The Weekend Briefing: Monday, June 26, 2022

The Weekend Briefing: Monday, June 26, 2022

FROM THE DVB NEWSROOM

Army begins land clearance operations to protect China’s Wanbao copper mine following PDF attack. A civilian was killed when Burma army troops led arson attacks and opened fire on villages in Sagaing’s Salingyi township in response to a June 21 PDF attack on the Myanmar Wanbao copper mining project. Military arson attacks, which began at 6 a.m. yesterday morning, are said to have cleared the villages of Taw Kyaung and Ywar Thit. Locals say that soldiers had detained around 40 civilians and looted homes of valuables in raids on June 23, releasing some the next day. 

Local defense forces had attacked Salingyi Myoma police station in Yinmarbin district with heavy artillery around 2 a.m. on Thursday. “They started shooting in the early morning. The number of artillery shells fired was massive. There might have been casualties, but I did not dare to watch as it was dark and I might have gotten caught,” a resident of Salingyi told DVB. A local PDF claimed responsibility for the attack. “Yes, we fired 11 rounds of artillery at the station. We have been informed that at least five military personnel were killed,” a member of the group said. According to locals, around 80 soldiers raided villages near Letpadaung in Salingyi township on June 20 and torched 30 houses in North Moegyo Pyin village and killed two villagers. On June 22, PDFs twice attacked security forces stationed at a Wanbao Mining Ltd. mining site in Salingyi township, according to local sources. Bo Wunna, the leader of A Mi Myay Special Task Force, told DVB that the attacks occurred at 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Seven out of the rockets fired by the local defense force detonated at the military’s encampment during the morning attack. The group also fired at five soldiers who were guarding the Chinese company’s compound. The exact casualties from the attack are still unknown. The A Mi Myay Special Task Force claimed it attacked the site as the company was allowing the military to use its compound as a base and had helped produce ammunition. 

Troops stationed at the Wanbao compound have long been reported to be killing civilians and committing arson attacks against homes in the region. Myanmar Wanbao Mining Ltd. is a joint venture between the military’s MEHL and the Chinese government and runs a major copper mine in Letpadaung. Troops are said by local sources to be leading offensives against 12 villages near to Letpadaung. | BURMESE

Outrage as Suu Kyi moved to “15×15” cell. International organizations expressed concern over the situation of ousted State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi after the junta confirmed that she had been transferred to solitary confinement in Naypyidaw Prison. Various outlets, including Khit Thit Media, claimed that Suu Kyi is now being held in a 15 by 15 foot cell, and has been denied access to a domestic helper and her dog, Taichito, who had reportedly accompanied her since her arrest on Feb. 1, 2021. Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said Suu Kyi had been moved from house arrest at an undisclosed location on June 22, and that future trial hearings would take place in a specially constructed unit of Naypyidaw Prison. The AFP quoted a source close to the leader who claimed that Suu Kyi had been in good spirits since the transfer. A spokesperson for UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said the UN was concerned about Suu Kyi. “What we are seeing is the Myanmar junta moving towards a much more punitive phase, towards Aung San Suu Kyi. They are obviously trying to intimidate her and her supporters,” said Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW). The UN Special Rapporteur on Burma, Tom Andrews, on June 23 called on ASEAN to apply more pressure on the military regime, saying that ASEAN’s attempts to negotiate with the junta had been in vain. “Nothing has moved, and since nothing has moved, more people are being killed and more people are being forced to flee the country,” he said. The junta again rejected the Special Rapporteur’s demand that the INGO meet with Suu Kyi. | BURMESE

