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ACLED Regional Overview – East and Southeast Asia (4-10 September 2021)

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Last week in East and Southeast Asia, the National Unity Government (NUG) of Myanmar declared a “people’s defensive war” and appealed to the public and to ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to revolt against the military (CNA, 7 September 2021). Since the declaration, there was an increase in attacks targeting the military’s economic interests and military-linked individuals. A few of the attacks have been claimed by local People’s Defense Force (PDF) groups. Meanwhile, the military clashed with EAOs or other local defense groups in several states and regions. In Thailand, anti-government protests continued after a no-confidence vote failed to oust Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet on 4 September. In the Philippines, four Chinese nationals were killed by state forces in an anti-drug buy-bust operation during which 500 kilograms of crystal meth were reportedly confiscated. In Indonesia, authorities announced a clash that allegedly involved state forces and members of the pro-Papuan independence organization, the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) — though questions remain about whether the clash may be incorrectly attributed by the state. In South Korea, protests condemning the arrest of the leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) continued last week, while business owners staged large nationwide car rallies against COVID-19 restrictions.

In Myanmar, on 7 September, the NUG — made up of lawmakers ousted in the coup — declared a “people’s defensive war” against the military and called on the Myanmar public, local defense groups, and EAOs to join a “public revolution” to topple the military (CNN, 8 September 2021). The acting president of the NUG also appealed to the international community, stating that the nationwide uprising was done “out of necessity based on the country’s current situation” (Irrawaddy, 7 September 2021). The declaration comes a week before the military junta and the NUG are set to face off in a diplomatic battle at the UN General Assembly session, which opens on 14 September. Both parties are expected to make competing bids to the Credentials Committee for recognition as the rightful representative of Myanmar at the world body (Straits Times, 13 September 2021). After the declaration, there was an uptick in attacks targeting the military’s economic interests last week (Irrawaddy, 8 September 2021). Notably, between 7 and 10 September, dozens of telecommunications towers operated by MyTel — a joint venture between the Myanmar military and a Vietnamese military-owned company — were destroyed using explosives (RFA, 10 September 2021). Similarly, targeted attacks against military-linked individuals, including military informants and local administrators, also increased in the three days following the declaration last week. While the perpetrators for the majority of these attacks have yet to be confirmed, several local PDF groups have claimed responsibility for some.

Meanwhile, deadly clashes between the military and local defense groups continued in Magway and Sagaing regions last week. On 9 September, the military raided a village in Gangaw township and fired heavy artillery, prompting a firefight with a local PDF group. Over a dozen bodies, belonging to both civilians and PDF fighters, were later found piled up in the village (Myanmar Now, 13 September 2021). Following the clash, the military continued operations in several villages in Gangaw township, torching dozens of houses over the next two days.

Elsewhere, fighting between the military and EAOs was reported in Bago, Sagaing, and Tanintharyi regions, as well as in Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, and Shan states last week. Notably, renewed fighting between the military and the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) broke out in KNU Brigade 4-controlled territory for the first time since April 2021, after military troops entered the area reportedly in search of PDF members (Myanmar Now, 7 September 2021).

In Thailand, anti-government factions continued to hold daily demonstrations last week, with Thalugaz, a newly established student group, frequently clashing with police at the ‘demonstration ground zero,’ Din Daeng Intersection. The demonstrations continued as Prime Minister Prayut and his cabinet survived a no-confidence vote on 4 September. With Prayut’s ongoing refusal to quit or dissolve parliament (Bangkok Post, 4 September 2021), anti-government demonstrations are likely to intensify in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, in the Deep South of the country, three incidents of property destruction by Malay Muslim separatists were reported, including the destruction of CCTV cameras and cell phone towers, as well as an attack on civilians. News reports have linked these events to a Facebook post attributed to the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), which is a part of the ethnic and religious separatist insurgency in southern Thailand. The post announced the end of the temporary COVID-19 ceasefire to help contain the spread of the pandemic (Isaranews Agency, 7 September 2021). It remains unclear whether the announcement came from their official Facebook page.

In the Philippines, four Chinese nationals were killed last week in a police raid that, according to Philippines authorities, provided the “biggest drug haul” thus far this year (Philippine News Agency, 7 September 2021). According to police, the operation in Zambales province, Central Luzon, led to the seizure of around 500 kilograms of shabu (crystal meth), reportedly worth around 3.4 billion PHP (68 million USD) (Philippine News Agency, 7 September 2021). Police said that the slain foreign drug suspects were part of a large drug syndicate operating in Metropolitan Manila, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon (Philippine News Agency, 7 September 2021). However, in a rare expression of regret over the drug operation, President Rodrigo Duterte later apologized for the loss of lives of the Chinese nationals (CNN, 8 September 2021). According to ACLED data, thousands drug suspects have died as a result of unilateral state forces and anti-drug vigilante groups violence since Duterte came to power in 2016, while many more died in armed clashes (*for more on ACLED’s methodology on the Philippines, see *here).

Following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, dozens of Afghan refugees in Jakarta, Indonesia continued to protest last week, demanding the speedy resettlement of Afghan refugees in third countries (Detik, 6 September 2021). The latest demonstrations come after hundreds of Afghans held a rally outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Jakarta on 24 August (Reuters, 25 August 2021). Indonesia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and does not officially allow refugees to stay permanently in the country. More than half of the 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently based in Indonesia are Afghan nationals (ABC, 9 September 2021).