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Hiding in obscure corner of India, Myanmar’s ousted lawmakers plotting to dethrone military junta

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI:

Roughly a dozen ousted Myanmar lawmakers, who fled to India after the February 1 military coup, are now busy plotting to dethrone the generals.

In a spartan hillside room in India furnished only with a thin sleeping mat, one of the Myanmar Members of Parliament (MPs) spends much of his days attentively listening to Zoom conference calls and tapping away messages on his smartphone.

The short, soft-spoken man is among the handful of ousted Myanmar MPs who have fled across the border to India’s remote north-eastern region after the military coup and the lethal crackdown on dissent.

Two of the lawmakers and a Myanmar politician spoke to a Reuters reporter. They are involved with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or CRPH, a body of ousted lawmakers that is attempting to re-establish the civilian government and displace the military.

The three said the group is supporting demonstrations, helping distribute funds to supporters and holding negotiations with multiple entities to quickly form a civilian administration nationwide. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families back home.

Most of the ousted lawmakers are from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) that overwhelmingly won a November 2020 election, which the military has annulled.

The coup has been met with a fierce pro-democracy movement and tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country, despite the crackdown.

Security forces have killed over 700 people, and more than 3,000 have been detained, including more than 150 lawmakers and members of the former government. Mobile and wireless internet services have been shut down.

The fear of detention and inability to rebuild a civilian government without internet connectivity has driven some Myanmar lawmakers involved in the resistance to work from India, the two MPs elected to Myanmar’s Parliament said.

“There is no time,” one of them, who is from the country’s western Chin state, told Reuters. “People are dying in our country.”

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military did not answer calls seeking comment. The junta has accused the CRPH of treason. The group is working to set up a national unity government to challenge the military’s authority.

Since fleeing to India around two weeks ago, the lawmaker said he had been holding regular discussions with colleagues to set up a parallel administration in Chin state, under directions from the CRPH.

The process is complex, involving building consensus between elected representatives, political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society bodies and civil disobedience movement leaders, the two lawmakers and the politician said.

The CRPH is also keen on opening communications with India, where at least 1,800 people from Myanmar are already sheltering. It will seek New Delhi’s blessings for the parallel government it is attempting to form, the politician said.

“We can’t rely on China, Thailand and other neighbouring countries,” he said. “The only country where refugees are being welcomed is India”.

India’s External Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

This week, NLD lawmakers from Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region held an online conference call, but only 26 out of 49 representatives dialled in, according to the second MP who attended the meeting from India.

“We don’t know where the rest are,” the federal lawmaker said. Two party officials were now trying to track down their missing colleagues.

Some of the fiercest resistance to the junta has come from Sagaing. In the last two months, around 2,000 families involved in the civil disobedience movement in one part of the region have been given financial assistance of around 17 million Kyat ($12,143), the lawmaker from Sagaing said.

The presence and activities of escapee Myanmar lawmakers could pose a diplomatic quandary to India, particularly given New Delhi’s close ties with the Myanmar military rulers.

But India’s position on the Myanmar crisis itself appears to have somewhat shifted in recent weeks. This has also been acknowledged by some CRPH representatives.

At an United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on April 10, Indian diplomat K. Nagaraj Naidu said New Delhi is pushing for a return to democracy in Myanmar. “The first, and most immediate step, in this regard is the release of detained leaders,” Naidu said.

However, India is concerned around internal divisions within the CRPH that could hobble its functioning, a source with knowledge of New Delhi’s thinking said.

The politician involved with the CRPH said he is hopeful that India will engage with the group.

“If democracy wins in Myanmar, it is also a win for India,” he said.



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Govt. allows private operators to import fuel for industries – minister

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ECONOMYNEXT – The Government has allowed private bunker fuel operators to import fuel for industries, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Friday, in a bid to reduce the burden on cash-strapped state-run fuel retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).

The move comes as a severe dollar shortage has reduced CPC’s ability to import fuel and meet the demand as earlier amid long motorists’ queues for fuel.

“Approval was given to all the private bunker fuel operators to import and provide diesel and fuel oil requirements of industries to function their Generators and Machinery,” Wijesekera said in his Twitter platform.

“This will ease the burden on CPC and fuel stations providing in bulk. The meeting was held yesterday.”

Approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations providing in bulk. The meeting was held yesterday. pic.twitter.com/dhAonet10J

— Kanchana Wijesekera (@kanchana_wij) May 27, 2022

In April, Sri Lanka cabinet has agreed to amend the Petroleum Products Act making provisions to issue licenses to “properly identified parties” to import fuel which will end an import monopoly held by the CPC.

There was a push to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to import its own oil as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation was unable to get foreign exchange and the power utility ran out of cash due to lack of a price increases.

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Protesters ask PM to serve justice for May 09 attack

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ECONOMYNEXT – Hundreds of anti-government protesters agitated in front of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesighe ’s office Colombo demanding justice for May 09 attack by the supporters of previous prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and immediate measures to overcome ongoing economic crisis to prevent a looming social unrest.

The youth-led groups which had been protesting near presidential secretariat and prime minister’s official residence in the heart of commercial Colombo shifted neat the prime minister’s office and shouted against the new government’s inaction against the brutal attack at unarmed and peaceful protesters by Rajapaksa supporters on May 09.

They demanded the new Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to implement the rule of law without being biased to any parties and serve the country.

Rukshan, a 25 years old protester said, as per the initial demands of their protests, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned from his position, but his successor should do his duties towards the country and the people without trying to protect corrupt politicians.

“When we started the protest back in April our main demand was to bring all Rajapaksas before justice and get all the wealth they have stolen from the common people of this country,”  Rukshan told Economy Next.

The protest started around mid-day on Thursday (26) and protesters’ route was blocked by police barricades on the main road in front of the prime minister’s office.

The protesters, however, withdrew from their positions and regrouped at a nearby road to go towards the Wickremesinghe’s office.

However, by the time the protesters regrouped, a court order was issued by the Fort Magistrate to stop the protest due to inconvenience to the public.

“Ranil Wickramasinghe should remember why he is here now. We’re not asking him to resign. He is here to do his duty towards this country and its people,” Rukshan said.

“On May 09, we were attacked but no justice has been served yet. That is the main reason we came today to the prime minister’s office,” he said.

“We still see queues for medicine, fuel, and gas. To be honest, there is no medicine in the market. No medicine for cancer patients. If you get bitten by a dog, then there is no medicine for you. They (the market) don’t have any of that.”

Wickremesinghe has been working over a new budget and discussing with international partners to ensure uninterrupted supply of essentials, officials close to him have said. However, it will take time, they say.

Rukshan said the country is running due to the state workers, who are working as they are being paid salaries after the government’s excess money printing.

“When that stops, then there will definitely be a revolution in this country,” he said.

“When a person goes to office in the morning, there is no fuel for the vehicle, or no public transport available. They get late and the salaries are being cut because of that. And when they come home, they don’t have gas to cook a meal.”

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Weerawansa’s wife gets two years for passport offence

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Her lawyers file appeal challenging sentence

Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika Sri Ragala on Friday sentenced Shashi Weerawansa the wife of former minister Wimal Weerawansa to two years in prison. Shashi was found guilty of using falsified documents to obtain a passport.

The Magistrate also ordered the accused to pay a fine of Rs. 100,000 in addition to the imprisonment and an additional six months of jail if she does not pay the fine.

Sashi Weerawansa is found guilty by the court for obtaining diplomatic and general passports by submitting birth certificates with forged names and dates of birth.

She had applied for a diplomatic passport in 2010 by submitting false personal information which was different to what appears in her previous normal passport that expired on May 24, 2009.

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