Opinion & Analysis

Soe Myint: Myanmar Update

Soe Myint is Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of the Myanmar multimedia news organization Mizzima. He has been working in the media field since 1992 - reporting, managing and training.

He was in exile for 24 years while the country was under military dictatorship. In 1998 he founded Mizzima in New Delhi together with Daw Thin Thin Aung.

In January 2012, Mizzima was the first exile media to move back inside Myanmar after the country opened up to democratic change.

The military regime forcibly shut down the free-to-air Mizzima TV channel when it staged a coup on 1 February 2021. Some Mizzima journalists were arrested and tortured by the regime.

However, Mizzima continues to broadcast and publish independent news and information and entertainment through two satellites, radio, websites and social media. Soe Myint and his colleagues are presently working from different locations inside and outside the country to continue to operate.

The AMC’s Graeme Acton caught up with him on the sidelines of the recent East-West Centre International Media Conference in Manila, where he discussed the junta, the civil war, and what comes next for his country.

Very good to have the opportunity to speak with you – if we look first at the situation inside Myanmar it seems we can see a future point where the junta collapses and the army is taken out of politics – what happens then?

“Well, in the absence of the State Administration Council (SAC) , each region would be administered by different groups, not in a disintegration or “Balkanisation” of Myanmar, although everyone will have their own army.”

“So the question would be will the Myanmar military keep General Min Aung Hlaing as their leader in Naypyidaw ..we don’t really know what will happen to Naypyidaw but it’s likely to remain under military rule even when the rest of the country is occupied and controlled by ethnic armies.”

“We are in a situation where Min Aung Hlaing is in control – there is no “Number 2” .The problem is once he is gone, the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, can be very chaotic without a leader. They are at least 100,000 in number and I think that’s a concern to neighbouring countries like China and Thailand and India – what will happen to the Tatmadaw in Naypyidaw. In other regions of the country, they will simply surrender if the leadership is removed.”

So how should New Zealand see the Tatmadaw, and the SAC junta that is ruling Myanmar?

“I think New Zealand should be engaged with these [opposition] groups, but not with the Myanmar military. I know that creates some problems for New Zealand, but engaging with the SAC creates even more problems later. New Zealand can engage with these groups, and even talk policies. We need policy inputs and engagement from all parties – and that means media, researchers, technicians, young people. It’s a big need for Myanmar’s future.”

Is there any point in your view in the international community trying to talk to the junta about how to end the fighting ?

Take my word, this kind of “inclusive dialogue” with the SAC went nowhere. I am on the ground and we are working with the people. And while a military victory is not THE solution, there can be gains made by a series of military victories across the country. But there must be talks, there have to be discussions between the ethnic groups about running the provinces, things like taxation. At present you have numerous organisations all asking for taxes for various things to be done. We need to deal with this.

What are the other differences in this current fight against a military dictator in Myanmar?

“I was part of the protest movement in 1988, and this time it is very different. Min Aung Hlaing and the Myanmar military broke that trust after 8-9 years of democracy. After that victory everyone tried to reconsider, even Aung San Suu Kyi. Do you think Daw Suu, if she is released, will come and talk to the Army? .. no way, no way. And everyone has the same answer, and they are winning the fight, why should they come and talk to Min Aung Hlaing?”

Do you think the NUG, the National Unity Government, have enough support across the country to become the real alternative government?

“That is what people are saying, but if we expect the NUG to be the government of the future then that is a totally wrong expectation in my view. NUG can be one of the players, they might play a role as facilitator. We will have a situation where there is no one dominant central player. The more important point is will the various parties continue to fight each other ? .. That’s why there should be as much talking between them as possible.”

How do you think Russia and China are looking at Myanmar currently?

“For Putin, he’d like to see Myanmar as the Belarus of the region. For China, it is all about the access to the Bay of Bengal. Its also about what China will do in Taiwan, in the South China Sea, how its relationship goes with India, and with the West. China has big interests in Myanmar it wants to protect, but China doesn’t want to control the whole of Myanmar. In my view it would like to maybe control Rakhine State in the west of the country, where its interests in oil and gas can be promoted.”

In Rakhine State then, what do you see as the next steps for the Rohingya people currently stuck in refugee camps in southern Bangladesh ?

“ It largely depends who ends up in control of Rakhine State. It is still to be seen, the Rohingya may be allowed to return, to apply for citizenship. Rohingya resettlement they will have to allow if they want a good relationship in my opinion. There is also the issue of the northern Rakhine State, whether they would give the region a sort of self-autonomy”

Journalist and Publisher Soe Myint/ image UMass Lowell


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