Gov’t Plans To Set Up Coast Guard under Civilian Control

By Htet Naing Zaw 28 January 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar government is planning to establish a coast guard under the control of the civilian government, not the military, according to Union Minister for Transport and Communications U Thant Sin Maung.

The ministry held a meeting in December on establishing a coast guard to protect national security and fight drug and arms smuggling, as well as human trafficking, the minister told reporters in Naypyitaw on Saturday.

“The coast guard is necessary for our country. Most countries have one. So, we will hold extensive discussions on how to structure it, what training to provide and how to fund it, and present [our recommendations] to the President’s Office,” the minister said.

“The President’s Office wishes to establish it as a civilian department,” he said.

The Navy has the manpower and equipment required to form a coast guard right away, but it would be hard for it to handle certain tasks, such as inspecting commercial ships. The coast guard will therefore be formed with personnel from various departments including Immigration, Customs, Fire Services and Marine Administration, he said.

The Defense Ministry will cooperate on establishing the force, said the minister, adding that officials from the ministry attended the meeting in December.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy, Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun suggested that the Defense Ministry’s participation in the meeting could be taken as a sign that the Tatmadaw approves of the plan. He declined to comment further, however.

“We need a coast guard. There are problems with smuggling and immigration. We need it. But I don’t know much about the structure and scope of duties,” said U Aung Thu Nyein, a director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy.

He suggested the coast guard be established as part of the police force, with participation from the Army and various civilian departments.

According to Article 338 of the 2008 Constitution, all armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defense Services chief.

Asked by The Irrawaddy about the Tatmadaw chief’s constitutional mandate, U Thant Sin Maung said: “This shouldn’t be a problem. We just need [the Tatmadaw’s] approval. For example, the Forest Department and the Immigration Department are equipped with arms. There are civilian agencies that need to use arms,” he said.

“[Establishing a coast guard] is a formidable task that calls for collaboration among various departments. Besides vessels, we also need technicians,” he added.

Responsibility for maritime security is currently shared by the Myanmar Navy and the Maritime Police Force.