Myanmar Round Up : December 2020
Dr Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

The election controversies continued to prevail in December 2020. Over 240 complaints were filed with the Union Election Commission (UEC)concerning 08 November general elections. To build a peaceful and federal Myanmar, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) stated its intention to begin meetings with various ethnic political parties. The 08 December meeting between the government and Myanmar military aka Tatmadaw leaders to review agreements signed in fourth Panglong Peace Conference further raised the hopes for resumption of the peace process. The Rakhine state also witnessed progress in the peace process, with an unofficial ceasefire since the elections. The Tatmadaw on 30 December denied reinforcing troops in Rakhine state amid reports by civilians of a build-up of soldiers, and said that its talks with the Arakan Army (AA) are underway to prevent further clashes in the region. India further engaged with Myanmar economically, diplomatically and militarily. However, India also raised concerns due to delays in India-Myanmar connectivity projects. Other international developments, such as China creating fence along Myanmar border, the United States pledging its support to Myanmar’s democratic transition and publication of reports exposing corruption in military deals are discussed in the article below.

Election-Related Controversies

The NLD has filed a complaint with the UEC against Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) Chairman, U Than Htay, who won a Lower House seat from Zayarthiri Township. The NLD accused him of soliciting votes on racial and religious grounds ahead of the general election.1 On the other side, Tatmadaw stated that it found a total of 74,306 irregularities on voter lists, including multiple appearances by individuals, and the inclusion of underage persons and non-National Registration Card (NRC) holders.2 Thereby, more than 100 Tatmadaw supporters led a demonstration in Yangon on 28 December to take action against UEC and demanded a formation of the election investigation committee. The Tatmadaw moves to review the electoral process has been widely criticised as “irrelevant”, and Election sub-commissioners rejected the accusation as “exaggerated” and “absurd”.3

Ethnic Armed Organisations and the Peace Process

The NLD issued statements calling on 48 ethnic political parties, taking a step towards its stated plan to include ethnic minorities to build a democratic federal union. The NLD Executive Committee decided to start the meetings with Kachin state, followed by Mon state.4 On 29 December, the NLD called for the immediate release of three former NLD candidates who were abducted by the AA on 14 October during the election campaign period.

On 30 December, Tatmadaw spokesperson, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, claimed that there were 12 engagements between Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups and seven among combined ethnic armed groups from 25 November to 23 December2020. Clashes occurred with many EAOs such as Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), KIA, RCSS/SSA, and others.5 In early December, armed clashes also occurred between Tatmadaw and Karen National Union (KNU) as the former encroached in their territory, forcing more than 3000 villagers to flee. Later, more than 10,000 ethnic Karens staged a protest demanding the withdrawal of the military soldiers, suspension of military construction work and closure of a local army base. Though the KNU is an NCA signatory, clashes occurred between KNU and the Tatmadaw in 2020. EAOs are fighting among themselves also. On 05 December, clashes were reported between the RCSS and the SSPP in Thibaw Township, and on 07 December, between RCSS and TNLA in Namatu Township.6

Few positive developments took place in the Rakhine state, as the Tatmadaw and AA met near Pangshang, Wa state on 10 December. The AA spokesperson confirmed that the meeting centred around restoring peace and conduct of elections to ensure a bilateral ceasefire. However, there was no representation from the side of the government. On 30 December, the Tatmadaw stated that it is not reinforcing troops in Rakhine state amid reports by civilians, and said that its talks with AA are underway to prevent further clashes.7

On 46th Arakan State Day (15 December), the President called the UEC to organise state elections in Rakhine state. Military Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing also sent a message to the ceremony to mark the Rakhine State Day. Japan’s special envoy to Myanmar, Yohei Sasakawa, travelled to Rakhine state to meet with political parties in areas where voting was suspended during the election.8 However, the ruling NLD didn’t seem to be optimistic about the developments.

India’s Engagements with Myanmar

In a significant cooperation between the two countries, on 27 December, Myanmar signed an agreement with Serum Institute of India to procure COVID-19 vaccine.9 On 25 December, in a major success for the collaborative effort of the Indian Army and the Myanmar Army, along with Assam Rifles, the ex-leader of NSCN Khaplang-Yung Aung (K-YA), Starson Lamkang and 52 other cadres surrendered. Following the Indian Army Chief’s visit, and subsequent discussions with Myanmar Army, led to the breakup of NSCN K-YA.10

Myanmar was part of the recently concluded 6th Business Conclave on 03-04 December by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) with Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV countries). The conclave theme was “Building Bridges for Constructive Development”, and Indian Commerce and Industry Minister, Piyush Goyal invited the CLMV countries to join the International Solar Alliance and the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative by India. In addition to further promote cooperation with the CLMV countries, a Project Development Fund, with a corpus of INR 500 crores to help incentivise Indian private sector companies to set up manufacturing facilities in the region has been proposed. 11

