Last week in Southeast Asia, clashes between the military and the United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA) increased in Rakhine and Chin states. Meanwhile, civilian casualties were reported amid ongoing shelling in Rakhine state. In both Thailand and Indonesia, demonstration activity decreased sharply. The decrease in protests in Thailand follows a surge in both anti-government and pro-monarchy demonstration activity the week prior. Lastly, in the Philippines, clashes between the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and state forces decreased, while drug-related violence continued unabated.
In Myanmar, there was an uptick in clashes between the Myanmar military and the ULA/AA last week. The two groups fought several times throughout the week in northern Rakhine state and Paletwa township, Chin state. The increase in fighting in Paletwa township comes as the electoral commission (UEC) announced that polls for the upcoming general elections will not be held in parts of the township (Irrawaddy, 28 October 2020). Last month, the UEC released a list of locations where elections would be canceled due to security concerns. The selection process for the list was criticized as lacking transparency and consistency, as certain areas that have been flashpoints of conflict – such as Paletwa township – were excluded from the list, while relatively more peaceful places were included. The UEC’s latest changes to the list are viewed as a move to address these complaints. Concerns persist over the impact of canceling the vote in ethnic minority areas (for more on this, see this recent ACLED CDT spotlight).
Meanwhile, civilian casualties were reported amid continued shelling and airstrikes by the military in Rakhine state. On 29 October alone, shelling in Minbya township resulted in nine civilian casualties. While denied by the military, locals believe that the military was targeting civilians, as the shelling did not appear to be linked to clashes with the ULA/AA (Radio Free Asia, 30 October 2020). Aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were also killed and injured by the military last week. The humanitarian workers were travelling along the Mayu river to transport relief goods to an IDP camp in Rathedaung township when the military fired at them. Their boat sank; the boat driver was killed and three others were injured. The military claims that ULA/AA fighters were onboard the boat and had initiated the shooting; the ULA/AA denied this claim (Irrawaddy, 28 October 2020).
In Thailand, there was a sharp decline in protest activity last week following a dramatic surge in both anti-government and pro-monarchy demonstrations the week prior. In particular, anti-government demonstrations – which have been calling for the prime minister’s resignation, amendments to the constitution, and reform of the monarchy – decreased significantly. Meanwhile, there was a milder decrease in pro-monarchy demonstrations. Their number is almost on par with that of anti-government demonstrations last week. The decrease in anti-government demonstrations comes amid reports of the continued judicial harassment of protesters. Last week, authorities continued to arrest and file charges against protesters. On 30 October, tensions ran high outside a police station in Bangkok where three prominent protest leaders were re-arrested by police. The student leaders had just been released on bail when new charges were filed against them. They got into a scuffle with police while resisting arrest and were subsequently hospitalized. One of them lost consciousness after police reportedly put him in a chokehold (Prachatai, 1 November 2020).
Additionally, police filed sedition charges against five students for their participation in a 26 October protest at the German embassy (Bangkok Post, 29 October 2020). The protest saw thousands of anti-government demonstrators march to the German Embassy in Bangkok in a move to increase pressure on the Thai king, who resides mostly in Germany (Reuters, 26 October 2020). Protesters demanded that the German government investigate whether King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s activities in Germany were in breach of local legislation. Subsequently, the German government stated that the king’s conduct has been in line with Germany’s laws so far (Al Jazeera, 29 October 2020). Earlier last month, the German foreign ministry stated that they did not condone “guests” conducting state affairs from within the country (Deutsche Welle, 16 October 2020).
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha held a special parliamentary session to discuss how to de-escalate tensions sparked by the ongoing anti-government protests. Afterwards, the government announced a proposal to form a “reconciliation committee” – which will potentially include protest leaders – to seek a resolution to the political crisis (Bangkok Post, 29 October 2020). In response to this, protesters and opposition ministers insisted that the prime minister’s resignation is key to resolving the unrest (Thai PBS World, 1 November 2020).
In Indonesia, demonstrations against the controversial omnibus law on job creation continued to decline steadily as the protests entered their fourth week. Compared to the week prior, demonstrations decreased by about half last week. Students, laborers, and environmental groups have been protesting almost daily since the law – which has been criticized for eroding labor rights and bypassing environmental regulations – was passed on 5 October. Notably, alongside calls for the revocation of the law, last week, demonstrators also demanded a raise in the minimum wage next year. This new demand follows announcements by several provincial governments that no changes will be made to the minimum wage in 2021 due to the pandemic-induced economic crisis (Kompas, 28 October 2020). Following the authorities’ swift and heavy-handed response to the demonstrations since they first erupted, the protest movement has been losing momentum every week. In the first week of the demonstrations alone, police repeatedly clashed with and arrested thousands of demonstrators (Jakarta Post, 8 October 2020; The Straits Times, 10 October 2020). The ongoing protest movement in Indonesia has been viewed as less likely to endure compared to their Thai counterparts (SCMP, 22 October 2020).
Additionally, several protests condemning French President Emmanuel Macron were recorded last week in Indonesia. Protesters are angry about the French president’s “anti-Islam” comments defendeding the display of cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad by a teacher – who was later beheaded in a “terror attack” by a Muslim extremist – in France (Anadolu Agency, 2 November 2020). Muslim groups in Indonesia have since echoed global calls to boycott French products (Tempo, 30 October 2020). No such protests were reported in neighboring Muslim-majority Malaysia as the country struggles to contain the latest wave of coronavirus infections (Channel News Asia, 26 October 2020). Nonetheless, as with its Indonesian counterpart (Antara News, 28 October 2020), the Foreign Ministry summoned an official from the French Embassy to condemn the “defamatory” statements made against Islam (Reuters, 28 October 2020).
Finally, in the Philippines, there was a decrease in fighting between the NPA and state forces. Meanwhile, ahead of All Saints’ Day – more commonly known as Undas in the Philippines – anti-communist groups held protests denouncing the violence that has been perpetrated by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA so far. Protesters also commemorated those whose lives were lost to communist-related armed conflict.
Separately, drug-related violence continues to be reported, primarily in Luzon. Last week, at least seven civilians were killed by both police and in vigilante-style attacks. This follows a massive anti-drug operation carried out by police the previous week in which nearly 800 drug suspects were arrested across Central Visayas over three days (Manila Bulletin, 27 October 2020). According to police, more than 12,000 people were arrested on drug-related charges in September and October alone (Philstar, 4 November 2020).
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