Myanmar: Monthly Intelligence Report for August 2018
Date: 24 September 2018
Monitoring Period: 00:00 hours, 01 AUG 2018 to 23:59 hours, 07 SEP 2018 (GMT+8)
This Intelligence Summary Report (INTSUM) on Myanmar is intended to analyse what has been happening within the country in terms of threats which are tracked by Intelligence Fusion; those being threats of Direct Weapons, Suicide/Complex Attacks, Indirect Weapons, Air, Maritime, Grenades, Protests, Criminality, Hazards and Other. This report aims to provide an overview of what has been happening in Myanmar overall, outline the significant activities which have been occurring and provide analysis in terms of the following Intelligence requirements:
- What threats exist in Myanmar?
- How do these threats continue to exist?
- What are the issues behind these threats?
- What significant events will affect the country’s situation and threats?
The main threats which are present in Myanmar are incidents of Direct Weapons that occur from clashes between Ethnic Armed Groups as well as the Hazard threats created by the current monsoon conditions across Myanmar. These two threats are POSSIBLY the main two indicators to look for when it comes to identifying any change in the status quo.
As this is the first major report on Myanmar for quite some time, a ‘primer’ would appear necessary in order to provide a short background on the country. Since gaining independence from the British Commonwealth in 1948, Myanmar (although known more widely known as Burma) has been dominated by military rule or influence in its political landscape; impacting many other aspects of its Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Informational spheres. Key moments in its history are:
1990 – Multiparty legislative elections result in the main opposition party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – winning a landslide victory. Instead of handing over power, the junta placed NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest from 1989 to 1995, 2000 to 2002, and from MAY 2003 to NOV 2010;
NOV 2010 to JAN 2011 – Legislative elections held which the NLD boycotted; resulting in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party gaining over 75% of the contested seats. The National Legislature convened and selected former Prime Minister Thein Sein as President. The vast majority of national-level appointees named by him were former or current military officers, yet the government initiated a series of political and economic reforms (releasing political prisoners, signing a nationwide cease-fire with several of the country’s ethnic armed groups, pursuing legal reform and gradually reducing restrictions on freedom of the press, association, and civil society);
APR 2012 – Aung San Suu Kyi elected to the National Legislature in April 2012;
NOV 2015 – The National Legislative election occurs, the NLD won a landslide victory. The government was later sworn in on 30 MAR 2016; and,
AUG 2017 – The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security forces in northern Rakhine State, leading to a response by Burmese security forces and local vigilantes that resulted in an unknown number of deaths and over 671,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh (Central Intelligence Agency 2018).
While the situation in Rakhine State has been well publicised in recent open source reporting, there have been ongoing conflicts between Myanmar’s military – the Tatmadaw – and numerous groups within states on its borders with China and Thailand. The imagery below from Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) indicate there are numerous areas of Myanmar which feature significant threats to individuals as well as to businesses people, assets and reputation. The FCO and DFAT point to numerous threats in the country which make travel into and through Myanmar risky. Key considerations are:
- Exercise normal safety precautions within the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Nay Pyi Taw and Inle Lake.
- Reconsider your need to travel to:
1. Paletwa township in southern Chin State, due to active armed conflict
2. Kachin State and northern and central areas of Shan State, due to ongoing armed conflict between ethnic groups and military forces, including air strikes in Kachin and northern areas of Shan State.
3. Areas bordering China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh and India (including authorised land border crossings). Armed groups operate in these areas and there are risks from ethnic conflict, banditry and unmarked landmines.
- Do not travel to the Maungdaw, Buthidaung or Rathedaung townships in northern Rakhine State due to reports of ongoing clashes between military forces and militants. Myanmar security forces are involved in ongoing security operations in northern Rakhine state.
- Avoid all political gatherings, protests, demonstrations and street rallies. Political tension and unrest could happen at short notice and local authorities may not always respond predictably. Do not take photographs of demonstrations, the military or police (UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2018; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2018).
August saw a total of 67 incidents logged on the Intelligence Fusion platform. While the imagery above would indicate the majority of activity is concentrated in the centre of Myanmar stretching from the South to the North, comparing the imagery shown above to imagery below (where the incidents are not displayed in clusters), there do not appear to actually be areas where incidents are predominantly concentrated. The threats tracked by Intelligence Fusion appear to be – with the exception of the South of Myanmar that borders Thailand – distributed across the entire country (Intelligence Fusion, McCabe & Harrington 2018).
