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Anti-junta forces capture camps in central Myanmar township

An anti junta group in Myanmar’s Mandalay region is continuing to make gains in a key township following the collapse of a truce between insurgent armies and the military who seized power in a 2021 coup. The Mandalay People’s Defense Force, or PDF, captured a junta camp at the Alpha cement factory in Madaya township on July 14, and one at Taung Ta Ngar two days later, it said in a statement on Tuesday. Madaya is just 30 km (19 miles) north of Mandalay, the capital of the region and Myanmar’s second-largest city. The Mandalay PDF has been fighting alongside the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, since late October 2023.  The TNLA, which has also teamed up with the Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army as part of the Three Brotherhood Alliance, pushed back junta forces in several regions before agreeing a shaky China-brokered truce with the junta in January. When the ceasefire collapsed on June 25, the TNLA attacked Mandalay’s Mogoke township and several towns in Shan state to the region’s east, while the Mandalay PDF focused much of its attention on Madaya and Singu townships in Mandalay region. The defense force said it had captured 28 junta camps as of Wednesday. Weapons and ammunition seized after Mandalay PDF captured the junta base at the Alpha cement factory in Madaya township, Mandalay region in a photograph released on July 16, 2024. (Mandalay PDF) Mandalay PDF spokesman Osmon, who goes by one name, told Radio Free Asia Myanmar’s military suffered heavy losses in the battle for Madaya. “There were many casualties on the side of the junta in these operations. We have seized corpses and arrested junta soldiers,” he said. “There were some casualties on the side of Mandalay PDF.”  Osmon didn’t disclose the numbers of casualties on either side but said the PDF took more than 150 prisoners. He added the group is now engaged in a fierce battle with junta forces at Madaya’s Kyauk Ta Dar base. RELATED STORIES Myanmar junta steps up security in Mandalay as fighting spreads across region  Thousands stuck between checkpoints on Myanmar road amid renewed fighting Thousands displaced in Myanmar’s Mandalay region On Tuesday, three people were killed when a shell hit Madaya town, close to its train station and main market. “It happened around 8 a.m.,” said a resident who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisals. “A 44-year-old woman, a 30-year-old woman and a two-year-old girl were killed.” The man said he didn’t know which side had fired the shell, while another resident said the blast happened close to where junta troops were stationed. “It was about 10 to 14 meters away from them,” he said, also requesting anonymity for security reasons. “It was also close to where the junta soldiers always come to drink tea.” RFA phoned the junta spokesman for Mandalay region, Thein Htay, for details on the fighting in Madaya, but he did not answer calls. The National Unity Government, a shadow government formed by members of the civil administration ousted in the 2021 coup, said on June 27 that PDFs and their allies have made sweeping gains in Mandalay region and Shan state to the east, in a campaign it dubbed “Operation Shan-Man.” The Mandalay PDF said it had captured 11 junta camps in Singu township,  80 km (50 miles) north of Mandalay city, by July 7. Now the junta is fighting back, damaging around 100 houses and injuring more than 20 people in airstrikes on July 16, as it seeks to flush PDF forces out of Singu town. The PDF’s Singu-based head of information, Than Ma Ni, said the junta carried out more than 20 airstrikes on Tuesday and also bombarded the town with heavy artillery.  “The junta’s air force has been striking all day as Mandalay-PDF has taken over Singu town,” he said Wednesday. “There were no deaths, but those who were hit by shrapnel have been moved to a safe place and are receiving medical treatment. The entire town was pretty much destroyed.” Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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Myanmar junta steps up security in Mandalay as fighting spreads across region

