01/27/2022, 14.19
MYANMAR
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Yangon military junta imprisons anyone using a VPN

This is yet another attempt by the army to suppress civil resistance by limiting the use of individual private networks. Clashes continue, but China has called for a halt to border operations during the Olympics. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has condemned the latest bombings, but only because he wants Myanmar to participate in the upcoming Asean summits.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Anyone using a VPN, an individual private network that guarantees a secure and untraceable connection to the Internet, will be imprisoned under a draft law. The bill drawn up in recent days by the State Administrative Council - the name given to the Burmese junta - aims to crack down on the anti-coup resistance that has been opposing the military for almost a year now.

Since the February 1, 2021  coup, the army has reduced (if not completely prevented) access to social media; last month the internet fee was doubled. According to The Irrawaddy, the draft law, which is expected to come into force tomorrow and also ban the exchange of cryptocurrencies, would give the Tatmadaw (the Burmese army) the ability to access user data, restrict internet provision and intercept and imprison critics of the regime. A former deputy of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi's party, said that "incriminating those who use a VPN would be tantamount to imprisoning the whole country".

In the meantime, the People's Defence Forces, the armed wing of the government of national unity in exile, and ethnic militias opposed to the coup clashed with the army on a daily basis. Since 7th January, the Tatmadaw has been bombing Kayah State, particularly the cities of Loikaw and Demoso, generating a new wave of displaced people, which the most optimistic estimates put at 60,000.

Last week, army troops razed an entire village in the central region of Magway to the ground. According to local residents, soldiers entered the town of Sann-myo and started shooting at people. They then set fire to at least a hundred houses. Radio Free Asia (Rfa) published satellite photos of the village after the attack on 18 January and compared them with images taken two years earlier, showing that the central part of the town had been completely destroyed, while a few charred houses remained standing at the edge of the fields surrounding the village.

In the north, on the other hand, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the political wing of the Kachin Liberation Army, issued a statement declaring that the fighting had been suspended at Beijing's request. The Kachin borders China, which does not want disturbances along the border during the Winter Olympics and Lunar New Year celebrations. China's peace envoy to Myanmar has contacted the ethnic militias fighting on the border and asked them to hold off on clashes, although fighting has not been particularly intense in the northern regions since the beginning of the year.

After visiting Myanmar on 7 and 8 January, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on Burmese General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military junta, urging him to uphold the agreements signed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Cambodia holds the rotating presidency. Hun Sen, the first head of state to fly to Myanmar after the coup, would like to invite the general to the organisation's next summit, but has met with opposition from all the other members.

According to joint statements issued yesterday, Naypyidaw and Phnom Penh will commit to implementing the five-point treaty signed in April last year by Myanmar to reduce violence and resume a democratic path. However, international observers doubt that Min Aung Hlaing intends to keep his promises to Asean: it is much more likely that the political crisis will continue and result in further bloodshed. "Hun Sen wanted to restore his reputation after being criticised for his recent trip to Myanmar, which was seen as a waste of time," analyst Em Sovannara told Rfa.

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