Last week in the East Asia Pacific region, the Myanmar military continued crackdowns in the resistance strongholds of Magway and Sagaing regions. North Korea conducted its eighth missile test of the year. In the Philippines, a military operation against Islamic State (IS)-inspired groups in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao led to nine fatalities. In Indonesia, the separatist West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) killed eight workers in Puncak regency, Papua province. In New Zealand, demonstrations against COVID-19 vaccine mandates turned violent. In South Korea, there were nationwide anti-Japan demonstrations to commemorate 1 March Independence Movement Day. Lastly, rallies in support of Ukraine were reported across the region.
In northwestern Myanmar, the military continued to launch deadly crackdowns in the resistance strongholds of Magway and Sagaing regions last week. On 26 February, the military launched air and ground attacks on Chin Pone village in Yinmarbin township while the People’s Defense Force (PDF) – Yinmarbin was reportedly holding a graduation ceremony for those who had completed their combat training program (Myanmar Now, 1 March 2022). Military troops then occupied the village for the next three days, setting civilian properties ablaze. Media reports also state that the military held around 200 villagers captive, including over 80 children (Irrawaddy, 28 February 2022; Myanmar Now, 1 March 2022). At least nine civilians were found dead after the three-day raid, with some bearing signs of torture (Myanmar Now, 1 March 2022). Meanwhile, the military junta issued an order to expand the internet blackout across most of Sagaing region – with the exception of just four urban centers – beginning 3 March (Irrawaddy, 7 March 2022). The junta has already cut off internet access in eight townships in Sagaing region since 23 September 2021 (Myanmar Now, 25 September 2021). ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in Sagaing last month.
In the bordering Magway region, the military, and the military-backed militia Pyu Saw Htee, similarly employed the scorched-earth tactic against the civilian population. In a two-day raid on five villages in Gangaw township that began on 28 February, nine civilians were reportedly killed, and more than 250 houses were torched (Myanmar Now, 1 March 2022). A recently leaked military document reportedly confirms reports that the military has been arming groups in Sagaing and Magway regions, with more than 70 military-backed groups forming under the Pyu Saw Htee in Sagaing region since the coup (Myanmar Now, 2 March 2022). According to ACLED’s Volatility and Predictability Index, both Magway and Sagaing regions are considered areas of ‘extreme risk’ where violence is common and highly volatile.
On 27 February, North Korea test-fired a suspected ballistic missile from Sunan towards the ocean off its east coast. The test was the eighth missile launch this year (The Guardian, 28 February 2022). Even though North Korea insisted that it was a logistical test for a satellite launch, experts argue that North Korea may resume larger weapons testing while the world’s attention is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine (VOA, 27 February 2022).
Last week in the Philippines, the military carried out an operation against Dawlah Islamiyah militants affiliated with both the Maute Group and the Hassan Group in Maguing town, Lanao del Sur province, leading to the deaths of eight militants and one soldier. The operation comes amid reports that the two groups are becoming more closely aligned (Philippine News Agency, 4 March 2022). The operation reportedly targeted militants fighting under Faharudin Hadji Satar (alias: Abu Zacariah), a Maute Group leader whom the military now identifies as the new emir of IS in Southeast Asia (Manila Standard, 4 March 2022). The military announced that it overran the militants’ stronghold in the area (Manila Bulletin, 4 March 2022), though it was unclear if Abu Zacariah was among the fatalities (ABS-CBN, 4 March 2022). Various militant Islamist groups operate in the Southern Philippines. In the past decade, a number of these groups have pledged allegiance to IS and have been fighting under the name Dawlah Islamiyah (International Crisis Group, 27 June 2019).
Meanwhile, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) accused the government of violating a ceasefire agreement by carrying out the operation In Maguing town (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4 March 2022). The MILF complained that the operation was carried out on MILF territory, as defined by the agreement, and that the aerial bombardment and ground assault caused alarm among locals and led to evacuations (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4 March 2022). Following a decades-long separatist insurgency, the MILF and the government signed a peace agreement in 2014, which was then ratified as law in 2019.
In Indonesia, the TPNPB killed eight non-Papuan technicians working on repairing a telecommunication tower last week in Beoga district, Puncak regency, Papua province. This is one of the most deadly attacks by the TPNPB on civilians in recent years. The TPNPB claims that the victims were actually members of the military and police (Reuters, 4 March 2022). In December 2018, the rebels killed 19 construction workers claiming that they were Indonesian soldiers dressed in civilian clothes (The Jakarta Post, 6 December 2018). The rebels view government-contracted construction workers as an extension of the government (Reuters, 4 March 2022). The day following the attack, a soldier was wounded when the TPNPB and the military clashed in the same district. ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in Papua last month.
Meanwhile, Muslim groups demonstrated across Indonesia last week to demand the resignation of Minister of Religion Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, in response to a ministry circular proposing noise limits for mosque loudspeakers. It is not the first time that the volume of mosque loudspeakers has sparked controversy in Indonesia. In 2018, a Buddhist woman was sentenced to 18 months in jail for blasphemy after complaining about the volume of a mosque loudspeaker (Guardian, 23 August 2018).
Meanwhile, violence erupted in New Zealand during a demonstration against COVID-19 vaccine mandates last week. Hundreds of demonstrators — who have occupied the parliament grounds in Wellington since 6 February — clashed with police on 2 March during a police operation to regain control of the grounds and surrounding areas (Reuters, 2 March 2022). Demonstrators set several fires, threw projectiles, and sprayed a fire hose at police officers, causing injuries to a number of police officers. Police fired rubber bullets and pepper-sprayed demonstrators, arresting at least 60 demonstrators for a range of offenses including trespass, wilful damage, and possession of restricted weapons.
In South Korea, multiple anti-Japan demonstrations were held on 1 March as the country commemorated the 103rd anniversary of 1 March Independence Movement Day — a national holiday to commemorate the 1919 uprising against Japan’s colonial rule. Nearly 200 people held a rally near the Japanese Consulate in Busan, demanding an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government for past war crimes (Busan Ilbo, 1 March 2022). Another 150 people staged a demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul (Hankook Ilbo, 1 March 2022).
Meanwhile, demonstrations against the Russian invasion of Ukraine were reported across multiple countries in the region last week, including in Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and French Polynesia. In Japan, demonstrations in support of Ukraine triggered a nearly 400% increase in demonstration activity last week compared to the week prior.
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