Junta forces have tightened security in Myanmar’s second-biggest city, Mandalay, while shelling civilians elsewhere in the region, after coming under renewed attack from an alliance of insurgent forces battling to end military rule. A shell killed a seven-year-old boy and a woman in her 30s after it exploded in a residential area of Mandalay region’s Mogoke town on Monday evening, residents told Radio Free Asia Tuesday.  Another four-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman, as well as a woman and man both in their 30s, are in critical condition, said one Mogoke resident, asking to remain anonymous for security reasons. “A child and a grandmother were seriously injured by shrapnel that hit them in the neck,” he said. “It was not easy to send them to the hospital, so they were treated at home by people who have some medical knowledge.” The shells were fired from a junta camp on Strategic Hill in eastern Mogoke, a ruby-mining town about 200 km (120 miles) north of Mandalay city. Over half the town’s population has fled after fighting intensified between junta troops and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, which has taken control of western Mogoke, residents said.  RELATED STORIESMyanmar rebel army calls ceasefire after junta airstrikeThousands stuck between checkpoints on Myanmar road amid renewed fightingMyanmar insurgent allies capture strategic Shan state town from junta The TNLA is part of an alliance of three ethnic minority insurgent forces known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance. The alliance launched an offensive last October, codenamed Operation 1027 for the date it began, and pushed back junta forces in several regions. After a five-month ceasefire ended on June 25, the TNLA, and allied forces attacked junta camps in Madaya, Singu and Mogoke townships in Mandalay region, and Hsipaw, Kyaukme, Nawnghkio and Lashio towns in Shan state to the east. Stepping up Security The TNLA and its allies have also turned their attention to junta bases near Mandalay region’s capital, causing the military to step up security in Mandalay city, residents said.  One city resident, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. told RFA that after Operation 1027 resumed in late June, the junta had increased the number of outposts around Mandalay and its historic palace. “We’re getting a sense that the areas around the palace are more secure. They also installed heavy weapons on top of Mandalay Hill and also on Yankin Hill,” he said. “Security has been increased a lot. If there was a place with four or five soldiers before, there are about 10 soldiers now.” Troops are also stationed on top of high-rise buildings in the city’s Chanmyathazi township, one resident said, also asking for anonymity to protect his identity.   “The junta troops are stationed on the top floors of Ma Ma-29 and No. 49 buildings,” he said, adding that soldiers also occupied buildings in the Myayenanda, and Aungpinlel neighborhoods, as well as Mandalay’s industrial zone. “The troops asked residents to leave in order for soldiers to be stationed there.”  Army personnel are also stationed in Inwa (Inn Wa) town, 32 km (20 miles) south of Mandalay city, which is close to a junta air force base, he added. On Monday, the junta closed the Mandalay-Madaya Road after fighting with allied rebel forces near Madaya township’s Kyauk Ta Dar village, which is just 27 km (17 miles) away from Mandalay city. According to the Mandalay People’s Defense Force, the group had captured 25 junta camps in Madaya township and 11 in Singu township as of July 7.  RFA called Mandalay region’s junta spokesperson Thein Htay for more information on increased security and the attack on Mogoke, but he did not answer phone calls. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

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Seven dead, including 3 children, killed in Myanmar clash

Shelling during a clash in northern Myanmar killed seven civilians on Wednesday, including three children, residents told Radio Free Asia, as fighting between junta troops and ethnic minority insurgents escalated following the breakdown of a ceasefire. Fighters from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and their junta army rivals blamed each other for the death of the civilians when shells hit their homes in the town of Lashio in northern Shan state. Fighting between the junta soldiers from the Northeast Command and the autonomy-seeking rebels resumed on June 25 after the collapse of a ceasefire brokered by Chinese officials in a series of meetings that began in January.  The Ta’ang National Liberation Army announced the capture of 26 junta camps in the days following the end of the ceasefire. RELATED STORIES Junta troops destroy roads in northern Myanmar as renewed fighting looms China awaits junta approval to resume border trade with Myanmar’s Shan state Talks between Myanmar rebel alliance and junta focus on Chinese interests The fighting in Lashio escalated on Wednesday with one shell killing a family of six in their house, said a resident, who declined to be identified in fear of reprisals.  “It happened while they were eating in the kitchen. The dead bodies have been sent to the morgue,” he said. “We’ve heard the sound of heavy guns firing all morning but I’m not sure if the junta army or the revolutionary group was responsible.” Those killed were Zel Zaung, 14,  Dwel Aung and Zel Nwel, both 15, Sai Khon and May Yi, both 30, and  Mar Gyi, 70. A shell hit another Lashio house early in the day, killing a woman and wounding two men, residents said. RFA could not confirm their identities.  The Ta’ang National Liberation Army and civilians blamed the junta for the deaths but the junta blamed the rebels in posts on its Telegram channels. RFA called Shan state’s junta spokesperson Khun Thein Maung for more information on the attacks but calls went unanswered. Fighting between the two groups has also affected Namhu and Nampawng villages near Lashio town. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