NYT publishes call for MOGE sanctions. Burmese democracy activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi called on the United States to sanction the military’s oil company Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in a piece published by the New York Times yesterday. She drew attention to MOGE being the junta’s primary generator of foreign exchange, providing the regime with up to US$1.5 billion a year. The EU has sanctioned the state-owned energy provider, but the US has yet to do so — a “simple act”, the NYT piece argues, and something the Biden administration unreservedly imposed against Russian firms following the invasion of Ukraine. In recent correspondence with DVB English, US energy giant Chevron, which earlier this year signaled its intent to exit Burma’s Yadana gas field project, said it still planned to divest of its interests. However, activists believe that lobbying by the firm may be the driving force behind the US’s inaction on the matter and worry about mounting tax payments that Chevron will likely transfer directly to the MOGE. Sanctioning the MOGE would be a massive blow to the military’s ability to finance the regime and wage war; “but as long as the gas revenue flows, so will the blood of Myanmar’s people,” Thinzar Shunlei Yi argued. Thai O&G companies have so far purchased all shares in military-owned offshore projects offloaded by exiting foreign firms. Thailand’s state energy provider, PTTEP, has said it will take operational control of the Yadana gas field following the exit of France’s TotalEnergies.

Rakhine teachers held by troops after return from captivity in Bangladesh. Two abducted teachers from Maungdaw township were escorted by military personnel to be reunited with their families on June 24, according to Rakhine media outlet Western News. Bangladesh border police transported the pair to Burma through the Taung Pyo Lat We Border Friendship Bridge on June 23. The teachers are now believed to be being questioned by security forces in Kyee Kan Pyin camp, education officials said. “Bangladeshi authorities handed them over last night. They are now being interrogated by border guard police and the army at Kyee Kan Pyin camp. It is not yet known when they will be handed over to their parents,” an education official spoke on condition of anonymity. The two were released after their kidnappers were given K1,041 (US$56,000) and were questioned by the Rapid Action Battalion, a branch of the Bangladeshi police force. Officers from Teknaf Police Station in Bangladesh are interrogating two residents of Nga Khu Ya village who allegedly took the two teachers to Chan Chaung village along with another man who sheltered them at his home. | BURMESE

Burmese tourists to Thailand have good trip. Burmese tourists have taken part in a cannabis tour of Thailand, which on June 9 became the first Asian country to legalize the moderate use and possession of the psychotropic substance. The trip, which ran from June 24 to 25, allowed tourists to sample a variety of cannabis products and tour plantations in Thailand’s northern Mae Hong Son Province, which borders Shan State. The tour, arranged by the Director Go travel agency, costs THB9,999 and includes travel from the capital Bangkok. Hemp, a plant of the same genus as marijuana, grows naturally throughout Burma, yet the use and possession of cannabis remains outlawed within the country. Despite this, in recent years, military authorities have discussed regulating the legal farming of the plant within ethnic regions. A number of Burma Army military bases are known to cultivate sizeable cannabis plantations within their compounds. | BURMESE

News by Region

AYEYARWADY —A member of the Burmese navy was arrested after posting what appeared to be a celebratory message to Facebook on the morning of Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday last week, sources within the police force said. Sgt. Thant Zin Oo, from Pathein’s Maritime Police Force, had written: “Happy Birthday. To a long and healthy life”, yet deleted the sentiments a few minutes later. Pro-military militia accounts noticed the post, inciting authorities to arrest the sergeant on June 20. “After his arrest, his family was forced to move from police housing,” a police officer from Pathein told DVB. Thant Zin Oo had served in the navy before being assigned to the maritime police after the unit’s formation. | BURMESE 

BAGO —Residents of villages in Kyaukkyi township, Nyaung Lay Pin district (KNU Brigade 3 territory) have reported that threats from military troops forced them to flee their homes on Thursday evening, the KNU has announced. Led by the battalion commander of the army’s LIB 20, troops from the 20th, 124th, 439th, 350th LIBs forcibly evicted villagers, accusing them of allowing KNU members to travel within the region without reporting their presence to military officials. Inhabitants of three village tracts — approximately 8,230 people from 1,551 homes — have reportedly been requested to exit the area. Some villagers expressed their intent to stay put, yet fear violent reprisals. Others said they worried about becoming displaced with belongings during monsoon season. The military fired heavy artillery at Kyar Thay Taw (Inn Wyne Gyi) in Kyaukkyi’s Mamayan village on June 19. | BURMESE 

