Bi-weekly Update on the Current Situation in Myanmar
(18-12-2023 to 31-12-2023)
Two years and eleven months ago, on 1 February 2021, the Myanmar military launched an illegal coup, overthrowing the civilian government and unlawfully detaining State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, along with other senior government officials, parliamentarians, and activists. Since then, the military has disregarded the wishes of the Myanmar people, plunging the country into turmoil and inflicting suffering through its inhumane and disproportionate actions.
As of 29 December 2023, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the military has ruthlessly killed 4,273 individuals and arrested 25,656 others. Currently, 19,858 individuals remain in detention, with 163 people sentenced to death, including 120 post-coup death row prisoners since 1 February 2021, when the military initiated systematic and targeted attacks and violence against innocent civilians. In July 2022, the military junta unlawfully executed four democracy activists who had been sentenced to death.
Furthermore, the illegal military junta extended the so-called state of emergency on 31 July 2023, with the aim of prolonging military rule for another six months in Myanmar.
Between 1 and 29 December 2023, a total of 17 individuals became victims of the junta's brutality in Rakhine State, as reported by the AAPP. Among the deceased, 11 were men and 6 were women. Notably, the junta's artillery strikes resulted in the deaths of 8 individuals, marking the highest number of fatalities among the recorded incidents during this period.
Denial of State Counsellor's Appeal Request
On 18 December 2023, the Myanmar Supreme Court rejected the appeal of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi against her corruption conviction. The conviction accused her of receiving bribes, including gold and thousands of dollars, from Phyo Min Thein during his tenure as the Yangon Region Chief Minister when her National League for Democracy (NLD) party was in power. The State Counsellor was sentenced to five years in prison for this case, and she dismissed the statement submitted by Phyo Min Thein as "totally absurd." Normally, decisions in appeal cases take at least a month to be delivered. However, in this unusual case, the appeal was heard on 4 December 2023, and the verdict was issued just two weeks later. Initially, the State Counsellor faced a sentence of 33 years for 19 offences, but this was later reduced to 27 years on 1 August 2023. Despite her continuous appeals, she has not been successful in overturning any of her convictions so far. The courts have rejected 12 of her appeals. Five more of Aung San Suu Kyi's convictions are still subject to ongoing appeals. These include charges related to bribery during the procurement and hiring of helicopters for disaster prevention, breaking election laws, and violating the Official Secrets Act.
Serious Crimes Committed by the Military
(a) Non-discriminatory Use of Excessive Force in Civilian Areas
On 13 December 2023, the Mizzima News reported that the military junta’s air attack targeted Zayya Thukha Monastery in Namkham Town, Northern Shan State. The attack injured a young novice by shrapnel, and multiple sections of the monastery were destroyed. Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) reported that the junta’s jet fighter bombed the monastery, assuming the presence of TNLA due to escalating conflicts in the area. Currently, more than 262 displaced individuals from Namkham are seeking refuge in the damaged monastery. Additionally, the attack has resulted in an electricity power outage, posing difficulties for the displaced people in accessing drinking water. Furthermore, 14 December 2023, the military junta conducted two aerial attacks on Tonekham Village and Namhkoke Village in Muse Township. The statement mentioned that six bombs were dropped near Kaungyar Village in Muse Township by Y12 aircraft on the same day.
On 19 December 2023, in Taung Kyar Inn village, Kawkareik Wownship, Karen State, a conflict ensued between the military junta and joint resistance forces, led by Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The clash, which persisted until December 20. The heavy artillery from the junta forces destroyed a school building in Taung Kyar Inn village, tragically killing a 45-year-old woman and injuring another villager. Some residents sought refuge in the village monastery, while others relocated to safer areas. From December 1 to 20, clashes between the military junta and the joint forces of the KNLA occurred, involving artillery fire in villages and targeting the Kawkareik township area. Airstrikes were also carried out by the junta, prompting tens of thousands of residents to evacuate for their safety. During this conflict period, more than 20 residents in Kawkareik township lost their lives due to indiscriminate airstrikes and artillery attacks, according to reports from local aid organizations.