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Lao central bank governor removed amid economic crisis

National Assembly lawmakers on Tuesday removed the governor of Laos’ central bank at the end of its legislative session as top officials search for ways to address the country’s inflation and economic woes. The assembly approved a proposal from Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone to transfer Bounleua Sinxayvolavong, the governor of the Bank of Lao P.D.R., to a position in Luang Prabang province, according to the assembly’s vice-chairwoman, Sounthone Xayachack. Laos’ economy hasn’t recovered much from blows brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. International tourist numbers remain low, jobs are scarce and many younger workers have sought higher-paying jobs in Thailand or elsewhere in the region. Also, higher fuel prices and the steady depreciation of the Lao currency, the kip, have fueled inflation, according to a report from the Lao Statistics Bureau in May.   Laos’ economic problems are now affecting “the future of its food security and nutrition” in the country, according to the Asian Development Bank, or ADB. Inflation has had a big impact on food prices, which has reduced people’s purchasing power and has forced many households “to devise food-coping strategies, such as reducing food consumption and meal frequency to bridge their nutritional needs,” the ADB said in a report last month. The kip weakened by 31% against the dollar last year – a trend that was expected to continue this year, the World Bank has said.  Laos’ high debt service obligations have constrained the government’s ability to respond “to immediate issues of high inflation, which has placed pressure on people’s incomes and living standards, as well as long-term labor productivity issues,” the report said. Minister of Finance Santiphab Phomvihanh told lawmakers last month that the government will need at least US$10 billion this year to cover all debt-related expenses, but the central bank – had so far only brought in US$3 billion. ‘Talk and talk’ Lawmakers on Tuesday also approved a resolution that recommended the government address a teacher shortage, the increasing numbers of student drop-outs, the national debt and uncontrolled mining operations. The Assembly also passed or amended 13 different laws, including laws on property rights, investment promotion, environmental protection and anti-corruption. “Our country has two national priorities – solving economic-financial woes and cracking down on drugs,” lawmaker Sinava Souphannouvong said at a meeting last week.  “I’m urging the government to set cracking down on corruption as the third national priority,” he said, pointing out that neighboring Vietnam adopted a campaign against corruption. The reality, though, is that corruption “happens from the top,” according to a former government official in southern Laos who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the workings of government. “The inspection agency dares not inspect the top and other high-ranking officials,” he told Radio Free Asia. “Only low-ranking officials have been punished.” A businessman also believed that there will be no real impact from the government’s campaign against corruption. “Oh, they just talk and talk, but nothing will happen,” he told RFA . “They also have two other national priorities: solving economic-financial problems and cracking down on drugs. But they have failed to implement these two priorities. I think they’re going to fail on the third one as well.”  Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed.

