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How does a divided nation respond to C-19? — A virus that does not respect borders or ethnicity

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The Myanmar government has established a Coordination and Cooperation committee to work with ethnic armed groups in the fight against Covid-19 (coronavirus). This was done by a Presidential order issued on April 27, 2020.

The directive emphasized the government is making strenuous efforts to adopt measures of prevention, control and treatment of Covid-19 without any discrimination on racial and religious grounds, based on a policy directive that “no one be left behind.”

Committee membership includes high level individuals serving with the Ethnic Affairs Ministry and peace and reconciliation institutions.

Nai Banyar Mon, is the Program Director of the Federal Affairs Policy Center.
Author Nai Banyar Mon, is the Program Director of the Federal Affairs Policy Center.

Chair of the newly formed Coordination and Cooperation committee is Dr. Tin Myo Win. Dr.Tin Myo Win is also the Vice-Chair (2) of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center.

Lt. General Khine Zaw Oo (retired) serves as Vice-Chair, and he also holds the position of Secretary of the Peace Commission.

Deputy minister U Hla Maw Oo, of the Ethnic Affairs Ministry serves as the Secretary to the new committee.

U Moe Zaw Oon is with the Advisor Group from the Peace Commission (Advisor Group) and member of the new committee.

The Coordination and Cooperation committee’s responsibilities are far reaching and ambitious. Their tasks include;

  • Prevent the spread of Covid-19 cases
  • Control it
  • Exchange treatment information
  • Inspect travelers at all border crossings
  • Monitor presumptive cases of C-19
  • Contact tracing of individuals who may have been exposed to the virus
  • Promote cooperation for control measures
  • Monitor and provide treatment to infected persons in accordance with the health advice
  • Coordinate State governments and EAOs regarding the prevention, control and treatment for Covid-19
  • Coordinate cases within EAOs’ area in accordance with the instructions of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center.

Reactions

There have been diverse reactions to the formation of this latest committee.

The ethnic armed groups that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) welcomed the newly formed committee, but with a careful acknowledgement.

Padoh Saw Hser Pwe, Joint Secretary 1, with the Karen National Union (KNU), remarked in an interview with Karen Information Center (KIC) on April 29,

“we welcome the formation of this committee for coordinating and preventing, but we have to wait and see what agreements we have to follow to coordinate.”

The KNU’s campaign to fight Covid-19 began prior to the establishment of this committee. On April 17 the Karen State’s Security and Border Affair Minister sent a letter to the KNU’s Brigade (1) officials urging them to follow NCA agreement and not interrupt projects the KNU is conducting in its campaign against Covid-19 within either its controlled areas or in mutually controlled areas.

The Karen State Government has also sent letters of congratulations to Karen armed groups who have cooperated with the state government in the joint fight against Covid-19 and applauded the success of specific projects.

‘The formation of the coordination and cooperation committee is welcome news’ commented Sai Kyaw Nyunt, Joint Secretary with the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) in an interview with Network Media Group. But cautioned that it is not enough to rely on the name of a committee espousing ‘cooperation and coordination alone’, rather it must be seen to act in this manner too.

Mon News Agency interviewed U Htoo Chit, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), on April 28, who also welcomed the government’s new committee. However U Htoo Chit noted ,

“this will be only successful if the government makes sure that it understands the situations in the ethnic areas first, and cooperates in practice for specific projects.”

Col. Sai Ohm Khur, spokesperson for the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS/SSA) , was diplomatic. He noted that responding to C-19 is not going to be easy for any individual group, and that only by cooperating with one another will it be possible to defeat the threat of the virus and at the same time [hopefully] become more united.

Despite Col. Sai Ohm Khur’s call for unity, the SHAN news agency reported that on April 12, RCSS’s health workers, who were conducting an C-19 educational prevention campaign were attacked by the Tatmadaw (Burma army).

According to the media report, the Tatmadaw also threatened anyone taking medical supplies, provided by the RCSS, would be arrested.

Sai Naw Seng, a Shan youth activist, said “campaigns are being conducted by EAOs in their areas and are reaching the public”. But felt the call for coordination and cooperation can also risk causing barriers. The recent conflict between the RCSS health workers and the Tatmadaw noted above, is illustrative of Sai Naw Sen’s point.

In addition, there are reports that the Tatmadaw’s Southeast Command pressured the KNU to remove their inspection gate positioned in Thaton Township, that was staffed by the KNU’s Brigade (1).

According to the KNU, before any action could be taken, the Tatmadaw seized the gate and replaced it with their own personnel on May 1.

Government measures and the abundance of committees

Following the World Health Organizations (WHO’s) March 11th announcement that COVID-19 had become a global pandemic, the President Office released a statement dated March 13, declaring Myanmar’s traditional Thingyan (Water Festival) and other gatherings would be banned until at least April 30.

This government’s statement set the stage for the establishment of a national level committee to oversee a nation wide response. This Union led committee is chaired by State Counselor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Union Minister from the International Cooperation Ministry serves as Secretary (1), the Union Minister from the Ministry of Health and Sport is Secretary (2). Committee members include officials from 15 different ministries including Home Affairs Defense, Border Affairs, and the Nay Pyi Taw Council Chair, and the Social Affair Minister for States/Regions.

