UK teacher Ian Richmond emerged from Myanmar on Tuesday after a 5-day incommunicado journey from Tachileik in Shan State culminating in a 20-minute crossing by dinghy to the shore of Laos. A seasoned traveller of 15 years, he said the situation there was so insecure that it made him extremely nervous.
As the security situation in Myanmar appears to be deteriorating with troubling reports from the multi-ethnic country, a British man has fled across its border into Laos while the junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing, has written to General Prayut seeking his help to uphold democracy as the kingdom’s western neighbour deals with a popular revolt against the February 1st coup.
As reports from Myanmar grow increasingly troubling about the extent of the unrest in Thailand’s neighbouring country, the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, on Wednesday revealed he had received a letter from the newly installed junta strong man in Nay Pyi Taw asking for his help to uphold democracy in the troubled country.
The Burmese military has consistently claimed that the November 8th election in which it’s proxy party lost in a landslide was marred by fraud. The country’s Election Commission has endorsed the poll as legitimate.
20 minute TV appearance on Monday night by General Min Aung Hlaing appears to have backfired
The letter comes after Monday night’s 20 minute long TV broadcast by General Min Aung Hlaing which instead of calming the country following the February 1st coup, appeared to backfire, convulsing things further and galvanising the public to take to the streets en masse on Tuesday.
Hinted at a new constitution for Myanmar with more political parties like Thailand’s 2017 charter
On Monday night, the Myanmar military boss talked about a more disciplined democracy and a multi-party system.
Thailand adopted a constitution in 2017 which enshrined in it the power of the military and the establishment with a Senate to oversee the government and ostensibly prevent corruption.
The charter also gave the Senate a say in the election of the Prime Minister of the country who forms the government, for a limited time after it came into effect.
However, one of the most significant aspects of the 2017 charter was a sophisticated proportional representation system, using a party-list, for electing MPs to the lower chamber which favours smaller parties and theoretically, minority interests in the kingdom.
PM warns that the situation with Myanmar involves important Thai security and business interests
In Myanmar, the National League for Democracy Party of Aung San Suu Kyi won a resounding 396 seats in the bi-cameral parliament last November using an old fashioned first past the post system similar to the one in the United Kingdom.
However, on Wednesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who, as army leader, led the last coup in Thailand in May 2014 but was subsequently legitimately elected under the new constitution, asserted that he was a supporter of democracy in Myanmar.
He warned, as he did last week, that there are vital business and security issues at stake in the kingdom’s relationship with its western neighbour which is also a member of the ASEAN community.
Prayut supports democracy in Myanmar
The Thai military is also known to enjoy a strong relationship with its counterpart across the border from operations to fight transnational drug shipments to halting the illegal entry of migrants during the Covid-19 emergency.
There are also strong commercial ties, as with Cambodia and Laos, near key border crossings with trade networks extending throughout Thailand and into key cities such as Korat and Bangkok.
‘We are supportive of the democratic process in Myanmar but what is most important today is to maintain good relations because it impacts the people, the economy, border trade, particularly now,’ General Prayut explained.
Reports of police defections and the use of live ammunition as protester’s demands grow beyond coup reversal to removing the military from politics
On Wednesday, there were reports from Myanmar of defections from the police to street protesters and even the use of live ammunition by the army.
There are reports that the military there has rounded up at least another 60 people on Tuesday to keep a lid on a rising clamour to reverse the coup with some protesters now also seeking to revisit the existing constitution and remove the military’s control of key ministries and a 25% quota in parliament.
UN coordinator concerned at ‘disproportionate force’
Speaking with Reuters, Esther Ze Naw, a protester on the streets on Wednesday said: ‘We cannot stay quiet. If there is bloodshed during our peaceful protests, then there will be more if we let them take over the country.
On Wednesday, the UN representative and coordinator in Myanmar, Ola Almgren expressed his deep concern. ‘The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,’ he said.
UK man escapes Myanmar in twenty-minute dinghy crossing to Laos with his Chinese partner
Meanwhile, a 48-year-old UK teacher, Ian Richmond, fled the country over the last five days, crossing over to Laos in a twenty-minute dinghy ride with his Chinese girlfriend Xiaoulu.
Mr Richmond, from Darlington in Durham, has worked in Myanmar as an English teacher for two years having spent 12 years teaching in China.
He fled from Tachileik in Shan state after he felt increasingly insecure with the deteriorating environment there.
Situation in Shan State extremely insecure
He says that thousands of people have been rounded up by the military although a respected watchdog agency such as the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimated up to Tuesday that it was only 165 people with 13 released.
‘The army has turned off the CCTV in towns and cities, they have blocked transport radio and thousands of people have been arrested,’ Ian said as he apologised for disappearing. ‘Every night crowds are banging pots and pans in growing numbers in protest and to ward off evil spirits, which is the army.’
Employer confirms unrest, says the internet is blocked with banks and roads also closed off
He explained that it was only when he landed on the shore in Laos that he could see how many people including national media in the United Kingdom, were concerned about his plight.
He had been offline while in transit and with no internet access.
His employer, Aung Win Shoon, of the BH Educational Logistics Group, however, did indicate to the media as the search for the UK man whose whereabouts were unknown grew more anxious in recent days, that the situation in Shan state is particularly problematic.
‘We are in the Shan state of Myanmar, which is currently experiencing unrest and riots like many parts of the country,’ she explained. ‘We have had the internet blocked so there is an information blackout. Banks are closed and roads are shut with phones blocked. It is very tense politically.’
UK ambassador – stay put at home
Meanwhile, the UK ambassador in Myanmar, Dan Chugg, is encouraging all British nationals to stay indoors and at home, for now, until the situation resolves itself as the UK embassy there is closed because of the Covid-19 emergency with staff working from home.