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Workers say some 60 Cambodian rescued maids still in Saudi Arabia

Some 60 Cambodian maids who complained publicly about abuse and labor rights violations remain stranded in Saudi Arabia, several workers told Radio Free Asia, several months after pleading with diplomats and others for help. The women, who went to the Middle Eastern country for jobs, said they have been physically abused by their employers and denied food and sleep. Some said they hadn’t been paid or were told they would be required to work for longer than their contracts stipulated. The maids and other workers in Saudi Arabia first sought Cambodian government intervention and assistance in March.  In April, Cambodia’s Labor Ministry said 78 migrant workers who had been misled into working in Saudi Arabia had been placed in hotel rooms under the care of Cambodian diplomats.  Two dozen women returned home in May. Another 48 women have since been flown back to Cambodia, according to Em Bopha, one of the workers who is still in Saudi Arabia.  A total of 133 Cambodian workers have been removed from their abusive employment situations. The 60 workers still in Saudi Arabia have been staying at several different facilities while diplomats arrange for their return, she said. Cambodian company Fatina Manpower Co. Ltd. helped arrange the contracts between the workers and their Saudi employers, and is now working on their return.  The remaining workers suspect the delay in sending them back to Cambodia is rooted in Fatina Manpower’s inability to pay compensation to partner companies in Saudi Arabia, Em Bopha said.  The owner of Fatina Manpower, Man Teramizy, is a senior official at Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor. Radio Free Asia was unable to reach the ministry’s spokesperson, Katta Orn, for comment on June 24. Cambodia’s ambassador to Egypt, Uk Sarun, said a group of about a dozen maids who left one of the holding facilities for a day on June 20 has complicated diplomatic efforts to coordinate their return.  The workers have been frustrated by the delays and uncertainty, Em Bopha said. But fleeing from the facility was “insulting,” Uk Sarun told RFA. “We have tried very hard,” he said. “We are still waiting for responses [from the company]. But now it’s a little more difficult. I asked them for understanding and I told them to return to the company’s facility.”  Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Edited by Matt Reed.

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North Korea draws navigable group in round 3 of FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers

The road to the 2026 FIFA World Cup for the North Korean team will go through three Middle Eastern countries and two former Soviet republics, the Asian Football Confederation decided in a  drawing for the third round of qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur Thursday. North Korea was drawn into Group A along with  Iran, Qatar, Uzbekistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Kyrgyzstan. Though the team, known by supporters as the Chollima, have the lowest world ranking among the six teams, Group A offers a chance for qualification, with only Iran ranked among the world’s top 30 teams.  In drawing Group A, North Korea avoids an inter-Korean showdown, with South Korea heavily favored to dominate Group B, full of Middle Eastern minnows Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Palestine and Kuwait. Group C, meanwhile, is the “Group of Death,” with powerhouses Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia drawn together, and Bahrain, China and Indonesia rounding out the group. In the second round, North Korea finished second in its group behind Japan and ahead of Syria and Myanmar. They crushed Myanmar 6-1 in Yangon and 4-1 in a home match played in Vientiane, Laos. The campaign also featured a strong showing against 17th-ranked Japan in Tokyo, where they lost 1-0. But North Korea forfeited the home match because they refused to host. North Korea fans in the stands before the match against Japan, March 21, 2024 in Tokyo. (Issei Kato/Reuters) North Korea hasn’t hosted a home match since the last World Cup cycle, playing South Korea to a 0-0 draw in Pyongyang in 2019. The third round will kick off on Sep. 5, with North Korea set to face Uzbekistan in Tashkent. Should the Chollima finish in second place or higher after playing each member of Group A home and away, the team would advance to the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Finishing the group in third or fourth place would advance North Korea to a fourth round of qualifying, where six teams would vye for two more spots in 2026 or a berth in the inter-confederation playoffs. Questions remain as to whether North Korea will host its own home matches or continue to coordinate them with third countries. Although the country has reopened its borders that had been shuttered since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020, it may not be ready to welcome teams from other countries and their fans. The Chollima are very popular among fans in their home country, but the team also has fans from outside its borders. Should the team advance to the finals and play on U.S. soil, Paul Han, a North Korean escapee who lives in Indianapolis, would cheer for the North Korean players, he told RFA Korean. “I cheer for North Korea especially when they play against South Korea, the United States, or Japan,” he said. “It’s a matter of the fate of those players, because they can be sent to a place where the sun and moon cannot be seen (if they lose).” Translated by Claire S. Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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Thai Senate adopts historic bill legalizing same-sex marriage

