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Myanmar Update (July 2022)

A lot has happened since my last update, which was sent out on 19 December 2021. Here's the bad news followed by the good news.

First of all on the mess in Myanmar:

--The only good news is that the military junta has not succeeded in crushing the opposition to its 1 February 2021 coup.

--The opposition seems to be making slow and steady progress in pushing back against the Myanmar army and its supporters.

--The armed opposition is taking two distinct forms. First, several of the ethnic armed groups on the borders that have been fighting the military for decades are holding or regaining territory. Prominent among these are the Kachin, the Chin, and the Karen groups. There are reports that the Arakan Army, fighting for autonomy for the Buddhist majority in Rakhine State, is poised to begin serious engagement with the military, which could represent a sharp setback for the military. Second, units of the Peoples Defense Force (PDF) have been established in almost every township in the country. These are locally organized and vary widely in their ability to attack the military. Their attacks range from assassination to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on roads to drones. These are pinpricks individually, but they force the military to disperse its combat units widely and thinly. The PDF units are loosely supported by the opposition government.

--There are reports of weakness in the military's efforts to crush the opposition. There have been defections of officers and soldiers, significantly prompted by their wives according to one report. The military is having a hard time recruiting soldiers and training new officers. It has called back to service retired personnel and is helping military families move to safety in the Nay Pyi Taw region. Support from Russia may diminish as a result of Russia's war on Ukraine.

--The junta has been "recognized" diplomatically by only a few countries: China, Russia, Thailand, Cambodia among them. ASEAN has refused to accept the participation of military leaders at senior level meetings unless they are accompanied by representatives of the opposition. The 5-point ASEAN plan for ending the conflict that was accepted by the military a year ago has not been honored by the military, although the point on humanitarian access may yield some results in the coming weeks.

--The opposition National Unity Government (NUG) remains active and has been able to meet with ministerial-level counterparts widely, especially in the Western countries but also in the UN system. Closely linked to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, the NUG struggles to be more representative of all opposition groups. The NUG created the NUCC (National Unity Consultative Council) to work on designing a federal system that all groups can support after defeating the military. It is hard to measure progress in this area.

--Fundamentally, the 50-55 million population of Myanmar (larger than Ukraine's 44 million) is suffering horribly. The military continues to terrorize the population through random attacks on communities and random arrests. Most of the population has not been vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus and the military has even arrested doctors for treating people in the opposition. The public health system is not functioning. The economy is barely functioning. There is widespread hunger and unimaginable misery. The education system is not functioning, with many teachers still on strike and most students boycotting the government universities.

--Aung San Suu Kyi was recently moved from house arrest to the prison in Nay Pyi Taw after being convicted of some trumped up charges, with many more convictions in the offing. It appears that popular support for her has diminished to the point where she will not play an important policy role in any post-conflict civilian government. The Australian economist and my good friend Sean Turnell remains as the only expatriate in jail and being actively tried by the military. We are hoping that he will be sentenced in the coming weeks and then be deported, but that may be wishful thinking.

For anyone who wants more information about the mess in Myanmar, here are three sources:

--The best analysis in my opinion comes from the International Crisis Group. The following link takes you to a page on the ICG website where you will find four reports posted since the beginning of this year:

--A report from the US Institute of Peace published this past February:

--An opinion piece by Michael Martin posted recently on the CSIS website:

Happily, there is mostly good news regarding Parami University:

--Parami University (PU) was incorporated in Washington DC in the last week of December. PU applied to the DC Government at the end of February for a license to operate as an online higher education institution for students in Southeast Asia (primarily in Myanmar).

--At a public hearing on June 2, the licensing commission approved PU's application. We are now barely a month away from starting to teach our first Freshman class of 100 students. PU's president (Kyaw Moe Tun) is settled in NY City, which is also where the chairman of PU's Board of Trustees lives. PU's Faculty Dean is actually resident in Yangon (a Dutch national). The core administrative staff is located in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Our faculty will be teaching from countries around the world. PU's partnership with Bard College remains strong and PU is a member of the Open Society University Network, which gives PU students access to courses at other colleges in the network.

--I am especially excited about the MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) that PU will launch next month with the support of a USAID grant. Here is a statement from a PU administrator last February that describes the MOOC better than I can. What excites me is the possibility of scaling up this PU program from the initial 1000 students to ten times as many within a year or two.

"Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Design Steering Committee of the MOOC over the past few months. We have officially signed a funding agreement, and the project timeline is set! For those of us who don't know about this yet --- Parami is developing a liberal arts curriculum for post-high school students in Burmese language to expand access to education that promotes critical thought and humanistic values. Themes for this course includes Myanmar literature, Eastern and Western Philosophy, contemporary issues and identity based issues. To be offered in Massive Open Online Course structure, the 16-week long course will be able to accommodate hundreds of students who are intellectually curious and would like to develop critical inquiry into the foundational sociocultural norms of one's society. An anthology of readings is being put together and localized, aiming to be rolled out to students by June/July [now August]. If anyone here in the Parami Community is interested in knowing more, contribute ideas or would like to recommend readings, please let us know! This is the second course (the first being AEM-Parami) that we will be offering in addition to our regular English language modular courses." PS. For anyone interested in supporting PU's work, donation options can be found on its website:


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