South East Asia Report: Mid July to Mid August
This report includes a review of the incidents and trends that have taken place in the first half of August, and will additionally include a retrospective look at the events that took place in the second half of July, as a report was not published at that time.
July 15th â 31st: The second half of July in Myanmar has seen continued clashes between the Myanmar Army and the Taâang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in Shan State, in the east bordering China. The continued violence in Shan State has led China to position hundreds of troops on the border with Myanmar to ensure that any spillover across the border does not become a security risk for themselves. In Rakhine State, in western Myanmar, incidents have continued to take place from kidnappings to killings of government informants by alleged Rohingya insurgents. At the end of the month, the military found a hideout in the Mayu Mountains believed to be a base of operations for insurgents. Significant in the second half of July were two incidents of weapons trafficking. On July 19th, 20 Thai-made riffles and 2 German-made AK-47s, and 20 magazines were seized from a car in Thazi district, Mandalay. 2 people were arrested in the bust. A day later, two homes were raided in Loikaw leading to the recovery of ammunition, drugs, cash, detonators, grenades, and gunpowder. According to the police investigation, the guns were meant to be sold in Kale Township on the Indo-Burma border. Myanmar continues to be a source country for drugs being sent to Thailand, while being both a source and recipient country for weapons.
Incidents in Myanmar â 15th Jul â 31st Jul 2017
August 1st â 15th: In the first half of August, civilians continue to be forced to flee their homes due to clashes in Shan State between the TNLA and the Myanmar Army. Clashes have been less frequent in the first half of this month than in previous months, possibly due to the rainy season taking place. An ambush on August 5th by unidentified gunmen against a military convoy in Mantong township, led to the closure of the township for several days by the army. The townshipâs entry and exit points were reopened on August 10th. In Rakhine State, the killing of 6 members of a Buddhist ethnic minority near the town of Maungdaw by suspected Rohingya insurgents, has led to increased security measures taking place. An army battalion deployed to Maungdaw on Thursday August 10th to undertake security operations in the Mayu Mountains and protect civilians. Tensions remain very high, which could lead to an even bigger increase in incidents in the next few weeks. Elsewhere in Myanmar, authorities dismantled a drug factory 7km from the Thai border across from Mae Sai, Thailand. Police seized 30 million ya ba (methamphetamine based) pills, 4 sacks of ecstasy, 8kg of heroin, and 500g of crystal methamphetamine. Four people were arrested during the raid on the drug factory. The location of the drug factory is significant in that it is near one of the largest transit points of drugs into Thailand from Myanmar.
Incidents in Myanmar â 1st Aug â 15th Aug 2017
July 15th - 31st: Most incidents reported in Cambodia in the second of July revolved around criminal incidents, particularly related to drugs and thefts. Several thefts have taken place in the capital Phnom Penh, particularly of mobile phones. Most incidents occur when men on motorcycles drive near unsuspected tourists or locals who are on their phones, snatch the phone, and then flee. Regarding drugs, the government has continued its own War on Drugs, like the Philippines but less violent, which has led to several arrests across the country of drug users and dealers. More serious drug arrests were made on the 17th and 23rd of July, when two individuals from Laos were arrested for smuggling 1kg and 5kg of methamphetamine respectively in the northeast of the country. Finally, the last significant incident in Cambodia for the second half of July was the arrest of 3 Cambodians in Battambang province for their involvement in weapons smuggling to Thailand. The men had earlier sold 3 mortars to men in Thailand. The men in Thailand were arrested before they could move the weapons towards Myanmar.
Incidents in Cambodia â 15th Jul â 31st Jul 2017
August 1st â 15th: Most incidents recorded in the first half of August in Cambodia have dealt with illegal logging and thefts. Authorities have continued to undertake security operations in various wildlife sanctuaries across the country where illegal loggers have cut luxury timber. On August 9th, two cars were stopped at the OâYadav international checkpoint before being able to smuggle the timber to Vietnam. The cars were carrying 560kg of rosewood and 1,052kg of thnong timber, and the drivers managed to escape. On the same day, 2 men were arrested in Stung Treng for attempting to smuggle luxury wood to Vietnam. Locals in Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary have also told authorities that despite their efforts, illegal logging has continued in the sanctuary. In Phnom Penh, several incidents of thefts have continued to be reported, particularly of cell phones and motorbikes. Elsewhere in Phnom Penh, two fainting incidents in factories have also taken place in the capital. On August 3rd, a worker died at the Yakjin factory after fainting and hitting her head on a sewing table, while on August 7th, 52 workers fainted at the New Orient factory and were taken to the hospital. These were the 4th and 5th fainting incidents at factories in Cambodia that have been recorded since the beginning of 2017. Finally, on August 11th, Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened Laos with military action if the latter did not withdraw its troops from a disputed area in Stung Treng Province. The next day, after a meeting in Vientiane between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, both sides reached an agreement for Laotian soldiers to withdraw from the shared border area. The dispute had been ongoing since February, and for now has avoided any military escalation.
Incidents in Cambodia â 1st Aug â 15th Aug 2017
July 15th- 31st: The bulk of the incidents in the Philippines in the second half of July continued to be in relation to President Duterteâs War on Drugs. Most drug related shootings, by vigilantes or by police during drug busts, have taken place in Manila and Cebu City. Besides day-to-day crime being committed in the large urban centers of the Philippines, the second half of July has seen a surge in incidents related to the New Peopleâs Army. Another breakdown in peace negotiations with the government, in part due to the imposition of Martial Law in Mindanao has led to the NPA to increase attacks against government forces. Ambushes, attacks with improvised explosive devices, and arson continue to be the primary methods of operations of the group.