Mizzima News reported that at midnight on 24 December 2023, a woman identified as Yee Myint, aged 35, fell victim to junta artillery fire in Thanatkone Village, Matara Township, Mandalay Region. The artillery was launched by junta soldiers stationed in Kywe Chan Kone Village, Matara Township. There was no active engagement with resistance forces in the area at the time of artillery launch. Additionally, two cattle were lost, a residence in Thanatkone Village suffered damage, and three bean mills were destroyed in the ensuing fire. Kywe Chan Kone Village has hosted junta troops for approximately six weeks, during which they have frequently targeted civilians passing through the area and conducted arson attacks, according to local reports. Due to the recurrent use of artillery by the junta in Matara Township, Matara PDF has advised township residents to construct bomb shelters as a precautionary measure to enhance their safety.
On the afternoon of 25 December 2023, the junta forces, specifically LIB-337, LIB-378, and LIB-540 stationed in Mrauk-U Town, reportedly launched artillery shells targeting wards and villages populated by civilians. Tragically, one of the artillery shells detonated in Hsin Cha Seik Ward, Mrauk-U Town, killing a villager named Maung Maung Thein. According to AAPP, amid the renewed conflicts in Rakhine State, junta forces engaged in widespread arbitrary arrests of civilians and launched assaults on civilian areas using heavy weaponry from both their army and navy. These actions occurred indiscriminately, taking place during active clashes or even in the absence of ongoing confrontations, resulting in civilian casualties. A significant number of residents were compelled to evacuate for their safety.
(b) Torching Villages in Bago and Magway as a Form of Collective Punishment
Irrawaddy News reported that in Nattalin Township, Bago Region, military junta troops conducted raids on at least five villages in Bago Mountain Range Forest from 19 to 24 December 2023 . The Nattalin People’s Defense Force (PDF) reported that approximately 100 junta troops burned houses, tents, and food stores of displaced people during the operation. Around 14 displaced individuals were arrested, with four being released and seven found dead. The bodies, discovered near Nyaung Lay Pin village, showed signs of extreme brutality, including hacked-off legs and hands. The victims, aged between 30 to 50 years old, were killed as a result of the junta's actions. The Nattalin PDF condemned the junta's brutality and called on the population to resist such atrocities. In a subsequent incident, junta troops burned more houses in three villages in Nattalin. The ongoing clashes in Bago region have intensified, with the military junta imposing martial law in several townships, including Nattalin, last February.
On 20 December 2023, the Myanmar military reportedly perpetrated an egregious act by setting fire to Hnamsikan Village in southern Myaing Township, Magway Region. The deliberate arson attacks destroyed more than 30 houses, forcing over 200 residents to flee for their safety. A contingent of over 100 junta soldiers and members of militia Pyu Saw Htee, descended upon Hnamsikan Village at 7 am, instigating the incendiary attack. According to a resident, the military unit, accompanied by Pyu Saw Htee militias, had been causing disturbances in the area. Initially, they ignited houses on the outskirts of the village before advancing further and continuing their arson spree. Residents began fleeing when the soldiers started setting fire to houses outside the village. Reports indicate that over 30 houses were razed, prompting the majority of villagers to evacuate. The military contingent responsible for the arson originated from Pakokku Township and collaborated with Pyu Saw Htee militias from Twinma Village, Myaing Township, to assault Hnamsikan Village. As of 21 December 2023, some military units involved in the attack had not vacated the devastated Hnamsikan Village, preventing displaced residents from returning to their homes. Fearing the ongoing military presence, residents sought sanctuary in neighbouring villages such as Twinmapyu, Thasi, and the Aingyin Village monastery, all located in Myaing Township.
