2nd March 2021

Shops and malls are closing down in Yangon. Major centres such as Junction City, Junction Square are closed, and other members of the Junction outlets will close except for City Mart supermarkets. City Mart Myay Ni Gone and City Mart Hledan centre branches will be closed on 2nd Mar. Other branches will be closed by 4:30 pm. The major centre at Myanmar Plaza will close from today.

The economy is slowly grinding to a halt.

Beatings, shootings, pillage, and theft have continued in the country. I thought it would be good to look at what is happening beyond the borders, especially in Thailand which has 2,000,000+ migrant workers from Myanmar. They don’t want an influx of refugees and EAOs infiltrating their territory. Unlike Bangladesh and the Rohingya Thailand has more economic and military clout. With the potential refugees would come a major potential for widespread infection from the Covid-19 virus, which would be extremely damaging.

Following on from the tri-state meeting last week in Bangkok (Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia) some interesting developments are underway.

The Bangkok meeting paved the way for Tuesday’s ASEAN Special Meeting on Covid-19 and other issues called by the ASEAN chair, Brunei Darussalam. Obviously, those other issues will include the situation in Myanmar. ASEAN and dialogue countries are closely watching what will transpire at the ASEAN meeting. Washington clearly is backing the bloc’s ongoing efforts. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday sent this congratulatory message to Don thanking him for hosting the Indonesian and Burmese foreign ministers for talks: “We are grateful for your leadership in seeking a useful outcome to this crisis.”

Thailand welcomed Blinken’s statement in recognizing the country’s current attempts to keep channels of communications open with the regime despite criticism at home, particularly in the social media domain. Thailand has a huge stake in the crisis in the Western neighbour.

After the coup, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing wrote a personal letter to Prayut (Thailand’s leader) appealing for both “physical and intellectual” support. It put Thailand and him in an awkward position. After all, he was also a coup leader who has made the transition to an elected leader.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing stressed in his letter that the Tatmadaw’s motto is “People are the Parents” and pledged to adopt the “political culture of conducting the democracy transition process through negotiations and legal measures and in peace and stability”. Prayut does not want to reveal the details of the letter which painstakingly explained the Tatmadaw’s grievances against the National League of Democracy and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over the alleged election fraud and the voters’ list issue.

After the coup, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing wrote a personal letter to Prayut (Thailand’s leader) appealing for both “physical and intellectual” support. It put Thailand and him in an awkward position. After all, he was also a coup leader who has made the transition to an elected leader.

However, the violent crackdown over the weekend, which killed 18 people according to a United Nations report, could be a turning point. At the time of this writing, according to informed sources, the Prayut government is pondering whether to issue a statement to urge the regime not to use lethal force, as its predecessor did. In September 2007, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanond criticized the violent crackdown against protesters including monks and nuns, sharing his views as a Buddhist and a former military official. “As a Buddhist and as a soldier, I can say that it will be very difficult for the Burmese government to use violence to crack down on the monks. It will be against the way of life of the Buddhists,” he reiterated. One of the sources said that national interest is bigger than personal relations.

As a neighboring country sharing 2,401 kilometres of border with Myanmar, whatever Thailand is saying and planning will have both short and long term repercussions on their bilateral relations across all dimensions including social, economic, political, security aspects. At the moment, the number one priority is to ensure peace and stability in Myanmar. More than the officials would like to admit, the prospect of having a new influx of refugees crossing into Thailand for whatever reasons could be very real and devastating.

For the past two months, Thai public health officials have done their utmost to contain widespread infection among migrant workers. As of last week, the overall situation was under control both in terms of testing and tracking and the first part of the vaccine rollout started on Sunday. During the meeting with Retno (Indonesian Foreign Minister), Don emphasized this point, noting that there are 2 million Myanmar workers in Thailand, the largest population in Southeast Asia outside Myanmar.

Apart from migrant workers, there are the armed ethnic groups based along the porous Thai-Myanmar border, which have so far expressed strong support for the NLD. Luckily, these armed groups remain dormant. Any security breakdown along the border could displace thousands of minorities. The Thai Army Region 3 has tightened security along the 10 provinces sharing a border with Myanmar.

In the past 10 days, Thailand has held numerous consultations with Naypyitaw, other Asean members and key dialogue partners in an attempt to come up with a doable solution that would respect the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.

From the Thai perspective, the Tatmadaw leaders must try to restore normalcy inside the country as soon as possible. Obviously, this is easier said than done.  Since the coup, civil disobedience has intensified and spread throughout major cities in Myanmar. After two days of protests, the confrontations turned bloody and violent. The regime threatened to use any possible means to quell the demonstrations. Increased numbers of activists and demonstrators have been detained.

As the Thais see it, the security forces must halt all use of lethal forces and immediately return to softer measures such as water cannons, as the main deterrent. To reduce the current tension and external pressure, it is vital that the junta releases Prof. Sean Turnell, the detained economic adviser of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has herself been detained. The Australian is a civilian and is not involved in any political manoeuvring.

Source The Irrawaddy 2nd March 2021.

And just in case we forgot what was happening inside Myanmar, below is what has become a normal protest in Yangon.

Protest Yangon 2nd March 2021. The BFD.

The democratic pressure is warming up. And whilst in previous times the Generals wouldn’t have listened, this time more damage is being done internally to the economy. Tomorrow will be interesting, as the CDM shows no signs of abating. In Mandalay, a car with no licence plates hit a family group. One young child is reported dead and another seriously ill. The father has two broken legs. The driver was apparently one of the thugs released from prison (and who are paid 5,000 Kyat (NZ$5) a day).  Citizens have detained the driver but there are no reports of what has happened to him.

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