People rejoiced in the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities on Tuesday after the Senate passed a bill that puts Thailand on the cusp of becoming the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage. With the two houses of the Thai legislature having now adopted legislation that provides equal marriage rights to LGBTQ people, the bill will become law within 120 days after the king signs it and it is published in the Royal Gazette. The legislation is expected to unlock previously denied legal rights for Thai same-sex and non-traditional couples, such as adoption or the ability to make health care decisions for their partners’ behalf, human rights activists said.  A majority of senators attending the session voted in favor of its passage. About 100 of the 250-member Senate were not present for the vote. Out of 152 voters, 130 approved, four disapproved and 18 abstained, said Gov. Singsuk Singprai, the first vice president of the Senate, who chaired Tuesday’s session. The scene outside Government House in Bangkok was filled with rainbow colors of the Pride flag as gay people and others gathered to celebrate this landmark moment for Thailand’s LGBTQ community.      “As an LGBTQ person who is in love and wants to marry another woman, we have long hoped that we would have equal rights and dignity, just like the heterosexual couples who can marry and start families,” Ann “Waaddao” Chumaporn, an LGBTQ organizer and community spokesperson, said during Tuesday’s Senate deliberations on the Marriage Equality Bill.    _________________________________RELATED STORYTogether three decades, Thai same-sex couple hopes for legal recognition _________________________________ The bill proposes replacing terms such as “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” in Section 1448 of Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code.  “We hope that changes in Thailand will ignite a spark for other countries in Asia. Although this law is not 100% perfect, from an international human rights organization’s perspective, it makes Thai law more aligned with international standards,” Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, a Southeast Asian human rights associate at Fortify Rights, told BenarNews, an affiliate of Radio Free Asia. If and when the bill becomes law, Thailand would join Taiwan and Nepal as the only countries in Asia to recognize the rights of same-sex couples to wed. Members of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate after Thailand’s Senate passed a marriage equality bill to legalize same-sex unions, outside Government House in Bangkok, June 18, 2024. (Patipat Janthong/Reuters) Isa Gharti, a public policy researcher at Chiang Mai University, said the vote demonstrates progress in accepting sexual diversity. “This shows the societal advancement in Thailand in terms of accepting sexual diversity and safeguarding the rights of the LGBTQ community to equality both legally and in human dignity. This is a positive sign that will make Thai society more open, although there are still some voices of opposition,” Isa said. “Going forward, Thailand must also address deeply entrenched gender discrimination and biases in education, employment, and public health,” Isa said. “It’s essential to educate the public to foster understanding and reduce stigmatization of sexual diversity.” ‘Beautiful and powerful’ In Thailand, a Buddhist-majority politically conservative country, legislation around same-sex marriage has been more than two decades in the making.  An earlier marriage equality bill, introduced by opposition lawmakers from the progressive Move Forward Party, reached its second reading in November 2022, but didn’t move beyond that because of a series of legislative delays. It died when Parliament dissolved in March 2023 ahead of the general election two months later.  This year, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the current bill, with 400 of 415 lawmakers present endorsing it at its final reading in March. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who is a backer of marriage equality, has said his government was working toward Bangkok hosting World Pride 2028. “We have fought a long time because we believe in all equal rights,” Srettha wrote on his X account after the vote. “Today is our day. We celebrate to ‘diverse’ love, not ‘different’ [love]. Love is beautiful and powerful.’ Supporters of LGBTQ+ rights march toward Government House in Bangkok as they celebrate the Senate’s approval of a same-sex marriage bill, June 18, 2024. (James Wilson-Thai News Pix/BenarNews) The movement for legal recognition of same-sex marriage began during the Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2001. At the time, the Ministry of Interior proposed amendments to the marriage law, but dropped them because of public opposition. A military coup forced Thaksin from the prime minister’s office in 2006. In 2012, the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, introduced the Civil Partnership Bill for consideration. While this bill did not grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, its progress was halted by another military coup in 2014 that drove her from the same office. The Move Forward Party proposed the Marriage Equality Bill in the lower House in 2022. Simultaneously, the administration of then-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha submitted the Civil Partnership Bill for consideration.  While the two bills shared similarities, the Civil Partnership Bill would have established a “life partnership” status for same-sex couples, granting them fewer legal rights than “marriage.” The House term ended before either bill could be passed. After Tuesday’s Senate vote, Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, an 18-year-old who identifies as non-binary, took the floor and thanked everyone who supported the legislation, calling it a “force of hope” that will help Thailand become more accepting of diversity, the Associated Press reported. “Today, love trumps prejudice,” Plaifah said. BenarNews is an online news outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia.