Based on the types of incidents logged from January 2018 to present, August 2018 has seen a number of incidents occur across Myanmar that have been above average levels. Based on the threats tracked by Intelligence Fusion, these incidents relate predominantly to Direct Weapons, Hazards, Criminality, Protests and Other. With the exception of Protests, all the other threats which are mentioned make up the majority of threats that Intelligence Fusion has logged in Myanmar; armed clashes, hazards, crime and other types of incidents make up 27%, 14%, 12% and 18% of all activity logged by Intelligence Fusion for 2018.
COMMENT. Absent from the usual incidents tracked in Myanmar are those relating to threats of Indirect Weapons. However, based on many of the reports used to plot incidents of Direct Weapons; Indirect Weaponry such as Mortars and Artillery Fire may have featured in the incidents of armed clashes but were not specifically mentioned in open source reporting monitored by Intelligence Fusion.
Regarding Protests, the few which have occurred in August and some which have occurred in September so far have been over a variety of issues, the most notable has been the 7-year prison sentences handed down to two Reuters journalists – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – for breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act. The convictions have drawn international condemnation but the protests which have occurred are the type which the FCO and DFAT warn about; they have been largely peaceful. While some protestors have been arrested, reactions by security forces have not been in line with DFAT and FCO warnings either (Dunant 2018; Reuters 2018; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2018; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2018; Intelligence Fusion, McCabe & Harrington 2018). COMMENT ENDS.
During August there have been 13 incidents of Direct Weapons recorded across Myanmar and incidents which have been logged for September so far show no signs of this situation changing on the ground despite efforts by the Myanmar Government and various – but not all – ethnic armed groups signing up to a National Ceasefire Agreement. As shown above, the majority of incidents have been occurring within Shan State, particularly in the Namtu township area.
Above all, only one incident really stands out as significant as it describes what is happening on the ground: Fighting Continues Between Rival Ethnic Groups in Northern Shan State which was logged on 15 AUG 2018. Examination of these incidents have shown there are various forces clashing with each other in this part of Myanmar. Groups which have been mentioned in available incident reports are the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Northern Alliance.
COMMENT. These incidents essentially make the FCO’s travel advice remain in place; “FCO warns against all but essential travel to the highlighted area (Intelligence Fusion, McCabe & Harrington 2018; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2018). COMMENT ENDS.
There have been 9 incidents relating to Crime during August 2018. The majority have been related to activities carried out by security forces detaining or arresting people. However, two incidents stand out due to their similarities with incidents that have been occurring in Thailand; the trafficking of Crystal Methamphetamine (Ice) and Methamphetamine Tablets (Yaba). These two Trafficking incidents are (Intelligence Fusion, McCabe & Harrington 2018; Min 2018; Narinjara 2018):
21 AUG 2018 – DRUGS AND WEAPONS SEIZED IN KAWKAREIK DISTRICT, KAYIN STATE
Drugs and weapons were seized from a group of men and women in Payathonzu, Kawkareik District. Based on a tip-off, the police found 317.52g of what was believed to be Ice in four plastic packages as well as seizing 5,252 Yaba tablets. Also seized with the drugs were Myanmar and Thai currency, a 9mm pistol with 16 rounds and a mobile phone.
25 AUG 2018 – NEARLY 1.5 MILLION YABA PILLS SEIZED IN BUTHIDAUNG, RAKHINE STATE
A total of 1,452,750 WY Yaba tablets were seized in Buthidaung, Rakhine State. The police seized the stimulant tablets from a vehicle at the town entry-exit checkpoint in Ward 5 in Buthidaung while it was driven along Danyawaddy Road to the checkpoint.
COMMENT. The seizures come at a time where there have been around 7 million Yaba pills have been seized from May 2 to August 17 in Rakhine State. Additionally, seizures of this drug are a frequent occurrence in Thailand. Recent reporting indicates Thai Police had one of its largest seizures of Yaba yet in Ayutthaya. Illegal drug production is a long running issue within Myanmar as it provides a lucrative source of income for many of the Ethnic Armed groups in the country to maintain an income to fund their forces and operations. Drug profits allow them to purchase weapons and pay their insurgent armies; the Direct Weapons incidents shown above would be indicative of this (Narinjara 2018; Bodetti 2018; Pratten et al. 2018a).
Opium was the most lucrative export in the 1990s. Opioid production was regularly affected by fluctuations in global opium crop prices, international drug policies, and conflicts. Yaba, on the other hand, is a synthetic cocktail of caffeine and low-grade methamphetamine flavoured with vanilla and coloured bright red. The production process is stable and results in a steady distribution line and controlled prices (Roy 2018).
Examination of what constitutes this threat, how it continues to exist and what spill over effects it has will be the subject of a future strategic level report. COMMENT ENDS.
