Myanmar Govt Restores Internet in Rakhine, Locals Complain of Weak Signal

By Lei Lei 5 August 2020

YANGON—Internet service reportedly resumed in seven townships in northern Rakhine State and southern Chin State’s Paletwa Township as of Saturday after an internet blackout lasting more than a year, but local residents say internet connections are still unavailable.

In June 2019, the Myanmar government cut off internet access in Ponnagyun, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Myebon, Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine and Paletwa in Chin State, citing security concerns over the fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) in the area.

According to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, all telecom operators including MPT, Telenor, Ooredoo and Mytel have resumed mobile internet services for the area as of Saturday.

“I received a message from MPT that internet service resumed on August 1. But it is just 2G and there was no internet at all,” Salai Htan Lai from Paletwa’s Kuwa Village told The Irrawaddy.

Mrauk-U resident U Sein Hlaing also said that he cannot use the internet nor send messages. Others reported slow connections.

MPT chief engineer U Myo Swe said, “There are two parts regarding this. The connection is largely 2G in smaller towns and there are also subversive acts being carried out by using the mobile network. So, we adjusted the connection because of this so that mobile data service can’t be used. It is 2G but still you could do a lot with it back in 2013, 2014.”

In July, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said the internet shutdown was justified because the AA has abused mobile internet technologies to remotely detonate landmines and improvised explosive devices, as well as to incite hatred between ethnic people and to abduct and attack government personnel.

Rakhine parliament member U Tun Thar Sein, representing Mrauk-U, said people in Rakhine—from businessmen to displaced people—have no access to information due to the internet shutdown.

“As we are helping displaced people, there were many difficulties in providing them with emergency relief supplies. To confirm what was happening, we had to use internet, so there were weaknesses in verifying news. It was also difficult for our staff to travel to villages as we don’t know the situation on the ground,” said U Zaw Zaw Tun, secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, which is helping displaced people in Rakhine State.

Mai Nan Wai, the spokeswoman of the Paletwa-based Relief and Rehabilitation Committee for Chin IDPs, said the committee has lost access to information on the ground due to the internet shutdown and was thus unable to provide appropriate assistance to the IDPs.

Two months after the internet ban was introduced in June 2019, internet and data traffic services were resumed in five of the nine townships: Rathedaung, Myebon, Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Paletwa. But the government then re-imposed the internet blackout in the five townships after clashes intensified in February.

Internet services then resumed again in Maungdaw Township on the evening of May 2 of this year, according to local residents.

U Zaw Zaw Tun suggested that the internet resumption is likely connected with the coming election or to allow high school students to be able to check matriculation exam results online.

“[The resumption] is mainly intended to facilitate to some extent the social life of internet users in those areas, and for rural people to be able to use internet for their businesses,” said U Myo Swe.

When asked if the government will place another internet ban in those townships after the election in November, U Myo Swe said that for the time being, the government has no plan to re-impose the ban.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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