This national level committee supervises all activities related to the control and monitoring measures dedicated to preventing further spread of the virus. Specific responsibilities include, monitoring measures at borders and airports, protocols for dealing with presumptive and confirmed cases, keeping the public informed in a timely manner and enabling cooperation with embassies for medical supplies and related treatments.

Then on March 30, an additional Covid-19 Control and Emergency Response committee was formed. This committee includes the Vice-President (1) as Chair, the Ministers of Union government offices and Union ministers of Home Affair ministry serves as secretaries to the committee. Officials from Defense, Border Affairs and the Defense Chef Office (Army) serve as head of negotiations and supervision, as well as ministers from other 4 ministries. This committee’s primary responsibilities are to quickly inspect and provide quarantine facilities across the country.

Just 4 weeks later, on April 25, a group of national level volunteers was formed, which again includes the State Counselor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as Chair. In addition, the Union Minister of Social Affairs, Relief and Resettlement serves as secretary. Group members include Union Ministers and the Permanent Secretary of the Union Government Office Ministry, Chair of the Nay Pyi Taw Council and the Chief ministers of States and Regions.

Finally on April 27, the Coordination and Cooperation committee with the EAOs was formed.

Although some observers are hopeful the government’s most recent creation of a Coordination and Cooperation committee will help prevent the spread of Covid-19 cases, some raise concerns.

Critics note that representatives from the Health Ministry, Home Affairs and Security Ministry are absent from the makeup of the Coordination and Cooperation committee, which can lead to problems at the local levels.

There is also some confusion regarding the committee’s mandate. For example, there is no explicit directive to say the committee can coordinate with Ethnic Armed Organizations that did not sign the NCA.

Further the committee began with just 4 persons including the deputy minister from the Ethnic Affairs Ministry. This small number raised questions on the committee’s ability to handle the large scale nature of the situation.

Coupled with the fact that a number of committees now exist, some with overlapping mandates, it will be important to monitor how response plans to C-19 are coordinated to ensure maximum impact for all, within Myanmar.

Finally, the Committee must carry out its work in accordance with the instructions of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center. This directive may limit the roles of EAOs and EHO’s, as well as findings from the international community who are also dealing with global pandemic.

Ethnic armed groups focus their measures of prevention, control and treatment of Covid-19

The ethnic armed groups are also conducting their own campaigns for the prevention and control of the Covid-19 within their respective areas.

The KNU formed a Covid-19 prevention committee that has been providing awareness materials as well as setting up quarantine centers.

The News Mon State Party (NMSP) formed Covid-19 prevention committees at the central and district level to also provide awareness and prevention materials. They too have established quarantine centers.

Other Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO’s) including the RCSS, KNPP, KIO and PNLF, are also conducting similar campaigns.

These campaigns are managed by each EAO and some are cooperating with low-level government departments for a few activities. Some EAOs rely on their own resources, and some with the support of NGOs’ .

International funding

The World Bank announced on April 20, a $50 million USD dollar loan, for Myanmar to combat the pandemic.

On April 28, the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar announced it was providing $ 7.3 million USD towards Covid-19 prevention measures for the country. In addition, USAID is assisting humanitarian and Ethnic Health Organizations (EHO’s) secure funding via the Access to Health Fund. This fund supports measures designed to prevent and control the spread of the virus, through community awareness and monitoring initiatives, and financially supports health care and treatment facilities.

The Access to Health Fund totals 6.3 million USD and at the moment, just over 2 percent (2.1%) funding has been allocated for ethnic health organizations. Observers note this small percentage allocation does not bode well for adequate coverage of the services that will be required by ethnic organizations spread across the country.

[Note: this article is translated from Burmese version, originally, > https://bit.ly/361N30n ]

References:

  • Myanmar President Office’s statement on forming coordination committee with ethnic armed groups to fight against the Covid-19
  • Myanmar President Office’s statement on forming voluntary leading group – national level
  • Myanmar President Office’s statement on forming controlling Covid-19 and Emergency response committee
  • Myanmar President Office’s statement on forming prevention and control treatment against the Covid-19 (National Level – Central Committee)
  • Network Media Group, May 2, 2020 ;Locals Doubt Effectiveness Of Gov’t And EAOs Cooperating On COVID-19 Prevention http://www.nmg-news.com/2020/05/03/10672By
  • KIC news>> http://kicnews.org/2020/05/knu
  • The United States Provides $7.3 million in Assistance to Respond to COVID-19 in Myanmar; April 28, 2020 https://mm.usembassy.gov/the-united-states-provides-7-3-million-in-assistance-to-respond-to-covid-19-in-myanmar/
  • Mizzima news >> https://www.bnionline.net/mm/news-72495
  • BNI news>> – https://www.bnionline.net/mm/news-72493
  • https://www.accesstohealthfund.org/en/COVID19-dashboard

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