Incidents committed by the NPA â July 15th - 31st 2017
Elsewhere in Mindanao where armed groups operate, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 7 individuals in Maluso, Basilan, but all of them were killed before the end of the month, with several beheaded. On the 15th of July, the group kidnapped 6 construction workers from the Kawmpang Elementary School Sports Complex in Bangkal, Patikul. Finally, in Marawi City, government soldiers are continuing to slowly make ground on Maute Group positions, but continue to be faced with sniper fire and IED detonations from rigged buildings that need to be cleared one by one. The Maute Group has been in control of parts of the city since May 23rd when they took the city by assault in the evening.
Incidents in the first half of August have continued to be primarily drug related, particularly in relation to arrests, shootings, and murders. Of significance was the seizure of 604kg of methamphetamine, locally known as Shabu, in an abandoned townhouse in Sampaloc, Manila. The drugs were found in several crates containing metal cylinders. Police are investigating the find to see if there is any links to a seizure made in May in Valenzuela, Manila of P6.4 billion worth of drugs. In northern Philippines, in Santa Ana, Cagayan, a woman was arrested and a Belgian citizen is wanted, for weapons trafficking. The arrest came after 5 weapons, including two 5.56 Cal baby Armalite rifles, and several hundred rounds of ammunition were seized in a van. Finally, on Friday August 11th, the Governor of Pampanga Province declared a state of calamity for the province due to a bird flu outbreak in 6 poultry farms in San Luis town. The declaration has been followed up with the killing of tens of thousands of birds, with the expectation that that number will rise in the coming days.
In Mindanao, the fighting between Maute Group fighters and government forces in Marawi City is close to reaching 3 full months of fighting, and while officials believe that there are only 40-60 insurgents left in the city, they also say it will take weeks longer before the city is completely cleared. Some hostages who managed to escape the mosque in which they were being held, have said that insurgents are building IEDs to strap to the remaining hostages they have, if their position is surrounded. This likely means that a high number of civilian casualties, and potentially soldiers, will be seen in the last stages of the conflict. Elsewhere, in Maguindanao, members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have commenced security operations against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. The operations have been coordinated with police and the military, and has led to the deaths of dozens of BIFF members. Several members of MILF have been killed in the fighting, most notably on August 6th, when 5 MILF fighters were killed by a landmine explosion in Datu Saudi. In Sulu and Basilan, operations by the Army against the Abu Sayyaf Group has put pressure on them, allowing for the 6 construction workers kidnapped in July to escape. Two of those workers had escaped the day of the kidnapping, 3 escaped on August 11th, and the last man was able to flee the group on August 13th.
Incidents related the NPA, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Maute Group, and Abu Sayyaf â Aug 1st â 15th 2017
South China Sea
July 15th â August 15th: While most of the worldâs focus in Asia has been turned towards the actions of North Korea recently, tensions in the South China Sea continue to be high. In the second half of July, China had bombers and surveillance planes fly through the Bashi Channel and the Miyako Strait, south and north of Taiwan respectively. Three more flights near Taiwan were made in the first half of August. In an effort to push back on Chinaâs moves in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navyâs U.S.S. John S. McCain, a destroyer, conducted a freedom of navigation exercise on August 10th. The ship sailed 12 miles from Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands where China has built artificial islands. The move was denounced by China as a âprovocationâ on the part of the U.S. Also this month, the U.S. Navy made port calls at the Cam Ranh International Port in Vietnam on the 8th, and in Teluk Seppangar, Sabah, Malaysia on the 14th. These can be seen as moves to reassure the U.S. allies in the region of its presence, and a show of power towards China. While China and the United States are the two biggest players in the South China Sea, the Defense Minister of the United Kingdom in the second half of July made an announcement that the U.K. would look to conduct a freedom of navigation exercise in 2018 in the South China Sea. This is a decision that will likely upset China, and continued observation will be made to see if any economic impact takes place between the two because of it.
In the second half of July, tensions between Vietnam and China in the Sea also rose significantly after China threatened Vietnam with military repercussions in the Spratly Islands, if Vietnam did not end energy exploration operations. A Vietnamese company acting as a subsidiary of a larger Spanish energy firm had begun gas-drilling operation in the area in early July, but has since been ordered to stop by Vietnam. This threat plays a significant role in the future of energy exploration in the South China Sea, particularly as other countries had said they had plan to resume operations. The Philippines, earlier in July, had said they would consider resuming oil and gas drilling in the Reed Bank. Such a move could lead to a higher level of tension between China and its neighbors.
Incidents in the and around the South China Sea â July 15th â August 15th 2017
Finally, on August 6th, 2017, the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China met and agreed upon a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea. The three-step process includes:
The announcement of the adoption of the processConvening a meeting at the end of August to discuss the modalities for the negotiations regarding the code of conductThe announcement of the start of the code of conduct negotiation by ASEAN leaders and China
China has said that the third step is dependent upon the situation in the South China Sea at the time and its stability. The words used were âIf there is no major disruption from outside partiesâ. This likely refers to if there is any activity from the United States within the sea regarding freedom of navigation exercises. While this is only an agreement of a framework to start negotiations, it is nonetheless a step forward in the relations of ASEAN powers and China regarding the South China Sea dispute.