August has seen 12 incidents related to Hazards in Myanmar. The majority have been the occurrence of Floods occurring in various parts of the country, most notably the collapse of a spillway on the Swar Creek Bridge in the Bago Region which led to over 60,000 people affected by flooding as well as major delays to vehicle movement along the Yangon-Mandalay Expressway (Pratten et al. 2018b).
COMMENT. Separate analysis relating to floods across these three countries has assessed “it is PROBABLE the weather conditions and resulting floods and landslides being seen across Myanmar, Thailand and Laos will PROBABLY continue until October at the earliest. Heavy and constant rain from the monsoons prevailing over Myanmar, the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea will not just allow enable floods to continue, but will maintain pressure on dams located in Myanmar, Central to Northern Thailand and in Laos to increase the rates of water they discharge. Such conditions will make travelling on roads – outside of metropolitan areas especially – quite dangerous .” COMMENT ENDS.
August 2018 has seen 26 incidents which fall under the ‘Other’ category. There have been various developments surrounding an upcoming by-election to be held in November and the formation of political parties which include those linked to the 888 Movement as well as former Generals linked to former Prime Minister and later President Thein Sein.
There have also been a number of Other incidents which have shown links to Direct Weapons and Hazard threats. Shown above, August saw the 1-year Anniversary of the ARSA’s attacks in Rakhine State which prompted security forces to be on high alert. Additionally, Direct Weapons incidents in Kayin State appear to have caused a spill over effect of causing civilians to flee their homes and thus becoming Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Finally, the ban of 10 wheeled vehicles traveling across bridges in Kachin State has come as a consequence of the current monsoon conditions which have caused floods and landslides across the country (Intelligence Fusion, McCabe & Harrington 2018).
COMMENT. Incidents logged for September so far have shown a number of IDPs fleeing floods and armed clashes up in Shan State as well. When looking at all the above, there appears to be a type of causality behind the incidents occurring in Myanmar. The following appears to be the case:
The illicit drug trade provides a means of funding for the numerous Ethnic Armed Groups carrying out the Direct Weapons incidents. A hypothesis that could be made is the activities of Ethnic Armed Groups will have an impact on the frequency of drug trafficking incidents and the incidents of civilians becoming IDPs as a matter of course.
Hazards from the monsoon conditions would appear to have a direct effect on developments and regulations surrounding dams, irrigation and road travel. COMMENT ENDS.
Nothing significant to report at this time.
SUICIDE/COMPLEX ATTACKS, INDIRECT WEAPONS, AIR, MARITIME, GRENADES & PROTESTS
Nothing significant to report at this time.
|Less than 50% chance||50% chance or greater||75% chance or greater||95% chance or greater|
Considering all the above, it is PROBABLE the threats mentioned above and the incidents that consist of those threats represent a ‘status quo’ for Myanmar. The main threats which are present in the country are incidents of Direct Weapons that occur from clashes between Ethnic Armed Groups in Myanmar’s border regions as well as the Hazard threats created by the current monsoon conditions across Myanmar.
These two threats are POSSIBLY the main two indicators to look for when it comes to identifying any change in the status quo. At this time, Direct Weapons and Hazards are PROBABLY the main influence for Crime incidents – especially drug trafficking – and the various Other incidents which have featured cases of new regulations surrounding vehicle movement in Kachin State and the IDPs currently in Kayin State. Any change to the assessed status quo will POSSIBLY be indicated by increasing or decreasing numbers of Direct Weapons and Hazard incidents.
Given the numerous incidents of Direct Weapons up in Shan State, it is PROBABLE that September will see an IDP situation occur – on a larger scale of what has been seen in Kayin State – which will be cause for concern. Ongoing fighting in this region of Myanmar will PROBABLY see large numbers of civilians become IDPs in their efforts to avoid the clashes between the several armed groups and the Tatmadaw. With the floods occurring across the country and thus affecting access to these areas, a humanitarian situation in Shan State will POTENTIALLY begin to arise in Shan State.
Bodetti, A 2018, ‘War, Drugs, and Peace: Afghanistan and Myanmar’, The Diplomat, retrieved September 9, 2018, from <https://thediplomat.com/2017/09/war-drugs-and-peace-afghanistan-and-myanmar/>.
Central Intelligence Agency 2018, ‘Burma’, The World Factbook, retrieved September 9, 2018, from <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bm.html>.
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PRATTEN M, McCabe, M, Harrington, D & Brown, L 2018b, ‘Flooding in Myanmar: Is it safe to travel?’, Intelligence Fusion, retrieved September 8, 2018, from <https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/blog/flooding-in-myanmar-is-it-safe-to-travel>.
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Roy, S 2018, ‘Yaba: The Red Pills and the Rohingya’, The Diplomat, retrieved September 9, 2018, from <https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/yaba-the-red-pills-and-the-rohingya/>.
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