Myanmar Military Conglomerate Shifts HQ to Capital Amid Junta’s Security Fears

By The Irrawaddy 4 March 2022

The Myanmar military regime is building a new headquarters for one of its major income sources, Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (MEHL), in the country’s capital Naypyitaw out of safety concerns, according to sources close to the matter.

MEHL is one of the Myanmar military’s two major holdings, the other being Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). Both are involved in nearly all of the country’s lucrative business sectors including oil and gas, copper and gemstone operations.

The billions of dollars of revenue they generate for the military bypass formal government channels and the funds are unaccounted for, according to reports by the UN and Amnesty International. The UN Fact-Finding Mission’s 2019 report said revenue from MEHL “provides financial support for the Tatmadaw’s operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law violations.” The Tatmadaw is Myanmar’s military. Since last year’s coup, the junta has killed more than 1,500 people for opposing military rule in the country.

MEHL owns Myawaddy Bank and operates the Myanmar military’s pension fund. Currently, its headquarters are in Yangon’s Botataung Township.

The construction of the new 10-story MEHL head office on Mandalay Street in Naypyitaw’s Oattarathiri Township was confirmed by at least two sources, including a retired military major. It is located in one of the capital’s busiest areas near the Ocean Supercenter shopping center and just behind Kanbawza Bank’s Naypyitaw headquarters.

Residents of the neighborhood said construction started in January and the foundation is currently being laid.

“As far as I’m concerned the SAC thinks Naypyitaw is a safe haven for them so they want the [conglomerate’s] head office to be moved there as soon as possible,” the retired major told The Irrawaddy, referring to the State Administration Council, the regime’s official name.

He explained that the military was concerned about resistance attacks on regime targets in Yangon, especially since suspicious simultaneous blazes at its supermarket and wholesale mall in Yangon in April last year. While it’s true that many government offices in the city have been bombed by the local People’s Defense Forces, the headquarters of MEHL and MEC in the former capital have been largely spared so far.

The military established MEHL (then known as UMEHL) as its economic arm in 1990 after its coup in 1988. Its businesses include gem mining, banking, food and drink sales, tourism and transport.

MEC was established in 1997 with a greater focus on raw material production, including coal and gas, and manufacturing. Its main purpose is to supply the military with natural resources and factory goods, the UN report said. In the same year, it opened Innwa Bank.

It’s not known whether the regime has any plan to move MEC to Naypyitaw.

Traditionally, the position of MEHL chairman is held by the military’s adjutant-general. Lieutenant General Tin Aye was head of MEHL before he was appointed as the chairman of the Union Election Commission ahead of the 2015 election. The current MEHL chairman is Lieutenant General Myo Zaw Thein, the sitting adjutant-general.

Both MEHL and MEC have entered various joint ventures with foreign firms like Japanese drinks maker Kirin, South Korean steelmaker POSCO and India’s Adani, the latter on a port development project.

However, Kirin announced last month that it would withdraw from Myanmar after pressure from human rights groups. Adani also said in October that it would exit Myanmar by June this year.

POSCO said in April that it was considering buying out its local partner or finding other ways to cut ties with MEHL.

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