(c ) Intentionally Targeting Civilian Areas
According to Irrawaddy News, Major Khaing Thant Moe, a 43-year-old pilot from the military junta’s Air Force, captured last month after his fighter jet crashed during a clash in Karenni (Kayah) State, has admitted that the military has conducted airstrikes on civilian targets such as hospitals, schools, and IDP camps. In a video issued by the Interim Executive Council of Karenni State, Khainig Thant Moe revealed that his air force colleagues had carried out airstrikes on hospitals and schools in Hpruso and Demoso Townships in Karenni (Kayah) State. He mentioned that IDP camps in Hpruso Township were also targeted, identifying the pilots involved as Myo Thu and Major Naing Lin Aung. Khaing Thant Moe. He admitted to conducting about 40 airstrikes in Myitkyina and Karenni State. The Myanmar Air Force has been widely criticized for its campaign of airstrikes that have resulted in deaths of hundreds of civilians since the 2021 coup. This marks a significant development as Khaing Thant Moe is the first active-duty junta pilot to be arrested by resistance forces. In the video, he expressed willingness to accept punishment and apologized to the families of victims who were killed in the airstrikes he conducted. However, families of the victims have expressed anger, stating that he should not be allowed to return to his own family after causing such destruction. The military continues to focus airstrikes on civilian targets in various regions, including northern Shan State and areas with active resistance. On Tuesday, six military fighter jets dropped bombs on civilians' houses in Sagaing Region's Tigyaing Township. Casualties from the airstrike are still unknown.
(d) Utilizing Detainees as Involuntary Human Shields
Prisoners within Loikaw Prison, situated in Loikaw Township, Karenni (Kayah) State, are reportedly enduring severe hardships and, alarmingly, may be subjected to use as human shields by the junta, as indicated by statements from the Political Prisoners Network-Myanmar and the Karenni Political Prisoner Association (KPPA). Local reports suggest that junta troops have erected barriers on roads leading to and from Loikaw Township, resorting to gunfire against individuals attempting to pass through the area and exploiting political prisoners from Loikaw Prison as human shields. The statement further disclosed that prison authorities have fortified Loikaw Prison and are purportedly subjecting prisoners to mistreatment while utilizing them as human shields for their own protection. This distressing situation exacerbates the already dire circumstances faced by the prisoners. Recent updates from the Political Prisoners Network and the KPPA indicate a further deterioration in the situation for prisoners at Loikaw Prison. The prisoners are reportedly confronted with an escalating scarcity of healthcare and food, necessitating urgent assistance.
The Capitulation of Military Forces in Shan State
Irrawaddy News reported that troops from the 55th Light Infantry Division (LID) of the military junta, stationed in Laukkai, the capital of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northern Shan State, have surrendered to Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), as confirmed by military analysts with reliable sources on the ground. Video clips circulating on social media and eyewitness accounts indicate that three battalions, comprising approximately 180 soldiers, from the 55th LID deployed around Laukkai have surrendered to the MNDAA. Previously led by Bai, a former MNDAA deputy commander who defected to the Myanmar military in 2009, the 55th LID's surrender marks a significant development. A viral TikTok video depicts MNDAA members distributing snacks to roughly 70 men clad in junta military uniforms, purportedly prisoners of war from the 55th LID and Border Guard Force (BGF). Another video showcases injured individuals in junta military uniform alongside MNDAA members. The Brotherhood Alliance, including the MNDAA, has seized several towns and numerous junta bases in northern Shan State since launching Operation 1027 offensive in October 2023. Despite ongoing fighting in Laukkai, with junta forces conducting 49 airstrikes on the town between December 18 and 24, resulting in civilian casualties, specific details remain elusive.
Activities of the National Unity Government
The Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Human Rights of the National Unity Government, U Aung Kyaw Moe participated in a dialogue titled "The Perspective on Durable Solutions to The Challenges of Rohingya's Plight" held at Montclair State University in New Jersey, USA, concerning the Rohingya issue, on 13 December 2023. The dialogue was led by the Ontario International Development Agency Canada, and Mr. Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, also participated in the dialogue.
The Deputy Minister for Human Rights of the National Unity Government, U Khun Bahan Htan reported to the public via a video file that the Ministry of Human Rights of the National Unity Government - NUG had documented the clear evidence of the terrorist military junta's violations of human rights in November 2023. This report, which was posted on the ministry's website and social media platforms, stated that regarding the crimes committed by the terrorist military junta in the states and regions, the types of cases, the serious violations, and a separate record of the human rights violations the terrorist military junta had committed since the beginning of the 1027 operation by the Three Brotherhood Alliances and joint forces. The report also included information about the condition of timely delivery to international countries via a video file.