MON —A one-year-old infant and its schoolteacher mother were killed when the military shelled Asu Chaung village in Bilin township on the afternoon of June 23, the KNU has announced. Troops are alleged to have fired seven mortar rounds at the village, seriously wounding 25-year-old Naw Aye and her son after a shell exploded beside their home. Both died from their injuries at Bilin Hospital on Friday afternoon. The KNU accused the military of intentionally targeting civilians, saying that its troops were not operating in the region. Another woman was injured when troops from the military’s Lay Kay base deployed fired heavy artillery within Bilin on June 22. | BURMESE 

MON —The Mon National Education Committee opened the Mon National College at the Mon National Education Center on June 22 in Ye Chaung Phya, Ye township, which is in territory controlled by the New Mon State Party, according to Than Lwin Times. During the first year of the school, 260 students will complete a three-year study program and then work two years at the college to gain vocational experience. The Mon National College was established to improve the English skills of Mon people, provide international curriculum, Mon literature, and human rights.

RAKHINE —The Arakan Army (AA) arrested a Burma Army captain in the state capital of Sittwe on the afternoon of June 23, according to residents of the port town. “He was arrested near Mingan, so the military blocked traffic near the entrances of the ward to conduct inspections of passersby,” a Sittwe native said. A huge increase in military personnel has meant that the majority of Sittwe’s residents are staying indoors — troop build ups in Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U have resulted in similar situations. Hundreds of vehicles are said to have become caught in a tailback caused by intensive Burma Army  inspections of vehicles. | BURMESE

RAKHINE —The military has banned ferries, including the Shwe Pyi Tan express boat line, used by locals to commute between Sittwe and other townships starting from June 24, according to the Rakhine based news agency, the Western News. The order was given at a maritime checkpoint near Sat Yoe Kya bridge at 6 a.m. in Sittwe. The waterways civilian boats have been banned from using include routes from Sittwe to Pauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung. “We had to suspend some water routes from Sittwe to other places today. One of our boats was able to go to Taunggok however,” Saw Maw Thein, the manager of Shwe Pyi Tan Express said. According to the sources in the industry, the military said it will not allow waterways to be used until it finishes its investigations of the area. A passenger who was supposed to take a Shwe Pyi Tan express ferry from Sittwe to Mrauk-U said the military is conducting inspections of every passenger at the Shwe Pyi Tan gate.  “Most students bought tickets at Shwe Pyi Tan to go home as exams finished yesterday. I saw the military checking everyone when I bought a ticket to Mrauk-U. They are not allowing the use of the waterways now,” the source said. The military has tightened security in Sittwe and arrested some locals since yesterday evening since a naval captain and another soldier were arrested by AA in the city on June 23. The military is currently searching some wards close to Shwe Pyi Tan gate near a highway terminal in Sittwe. AA has detained Burma Army personnel and police in Sittwe, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, and Ramree in June. Junta forces carried out retaliatory arrests of residents including students across Rakhine.

SAGAING — Kale PDF has labeled state media reports claiming the defection of its members “military propaganda”, pledging that none of its members will defect, and that it will “fight to the death of the dictatorship”. The Burma army’s Northwestern Regional Command held a well-publicized handover ceremony at Kale town’s Aung San Hall to present those that it claimed were PDF members who had deserted “without committing crimes” to parents and guardians. Similar “defections” have been heavily promoted by state media since the junta announced it would provide an amnesty to PDF members who returned to public life — all of which have been denied by local defense forces. The military again promoted the claim that it had awarded deserters “certificates” and “gifts”. “We all gave up everything we owned before joining the PDF, and will never defect. We will further the revolution, accelerating the movement in Kale under the instruction of the NUG,” said Nae Thit from Kale PDF’s 1st Battalion. The defense force has advised local people to avoid the Kalay-Gangaw road due to intensifying clashes in the area. | BURMESE 

