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Myanmar Update November 2022


It's hard to know where to start with this Update. From one eye it looks like not much has changed since the last Update sent out on July 14. From the other eye there are some potentially momentous trends.

For the July 14 Update, I started with “The Mess in Myanmar” and followed with news about Parami University. This time I feel like starting with Parami University, because it's an astonishing "good news" story.

Parami University is Operational

--You may remember from my July 14 Update that Parami U incorporated in December 2021 as an online, degree-granting higher education institution for students in Myanmar, and that we received a license to operate from the Washington DC licensing commission at the beginning of June.

--On August 9, we matriculated our first Freshman class of 57 students (53 in Myanmar or on its border with Thailand; 4 in Kenya through Parami's membership in the Open Society University Network).

--We were aiming for a class of 100 students, but received our license more than two months later than expected, making it infeasible to achieve that goal. We are optimistic, however, that we will be able to enroll a class of at least 100 students for the 2023-24 academic year and will subsequently achieve the current design size of 600 students in the 4-year B.A. program.

--The obvious and daunting daily operational challenge is ensuring that every enrolled student has access to the “synchronous learning” (meaning live online instruction with the professors for each course) Parami University teaching platform. Given that none of our students in Myanmar have reliable access to electricity or to the internet, it is remarkable that we have passed the mid-term exams of the first semester with no dropouts. The efforts being made by our professors and our staff to achieve this result are impressive.

--We are financially solid for this 2022-23 academic year and we are optimistic about obtaining sufficient funding beyond this year. With an eye to “Giving Tuesday” (on November 29 this year), I invite all to go to the Parami U website where you can find the latest news and information about Parami U and about making donations to our 501(c)3 entity. Here is a link to the website: https://www.parami.edu.mm

--Alternatively, we will be launching an online fundraising campaign on November 14 and your donations will encourage others to help us reach our goal. You can find it here: https://donorbox.org/scholarships-give-the-hope-of-education

The Mess in Myanmar

The bad news is that no reputable analyst I know is predicting that the military junta will, in the next twelve months, give up its attempt to break the armed opposition and accept any kind of peace deal. The junta is continuing to terrorize the population with horrific targeted and random attacks using modern weapons obtained largely from Russia. As a result, the suffering of the population remains extreme and people who can are fleeing the country.

My “optimistic” view is that the opposition movement remains strong and seems to be gaining control over more of the country bit by bit. The “pessimistic/realistic” view is that the mess will be worse if the military junta is defeated because local opposition groups (numbering in the hundreds now) will begin fighting with each other over control of resources, both natural resources and taxing power. This view builds on evidence that many of these local groups are committing serious human rights abuses.

The biggest obstacle to a stronger opposition movement is how divided it is. There are several armed opposition forces that are fighting each other, sometimes over control of the narcotics business. After Aung San Suu Kyi and other key leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were imprisoned, exiled NLD leaders formed the National Unity Government (NUG). The NUG is working to build a countrywide opposition coalition, establish an alternative governance structure (including a unified military command), and get recognized by the United Nations and its members, but it has had limited success in each area.

Another big obstacle for the opposition is its inability so far to acquire weapons to match those used by the military junta, especially weapons to shoot down the fighter planes and helicopters that the military is relying on more and more because of its weakness in both rural and urban areas.

A little understood reality is that a much higher fraction of the Myanmar population (more than 90 percent of its 55 million total) is suffering daily assaults by the military junta than the fraction of the Ukraine’s population of 44 million is suffering from Russian forces. Nevertheless, the opposition is getting none of the weapons or technical support that Ukraine is getting from its friends in the West.

The best hope for stopping the military junta’s atrocities seems to rest with the ASEAN regional organization of ten Southeast Asian countries. The chairmanship of this organization rotates annually. This year’s chair is Cambodia which has been embarrassed by the junta’s refusal to implement a 5-part peacemaking plan endorsed by all member countries (including Myanmar) more than a year ago. But Cambodia has not pressed the membership to take a harder line against the junta. Indonesia will be in the ASEAN chair next year and has been sharply critical of the junta. Indonesia may be in a position to “move the needle” by such actions as recognizing the NUG or suspending Myanmar from ASEAN membership.

A series of G20 and ASEAN Summit meetings in November will provide opportunities to mobilize more external support for the Myanmar opposition. A set of ASEAN-related Summit meetings in Cambodia started on 8 November and will end on the 13th. The G20 leaders will be meeting on Bali on November 15-16. Myanmar is high on the agenda for all of these meetings.

Don’t take my word for any of this.

-- The US Institute of Peace has published a fascinating report on the armed opposition: https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/11/understanding-peoples-defense-forces-myanmar

--Kavi Chongkittavorn, a leading Thai journalist has written about ASEAN and Myanmar for the Bangkok Post: https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/2411705/time-for-myanmar-to-face-the-musicThitinan

--Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a well-known Thai professor has written a piece for Project Syndicate on how the Myanmar issue, among others, is threatening ASEAN’s existence: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/asean-needs-realignment-for-new-geopolitical-realities-by-thitinan-pongsudhirak-2022-10?barrier=accesspaylog

--As I was writing this Update, USIP issued a new report that is even more disturbing about the Mess in Myanmar: https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/11/myanmars-criminal-zones-growing-threat-global-security

To all who get to the end of this update, thank you for your interest. Feedback is always welcome, especially if you saw any errors or missing points.

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