On 15 December 2023, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the NUG, U Moe Zaw Oo, and Deputy Minister for Human Rights of the NUG, U Aung Kyaw Moe met the officials from the US led by Allison Laura Peters, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and other officials from the Office of Assistance for East, South, and Central Asia Bureau of the Department of Population, Refugees and Migration; the Office of Global Criminal Justice; the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The meeting discussed the current situation in Myanmar highlighting refugees fleeing from war, humanitarian aid, and the issue of Rohingya refugees.
In a public announcement on 20 December 2023, the National Unity Government (NUG) commended the resilience of Myanmar workers abroad who are steadfastly opposing the terrorist military council. It is stated that due to the enthusiastic civil disobedience of Burmese migrant workers, the foreign currency income for the terrorist Military Council has significantly decreased, which has led to a crisis in order to execute their terrorist acts. The strong resistance demonstrated by these workers against the illegitimate military dictatorship, resulted in a drastic drop in foreign exchange earnings flowing into Myanmar-down to a tenth of the previously recorded average amount. The NUG expressed its deepest gratitude to these migrant Myanmar workers for their passionate efforts in stifling the Myanmar Military Council's revenue channels.
During the 39th Cabinet meeting of the National Unity Government (NUG) on 19 December 2023, Acting President Duwa Lashi La emphasized the intrinsic link between the success of different ethnic groups' revolutionary efforts and the overall success of the Spring Revolution. He called for comprehensive support from various sectors in the military offensives of allied Ethnic Resistance Organizations (EROs). "The Three Brotherhood Alliance has been expanding its military offensive and has notably achieved multiple victories." stated the Acting President. "We must recognize that the success of ethnic groups' revolutions is intertwined with the success of the Spring Revolution. Therefore, it is crucial to provide all possible support to our allied EROs in their military offensives." The Acting President also highlighted that pursuing the path of armed resistance does not imply advancing the revolution without rules and responsibilities. He stressed the importance of adhering to a proper code of conduct for a just war, emphasizing the protection of the nation's citizens. The Acting President affirmed that the NUG would never steer the revolution towards a path without principles.
During the meeting with officials from the Ministry of Communications, Information, and Technology and CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement) staff on 16 December 2023, Prime Minister Mahn Winn Khaing Than urged everyone to remain vigilant. Despite the Military Council's weakening on multiple fronts, it still possesses the capability to conduct effective investigations through its communication network. The Prime Minister noted that while the Myanmar military is losing strength and unable to provide reinforcements in the field, it can still carry out airstrikes across the country. He emphasized that people can only be safe from these attacks by receiving timely and accurate news and information. He urged for preparations in areas where fighting may intensify. Furthermore, the Prime Minister highlighted the junta's actions in cutting off phone and internet services. He called for all necessary preparations to be made in advance to overcome these disruptions.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management announced on 22 December 2023 that it has distributed MMK 64,496,750 (approximately US$30,720.5 worth of food aid from international donations to five conflict affected villages in Kawlin District and one village affected by a natural disaster. The aid, provided at a rate of MMK 18,250 (approximately $8.69) per person and MMK 8,000 (approximately $3.81) per household, benefited 3,211 individuals from 721 households in the six mentioned villages. The ministry highlighted its col- laboration with public administrative bodies and humanitarian officers in Kawlin Township to ensure that aid, both domestic and international, reaches timely to those who truly need it.
On 24 December 2023, the National Unity Government's Ministry of Commerce issued a notification 1/2023, officially dissolving the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), along with its constitution. The notification prohibits the use or withdrawal of the federation's assets and finances. According to the notification, the UMFCCI, an economic institution supposed to prioritize the interests of the people, has been found to provide financial assistance and cooperate with the terrorist military council, violating human rights, committing war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, as well as violating workers' rights. The notification also warns that any businessperson or staff continuing to be involved with the UMFCCI, utilizing its assets and finances, or working under its name will be labelled as a supporter of the terrorist military council and will be prosecuted in accordance with existing counter-terrorism laws.