Despite positive engagements, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has stated that the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project is under threat due to “adverse security conditions”. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs expressed displeasure on the slow progress of the KMMTTP. The report tabled stated that the threat due to the presence of insurgent groups and the financial crisis faced by the construction companies has led to construction delays. Earlier, the Intelligence Bureau had alerted the Indian government about the supply of weapons from China to the AA, posing a threat to the project, and setting up camps bordering the Mizoram in India. On the other hand, Ko Tin Oo, Managing Director, Arakan Rivers Network, stated that it is necessary to communicate the benefits of KMMTTP, the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) to the public as a whole. The speaker of the Arakan State Parliament, U San Kyaw Hla, met the Consul General of the Indian Consulate in Sittwe, Gautam Kumar Pandey, on 30 November and discussed timely implementation of the Kaladan project. The continued influx of Rohingyas refugees to India has remained a threat to internal security. This month, thirteen Rohingya refugees, including six children, were arrested from Assam's Karimganj district. 12

China Interventions in Myanmar

The controversial Shwe Kokko new city project got a push with surveys being conducted to grant town status to Shwe Kokko Myaing village. The work on the project started in 2017, which led to criticism over its lack of transparency, land confiscations, the influx of Chinese money, suspected illicit activity and concerns about casino’s social impact. Both Myanmar’s military and government have asked for a suspension of the project after the construction scale far exceeded the proposal submitted to the investment authorities.13

Intending to prevent illegal border crossings, China started constructing a fence along the Myanmar land boundary in Shan state in October 2020. The project is slated for completion in October 2022. But the project has drawn criticism from local and military officials in Myanmar who say China did not consult with them before beginning construction, and is in violation of 1961 treaty that banned any construction within 10 meters on either side of the border.14 In addition to this, Chinese investors are reportedly building a new town near Panghsang Wa State, administered by Wa authorities. And China’s indirect support to ethnic groups, especially the UWSA, gives China leverage to negotiate with Myanmar authorities in its favour.15

Other International Developments

The United States pledged to continue its support for Myanmar’s democratic transition, and discussed cooperation for Rakhine state’s development, and creating a better environment for the Rohingya. In a teleconference on 17 December, the outgoing deputy US Secretary of State, Stephen Biegun, with Myanmar’s International Cooperation Minister, U Kyaw Tin praised the 08 November general election. The year 2020 marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Cambodia and Myanmar. Recently, Cambodia and Myanmar praised their military cooperation and vowed to foster collaboration for their mutual interest.

However, the Myanmar military is under black clouds again. Justice for Myanmar report, “Nodes of Corruption, Lines of Abuse” exposed the Myanmar military’s corruption and its international business networks. The organisation published data from Myanmar Ministry of Defence budget documents for 2016-17 to 2020-21. In addition, it also published files related to the proposed purchase of two Airbus CASA C-295s, and the VIP conversion of an Airbus A319-112. The documents detail a massive amount of spending without parliamentary oversight and the military’s failure to disclose the bulk of their business income. It also provided documents to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international consortium of investigative journalists. OCCRP confirmed Myanmar military intention to procure equipment made by European companies and Airbus planes from Jordan’s air force. The attempt to acquire European-made equipment is in apparent violation of EU sanctions and embargoes.16 Justice for Myanmar report also accused Mytel, Myanmar’s newest mobile operator for providing the military with vast off-budget revenue and a means to access international communications technology. 17


Despite an unofficial ceasefire between the Tatmadaw and AA, the former has failed to include AA in extension of unilateral ceasefire for another month. However, International Crises Group (ICG) has stated that an informal ceasefire could provide an opportunity to curb fighting and has suggested further recommendations to build the trust among the three stakeholders- the military, civilian government, and AA which is currently missing. For example, the NLD government should help ensure that elections take place in at least some locations in order to improve prospects for a ceasefire; the Tatmadaw should drop its investigation into the integrity of the November election, and to provide further credibility to its commitment to support the polls; the AA should release the three NLD candidates it abducted in mid-October. And most importantly, the government could remove the group from its list of terrorist organisation to support peace negotiations.18 Earlier, the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which includes the AA, had urged the Myanmar government to withdraw its declaration of AA as a terrorist group and unlawful association to build trust in the country’s peace process. It is essential to restore peace and stability in the country, to build Myanmar economically and socially.

  2. On 30 November, Tatmadaw launched a review of the electoral process in 218 townships where military personnel and their family members cast votes, to determine whether the election was conducted as per the law.
  4. he talks will focus on implementing the Panglong Agreement promises, an abortive 1947 pact under which the Myanmar government granted Kachin, Shan, and Chin states full autonomy in internal administration in principle. The Arakan National Party (ANP), and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), are two of the other parties that have not responded to the NLD, as they demand self-determination.
  6. The RCSS has signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) together with nine other EAOs. The TNLA and the SSPP are the members of the FPNCC formed with seven EAOs, who have not signed the NCA.The FPNCC members are the United Wa State Army (UWSP), Kachin Independence Army (KIO), the SSPP, the MNDAA (Kokant), the NDAA (Mongla) and the PSLF/TNLA and the ULA/AA.
  10. NSCN (K-YA) is the only Naga Faction that has not observed a ceasefire with the security forces and is not part of the ongoing peace Talks. NSCN (K), a major Naga Insurgent Group with Myanmar and Indian cadres led by Khaplang abrogated the ceasefire with GoI in 2015.
  17. Myanmar and Vietnam military holding companies own Mytel. Viettel, a telecom company owned by Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense, controls 49 percent of Mytel shares, Myanmar private companies own a 23-percent stake, and Star High Company Ltd., a subsidiary of military owned conglomerate Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEC), controls the remaining shares.
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