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China’s dependency on potash imports could give tiny Laos rare leverage

Let’s start with the good news – potentially great news, in fact – for Southeast Asia: Laos could be sitting on 10 billion tons of potash, one of the three main fertilizers used in global agriculture.  In 2022, a subsidiary of the Chinese company Asia-Potash International announced a $4.3 billion investment in a potash mining venture in Khammouane province. This deal grants exploration rights to 48 square kilometers for potassium ore.  The company reckons it can start with producing 1 million metric tons of potash annually, scale up to 5 million tons by 2025 and eventually reach 7 to 10 million tons. For a comparison, Canada, the world’s largest potash producer, exported around 23 million metric tons, valued at approximately $6.6 billion, in 2023. In 2022, Laos’s potash exports were valued at approximately $580 million, representing about 1.7 percent of global supply. It isn’t inconceivable that Laos will become a global player.  Location helps Laos Geography is key. Next door is China, the world’s largest importer of food and food inputs, and the world’s third-biggest purchaser of potash. China imports around 8 million metric tons each year, about half of its demand, although that is increasing.  China is the world’s biggest producer of potatoes, which are very reliant on potassium. China’s potato heartlands – Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces – are on Laos’ doorstep. Guangdong province, China’s main banana producer, isn’t too far away.  There’s ample room for Laos to expand potash exports in Southeast Asia, too. Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest potash importer, bought around $2.1 billion worth in 2022, with Laos holding a 6 percent market share.  Malaysia, the sixth-largest importer, spent around $1 billion on potash, with Laos having a 2 percent share. Laos is already the largest supplier of potash to Vietnam, with exports worth about $82 million in 2022. Officials with Sino-Agri International Potash Co., Ltd. and the Lao government sign a memorandum of understanding March 24, 2023, to build a smart eco-industrial city in Khammouane province. (Pathedlao) If, for instance, Laos was to replace suppliers like Jordan and Israel and capture a 20% share of China’s potash import market, its exports could rise to around US$750-800 million, making potash Laos’ second-largest export product, after energy.  Right now, the spot price for potassium chloride is US$307 per metric ton. So, loosely, 10 million tons exported a year would bring in around US$3 billion.  Expectations shouldn’t be that high, though. It’s one thing for a Chinese investor to promise to produce 10 million tons a year and it’s another thing for it to actually deliver it.  And because it’s a Chinese firm selling the goods, most of the money won’t stay in Laos. And there are already the same complaints as with every Chinese investment: Asia-Potash International isn’t hiring local workers.  Geopolitics Nonetheless, estimates vary, but there still could be between $30 million and $300 million in annual revenue for the Lao state. Almost certainly it will be towards the lower end, but it’s not to be sniffed at by the badly-indebted government.  However, consider the geostrategic implications.  Up until now, China hasn’t really needed Laos. It lacks the strategic importance of Cambodia, with its naval base on the Gulf of Thailand, or the trade routes offered by Myanmar, where China is developing a $7 billion port to access the Indian Ocean for oil and LNG imports from the Gulf.  In 2022, Laos accounted for a mere 0.1 percent of China’s total imports; food makes up less than a tenth of that, so Laos isn’t a solution to China’s future food insecurity. A bulldozer works on a large hill of potash at the Dead Sea Works in Israel’s Sodom area, Feb. 16, 2016. (Menahem Kahana/AFP) China’s primary import from Laos is pulped paper, not energy. Instead, China constructs hydropower dams and coal-fired stations in Laos, which generate electricity sold to Thailand and Vietnam.  Geostrategically, Laos is a useful ally for Beijing to have because of its ASEAN membership, but Vientiane holds little weight in the regional bloc.  Should something drastic occur in Laos – such as the fall of the ruling communist party or the emergence of an anti-China government – Beijing would be displeased and Chinese investments would be at risk, but China’s national security would be unaffected.  That situation changes if Laos becomes a significant supplier of potash. If projections are correct and Laos can produce between 7-10 million tons of potash annually, it could theoretically more than meet China’s entire import demand. That makes Laos a national security interest for Beijing. Food security The Chinese government is preparing itself for military conflict. It knows that in the event it launches an invasion of Taiwan or attacks a rival state in the South China Sea, the West will hammer it with economic sanctions so damaging it would make the retribution reaped on Russia look like a slap on the wrist.  Self-sufficiency and diversification are the buzzwords. But it’s doubtful that China – arguably the country most dependent on world trade and on U.S. protection of shipping routes – could survive such sanctions.  Even short of war, food security has long been a major concern for China., for reasons too long to go into. According to Xi Jinping, the supreme leader, food security is the “foundation for national security.”  Beijing is also concerned that its reliance on imported fertilizer inputs “could pose a major threat to its food security”. There’s no way China can achieve the food self-sufficiency that Xi wants, as was spelled out in a detailed study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. thinktank. Farmers operate rice seedling transplanters in Taizhou, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, June 12, 2024. (AFP) China can domestically produce enough nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers, the latter essential for phosphate-hungry rice. But almost all of China’s phosphate is produced in Xinjiang and Tibet, far away from the rice-growing Han heartland and where the local population is largely hostile to rule by Beijing. China will remain…

