Ij reportika Logo

Justice for Myanmar: Vietnamese telco helps junta track deserters

Viettel has been helping Myanmar’s junta track civilians and military deserters, according to Justice for Myanmar (JFM), which called for immediate sanctions against Viettel Global Investment (VGI), a unit of Vietnam’s largest mobile carrier.

Viettel is owned by Vietnam’s defense ministry and VGI holds a stake in Telecom International Myanmar, which runs mobile company Mytel.

“Mytel … is a key pillar in the Myanmar military’s business network, providing revenue, technology and surveillance capabilities,” JFM said in a news release.

The activist group said leaked documents show Mytel has been working with military commanders to offer customized phone numbers to personnel that include their ID number.

Over four years Mytel has given hundreds of thousands of free SIM cards to military personnel, as well as civil servants and members of the former National League for Democracy government, enabling the military to monitor them, Justice for Myanmar said.

“Mytel is a product of the Myanmar military’s systemic corruption, supporting war criminals including Min Aung Hlaing and the illegal military junta that he is heading, with revenue, technology and intelligence,” Justice for Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung told RFA by email.

Analysis shows that Myanmar’s military is set to earn more than U.S.$700 million from Mytel over 10 years, using the profits to fund continued war crimes and crimes against humanity, the report said. 

The spokesperson said the Vietnamese military also stands to benefit from its stake in Mytel’s parent company through access to data military infrastructure, including bases for mobile phone towers and the Myanmar military’s fiber optic cable network.

“In seeking profits, military generals have handed the Vietnam Ministry of National Defence unprecedented access to military secrets, including personnel data and access to military bases. This is data that was not even available to the previous National League for Democracy-led government or the parliament that the military has attempted to dispose of. It includes the names, ranks and ID of personnel at a national level, organized by military base, and the personal call data of the majority of Myanmar military personnel,” Maung said.

“While Vietnam is an ally of Myanmar’s militaristic regime, Viettel and the Ministry of National Defense of Vietnam can use and misuse this data if desired, even in their own national interest,” Yadanar Maung said.

Justice for Myanmar called for immediate targeted sanctions against Mytel owner Telecom International Myanmar as well as Viettel Global Investment. It also called for an immediate boycott of Mytel to stop money flowing into the pockets of the military.

RFA emailed Viettel to ask for their comments on the report but did not immediately receive a response.

Following the military coup in February last year, many soldiers and police defected to join the civil disobedience campaign. JFM claimed they were still being monitored by military authorities with the help of Mytel’s sim cards.

JFM said Mytel’s profits should not be used by Myanmar’s military to buy weapons and equipment to target the opposition but should be used to serve the interests of the people.

In December 2020, Justice for Myanmar released documents it said showed that Viettel was supporting the modernization of Myanmar’s military through technology transfers and training, to improve the technical capacity of the military. 

Therefore, “Viettel and the Ministry of National Defense of Vietnam are contributing to military operations in ethnic Myanmar areas and supporting and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity,” JFM said.

More than 1,900 people including children have been killed by the military, and more than 11,000 people have been detained and tortured, JFM said, citing the Myanmar Association for the Support of Political Prisoners.