese construction giant Yokogawa Bridge Corp. Human Rights Watch stated that the financial transaction of USD 2 million was sent by Yokogawa Bridge Corp. to MEC for the project from July 2022 to January 2023.[17]

Under the chairmanship of Indonesia, ASEAN hosted its first ASEAN ministerial meetings 32nd Asean Coordinating Council and Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat during the month without representatives from Myanmar. Indonesia also restricted Myanmar military council officials’ attendance at the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), though Indonesia had invited a “non-political representative” to attend the forum. With Indonesia serving as chair, ASEAN is expected to take a harder line in holding the Myanmar military accountable.[18] The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat concluded with Indonesia proposing an “implementation plan” for the five-point peace plan for Myanmar, among other issues.[19] President Joko Widodo also stated that Indonesia plans to send a general to Myanmar to demonstrate to military rulers how Indonesia successfully transitioned to democracy. Furthermore, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, during his two-day visit to Thailand, issued a strong call for ASEAN members to take new measures to pressure Myanmar's military to end "atrocities" against its own people.[20]

While the world countries are divided on how to deal with Myanmar military, Russia and Myanmar celebrated February 18 as the 75th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between Russia and Myanmar. During the month, the Nuclear Technology Information Centre opened in Yangon - which is a joint project between Rosatom and Myanmar’s Ministry of Science and Technology. The centre aims to benefit Myanmar's energy sector, industry and economy.[21] The Russia-Myanmar Friendship Association and business owners in Myanmar also signed deals for the Ngapali beach resort in Rakhine State.[22]

China-Myanmar relations also received a push with the visit of Chinese special envoy Deng Xijun to Mong La area, a border between Myanmar-China, on 20 February. This was his second trip to the nation within three months, and he met representatives of seven of Myanmar’s Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs). These are - the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). His visit aimed at cementing ties with EAOs and persuading them to reach some form of ceasefire with the regime.[23] The KIA, MNDAA and TNLA are engaged in ongoing battles against the regime, and the AA is observing a temporary ceasefire with the military. In addition, on 15 February, China's Yunnan provincial department of commerce and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) held a meeting to promote economic and trade cooperation. The Chinese delegation led by Li also met with Myanmar's Union Minister for Commerce U Aung Naing Oo and discussed matters relating to border gates reopening, policies for the flow of goods, enhancing financial cooperation and agricultural cooperation between the two countries.[24]

The instability in Myanmar is also creating unrest in India’s northeast. Following the Myanmar military’s bombing of Camp Victoria on the Indo-Myanmar border, the bulk of Myanmarese nationals have sought refuge in Mizoram. At least 50,000 refugees have crossed over into Mizoram since March 2021.[25] The movement of people has led to reporting of illegal migration and the smuggling of drugs and weapons along the borders. Governor La Ganesan, called for combating these issues. However, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana claimed that none of the Myanmarese refugees in Mizoram had been found to be involved in drugs and narcotics trafficking to date.[26]


The conflict has resulted in the killing of more than 2,900 people and arrest of more than 18,000. This has led to a widespread crisis displacing around 1.2 million people, with more than 70,000 having left the country. Further sanctions have been imposed by the US, UK, Canada, EU and Australia, but their effectiveness is still questionable. China and Russia continue to engage with the military. The current crisis can only be resolved by bringing together all stakeholders, and ASEAN's role cannot be undermined. Indonesia must make efforts to bring stronger measures so that the military engages with all the stakeholders to bring back peace and stability in the country.

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