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Junta troops destroy roads in northern Myanmar as renewed fighting looms

Military junta troops have destroyed major roads that connect several towns and cities controlled by rebel forces in northern Myanmar’s Shan State in what could be preparation for renewed fighting in the area, residents told Radio Free Asia. Junta forces used bulldozers on Wednesday to damage a road connecting Namtu township and Namsang Man Ton, which has been under the control of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA. On Thursday, junta bulldozers made a section of the Lashio-Hsenwi road impassable. That part of the road, which leads to Hsenwi, Kun Long and Chinshwehaw townships, is an area controlled by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, or MNDAA. The TNLA, MNDAA and Arakan Army together make up the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which in October launched an offensive that has dealt the military a series of defeats, pushing government forces back. Residents of Lashio told RFA that security has been tightened at the entrance to the strategic town, which is home to the military’s northeast command headquarters. The road leading to Lashio city under the control of Brigade 6 of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) was destroyed by the junta, June 13, 2024. (PSLF/TNLA News via Telegram) That’s likely a reaction to a nearby buildup of forces by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a resident told RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “It’s been apparent that the junta has also been gathering its forces and weapons near the area controlled by the ethnic armed organizations,” the resident said.  “Moreover, insurgent forces have been seen near Lashio,” the resident. “And now the roads to Lashio have been cut off. It is expected that conflict will occur very soon.” Ceasefire violation A resident of Moe Meik township, who requested not to be named, told RFA that people are already fleeing to safe areas ahead of expected armed clashes between the junta and the alliance. “We have learned that the ethnic alliance force is headed to this area,” he said. “Almost all the people have left the town now.” The destroyed roads have led to a rise in the price of rice and other goods, a Namtu township resident told RFA. Gasoline has increased from 3,600 kyat (US$1.72) to 4,000 kyat (US$1.91) per liter and is being sold on a limited basis, he said. In nearby Kutkai township, the price of rice has risen by 50,000 kyat (US$24) per bag as people rush to buy supplies, a resident there said. Three Brotherhood Alliance and junta representatives agreed to a Chinese-brokered ceasefire during a round of talks in January. Less than a week after the agreement, both sides were accused of violating the deal.  Members of the Kokang army (MNDAA) clean up the Rantheshan camp, which they had just captured, October 29, 2023. (The Ko Kang via Facebook) Junta forces carried out artillery shelling on June 9 on a TNLA outpost between Pang Tin and Man Pying villages, which is located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) away from Moe Meik.  