Myanmar Blacklists EBO Executive Director Harn Yawnghwe

By Saw Yan Naing 14 June 2017

The Myanmar government blacklists influential figure Harn Yawnghwe, allegedly for his involvement in the country’s peace process, denying him a visa extension.

Harn Yawnghwe, who holds a Canadian passport, is the executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office (EBO), an organization that provides funding to ethnic and civil society organizations.

Khuensai Jaiyen, managing director of the Chiang Mai-based Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue, told The Irrawaddy that an official from the Myanmar Embassy in Canada informed the EBO director on June 1 that the embassy was not allowed to issue the visa.

“He [Harn Yawnghwe] applied for the visa on April 24. He told me that no reason was given for the ban,” Khuesai said.

The official said the embassy did not know the reason but was instructed not to issue the visa, according to Khuesai, adding that there are any number of reasons for Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deny visas. Two other EBO staff members are also blacklisted.

Khuesai said there are rumors that Harn Yawnghwe is masterminding the peace process, led by Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. This accusation has likely reached the ears of government officials in Naypyitaw.

U Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, told The Irrawaddy that his ministry is authorized to directly ban visas and place individuals on the blacklist with respective orders.

“We ban visas only when a respective government body asks us to do so. You can ask people who are involved in peace process about [Harn Yawnghwe’s] case. They know better,” said U Myint Kyaing.

On the country’s blacklist there are currently 176 Myanmar nationals and some 3,600 foreigners who are banned from traveling to Myanmar, he added.

“We will explain the reason behind a visa ban if an applicant seeks an explanation. We do not release it publicly in order not to damage the applicant’s dignity,” said U Myint Kyaing.

Harn Yawnghwe is an ethnic Shan from Myanmar who has played a major role supporting and advising ethnic armed organizations both in exile and inside the country for decades. Due to his influential role in ethnic affairs, critics claim his involvement is controversial. Some criticize him for dividing the unity of ethnic armed groups.

Established in 1997, the EBO has been one of the main donors to Myanmar’s democracy movement. In 2011, it was permitted to open a branch office in the country. Harn Yawnghwe is also the son of Myanmar’s first President Sao Shwe Thaike.

The Irrawaddy’s reporter Htet Naing Zaw also contributed to this story.