Actions and Remarks by the International Community in Response to the Military Coup d’état
The United Nations will continue to recognize Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun as Myanmar's representative to the UN, according to a resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 2023. The UN Credentials Committee, responsible for approving diplomatic representatives of member states, proposed postponing consideration of the credentials for the representatives of Myanmar and Afghanistan, a proposal adopted without a vote. Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun was appointed before the Myanmar military ousted the National League for Democracy government on February 1, 2021. Following the coup, he rejected the military takeover and expressed support for the civilian National Unity Government (NUG). Despite attempts by the military junta to remove him and charges of high treason, Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun has refused to leave his position and remains a key critic of the junta, advocating for international action to end the atrocities committed by the military junta.
At a daily press briefing on 18 December 2023, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said in Myanmar, we and our humanitarian partners today published the 2024 Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan for that country. The Plan paints a grim picture of the humanitarian situation in Myanmar, nearly three years after the military takeover. A third of the population — that is about 18.6 million men, women and children — needs humanitarian assistance. That is a million more people than last year and almost 19 times the number of people who required assistance before the military takeover three years ago. Children are bearing the brunt of the crisis. Some 6 million of them need aid due to displacement, interrupted health care and education, food insecurity, as well as malnutrition. Many of them are also facing protection risks, including forced recruitment and mental distress. The economic situation is placing families in increasing financial distress. Interruptions to agriculture, as well as rapid inflation, are making it increasingly difficult for people to access and to afford adequate food, raising the spectre of malnutrition. The health system is in crisis and millions are without safe shelter or drinking water. Women, girls, people with disabilities and stateless Rohingya people are among those impacted the most by this dangerous environment. In the face of soaring needs, humanitarians have prioritized 5.3 million people for urgent assistance in 2024 and for that, we will need $994 million.
The Phonom Penh Post reported that the US and Cambodian officials have discussed a pathway to a solution to the Myanmar crisis in an effort to reinstate the path to democracy, as the rising issues in the country appeared to be ongoing. The US Department of State deputy assistant secretary Melissa Brown met with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sok Chenda Sophea and Sun Chanthol, deputy prime minister and first vice-president of the Council of the Development of Cambodia (CDC), on 14 December 2023. In response to a question from the Post regarding the Myanmar crisis, Brown said it is a very complex situation in Myanmar, and it will require many different countries, many different organisations to resolve. She added that it will take ASEAN and the UN, as well as individual countries, to take action and restore the path to democracy. She added that we can share information about some of our concerns, for instance, on cybercrime and some of the increasing news coming out of Myanmar that there are more of those instances and trafficking in persons as well. So, there’s really a lot to discuss when it comes to Myanmar.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported on 12 December 2023 that Myanmar has surpassed Afghanistan to become the world's largest producer of opium following the Taliban's declaration that opium cultivation and drug production are illegal. Opium production in Burma surged by 36 % this year, reaching 1,080 tons, the highest level since 2001.
The human rights group, Amnesty International on 21 December 2023 accused the Burmese military of indiscriminate killings, detaining civilians, and using air-dropped cluster munitions in response to an insurgency in the northeast and west, and demanded an investigation into war crimes. Fighting has been raging in the northern part of Shan state since the Three Brotherhood Alliance launched a coordinated offensive on Oct. 27. A little more than two weeks later, the Arakan Army also attacked outposts in its home state of Rakhine in the west. In its report, Amnesty International said it had documented a nighttime airstrike by the military on Namhkam township in Shan in early December, most likely using cluster munitions that are internationally banned. Cluster munitions open in the air, releasing smaller "bomblets" across a wide area. Amnesty International said civilians and civilian sites were indiscriminately attacked by the military in Rakhine’s Pauktaw township. The report said the army’s attacks on civilians and the use of banned cluster munitions "should be investigated as war crimes."
Date: 31 December 2023
Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York