Troop movements and other preparations by the TNLA are in response to the shelling, several residents said. TNLA spokeswoman Lway Yay Oo told RFA that the junta is violating the January ceasefire agreement, and they will carry out retaliatory attacks if junta troops conduct more military action. “It was found that the junta has sent more drones and forces in northern Shan state. They are also cutting off routes,” he said. “It is deliberately creating fear in the public.” Calls by RFA to junta spokesperson Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun for a response to the TNLA spokeswoman’s remark went unanswered.    It’s unlikely that members of the Three Brotherhood Alliance would accept another ceasefire, military and political commentator Hla Kyaw Zaw said. “Even if China tries to prevent it again, the TNLA will not stop its mission,” he said. “Now that the junta has cut through the roads, the TNLA has reason to attack.” Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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Five dead, 20 missing in Myanmar landslide

Updated June 5, 2024, 06:18 a.m. ET. Rescue workers in northern Myanmar recovered the bodies of five mine workers, including one Chinese national, on Wednesday and were searching for missing victims of a landslide at a rare earths mine, residents told Radio Free Asia. The landslide in Kachin State’s Chipwi township trapped 25 people in a shaft early on Tuesday, they said. Resource-rich Kachin State, which has rare earth and jade mines, has been the site of  of a surge in clashes between the junta and an ethnic minority insurgent force, the Kachin Independence Army, since early this year. The landslide occurred during regular operations at the rare earth mine near Chinese Border Post No. 3, about eight km (five miles) from Pang War village, said one witness who declined to be identified for security reasons.  “There was a landslide when I was working and around 20 people were in there, including a Chinese site manager,” he said. “These landslides are a continuous problem lately because it is rainy season.” Rescue officials were searching for 20 people still missing, residents and mine workers said.  Three Chinese nationals were believed to be among the missing, the witness said, adding that junta forces had tightened security at the site and forbidden photographs, threatening a fine of 5,000 Chinese yuan (US$ 703) for anyone taking a picture. RFA telephoned Kachin State’s junta spokesperson, Moe Min Thein, for more information but calls went unanswered. The Chinese embassy did not respond to an emailed request for comment by the time of publication. Rescue operations had been complicated because the land was still collapsing at the mine, said another resident, who asked to remain anonymous because of the junta’s media blackout. A woman aged 19 who had been selling things at the mine was among the missing, said the resident. “The rest are all men,” he said. “It’s difficult to search even now because the mountain is still collapsing.” Two landslides occurred in a nearby rare earth mine near Pang War village on May 27 and 29, killing two workers, he said. The environmental group Global Witness said in a report last month that rare earth mining production increased by 40% in Pang War between 2021 and 2023. The area is under the control of junta-led militias and pro-junta border guards, and more than 300 mining sites have been developed there since the military seized power in a coup in early 2021, Global Witness said. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.  Updates number of missing.

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