SAGAING —The Myanmar Royal Dragon Army (MRDA) said yesterday that around 70 military personnel have been killed during a month of clashes. The groups said that four major clashes and skirmishes occurred over June and that the local defense force is intensifying the severity of its attacks. The MRDA is based in Pale township yet claims it has thus far conducted operations in Kani, Botalin, Yinmarbin, Salingyi, and Myaing. The group urged residents to continue to support the resistance in Sagaing Region. The NUG’s Ministry of Defense claimed that almost 15,000 junta soldiers have been killed and around 4,800 injured in the year since the armed anti-military uprising began. Many analysts believe that the coming of monsoon provides defense forces with an opportunity to build momentum behind guerrilla attacks while facing a lower threat from military airstrikes. | BURMESE

SAGAING —Two young men and a 19-year-old woman were arrested in the town of Khamti on Wednesday, according to a local source. “There were arrested at a guest house near an Aung San statue in a ward of the town. They stayed there for a while, and they are from Monywa rather than Hkamti. The military found guns with them when they arrested them,” the source told DVB. The three youths were said to have been found with two 9mm pistols, a .22 caliber rifle, and ammunition. 20-year-old Nyi Nyi Naing, 28-year old Hein Soe Aung, and 19-year-old Aye Myint Mo were detained at a military outpost in Hkamti. | BURMESE

SAGAING —A mother and daughter from Kyaung Ywar ward in Chaung-U township were killed by artillery shells fired by junta troops stationed in Chaung-U on the night of June 23, according to locals. “The junta was firing artillery at night despite there being no fighting in the area. There were casualties when artillery shells fell on houses in Kyaung Ywar ward. Two women died on the spot,” a local said. The Chaung-U People’s Defense Force also announced that the military and Pyusawhti militiamen set fire to a hundred houses in Taw Kyaung Lay village in Chaung-U on June 14. | BURMESE

SAGAING —Sgt. Tun Lin from the Burma Army’s LID 111 Wun Tho Battalion died after being shot five times while returning to his home in Nga Pwe Gyi ward, Kawlin township, on June 22. Kawlin PDF took responsibility for the attack, saying its members raided the sergeant’s home and that he had tried to defend himself by throwing a grenade. Kawlin PDF captured ammunition, three swords, a broken pistol, and a grenade from the home. The sergeant’s own brother had been killed last February after being accused of being a military informant, locals said. | BURMESE

TANINTHARYI —PDF forces seized a cache of drugs located at a site near Min Dap village, Yay Phyu township, Dawei district at around 3 p.m. on June 24. 1,200 yaba pills, three parcels of crystal meth, seven cell phones, two axes, and K9 lakh (US$490) were confiscated during the raid, yet there was no mention made of whether related drug dealers were apprehended by the group. The local defense force claims to have destroyed the narcotics and said it will use money recovered to purchase weapons. According to local sources, gambling and drug dens have become increasingly conspicuous across Yay Phyu township since the coup. PDF had arrested a couple alleged to be distributing drugs in Maung Ma Kan village, Launglon township, on June 9. | BURMESE

YANGON —A garment factory in the Shwepyithar Industrial Zone run by Chinese-owned company GTIG Huasheng (Myanmar) is operating in violation of Article 87 of the ILO Convention, according to labor activists. The article grants workers the right of freedom of association to form unions. The factory — which has produced products for brands including Primark and PEP&CO — has allegedly outlawed unionization, instead forming what is known in Burma as a “yellow” union — a workers group controlled by a factory’s owners. “That factory is producing garments for brands like PEP&CO and Primark. Primark has already left Burma. Famous brands need to adhere to freedom of association and cannot be allowed to stop it. They should not forbid the formation of labor unions in factories and should encourage it instead. However, they are actually forming yellow unions in factories. Whether or not workers form unions is not a concern of employers. Owners are not allowed to form or destroy labor unions,” a leader of a labor union told DVB. “They forced workers to work overtime without proper payment. They even collaborated with a yellow union to cut the salaries of some workers. They have cut the salaries of workers that are part of unions formed by laborers by up to K80,000 (US$43). Workers went to the labor office to solve the issue, but the owner kept exploiting them by collaborating with labor offices in Shwepyithar township which are under the control of the military,” a garment factory worker told DVB. Garment workers also refer to GTIG Huasheng (Myanmar) under the name Kaw Htike. The company owns six factories, with over 1,000 workers employed in each. | BURMESE