A photo of protesters walking through Yangon with umbrellas bearing in Burmese the number 8 during a rally to mark the anniversary of the August 8, 1988 uprising. Handout/Yangon People's Strike/AFP

Welcome back to Frontier Fridays. This week the junta set a new exchange rate, clashes exploded in Kachin State, Min Aung Hlaing met with a Japanese lawmaker and those in Myanmar and abroad marked the 34th anniversary of the 8888 Uprisings.

Junta sets new exchange rate
It looks like pressure from the business sector may finally be having an impact on the junta’s more unhinged economic policies. Over the weekend the regime walked back two parts of its ridiculous foreign currency ban – but whether these changes will make any difference, especially with all the damage that’s already been done, remains to be seen.

Last Friday, the junta-appointed Central Bank of Myanmar officially depreciated the kyat further from K1,850 to K2,100 against the US dollar, effective on Monday. Then on Wednesday, the regime announced that it would allow exchange counters to go a paltry six kyat above or below the official rate, effectively expanding the range of conversion from K2,094 to K2,106. After the no-dollar policy was introduced in April, the market conversion rate slowly climbed, reaching a high of K3,000 to the dollar, but the junta stubbornly kept the official rate pinned to K1,850. The huge difference between the two rates meant that those who were forced to convert their foreign currency into dollars were losing a substantial amount of money. There still seems to be a significant gulf between the CBM rate and the market rate, which is now closer to K2,700.

The CBM also eased the blanket requirement that all export earnings have to be converted at the regime’s official rates. According to Friday’s announcement, only 65 percent of export earnings (almost all of which is USD) will be subjected to the forced conversion announced in April. But, the junta has not yet clarified whether the conversions should now be done at the new formal rate of K2,100 to the dollar or whether they are to still be converted at K1,850 to the dollar. There is also confusion regarding the other 35pc of export earnings, which the CBM announcement didn’t address. It remains unclear whether businesses will be allowed to freely manage the remaining export earnings, though we imagine there will be other strings attached and other ridiculous foreign currency restrictions to follow. 

The depreciation of the kyat also means that its value is decreasing relative to other currencies like the Thai baht and the Chinese yuan, two of Myanmar’s top trading partners. According to The Irrawaddy, the kyat’s value dropped from K69 per baht to K72 last week, while the price of one Chinese yuan climbed from K320 to K370. 

High casualty count in Kachin
In Kachin State, soldiers allegedly accompanied by the Shanni Nationalities Army killed civilians and burned down hundreds of houses in Sezin village in Hpakant Township during clashes with the Kachin Independence Army. The KIA reportedly seized one military outpost as well as two outposts under the control of the SNA early this week, leading to the outbreak of fighting. The KIA also attacked a police station in Sezin village, a military outpost in Shaduzup village, and an outpost controlled by the pro-military Shaduzup Sanpya Pyithusit militia, but was unable to seize any of these. 

The junta responded to these attacks by launching a series of airstrikes and torching homes in Sezin village. One resident told Myitkyina News Journal that soldiers stationed in the village have been killing “anyone who tries to flee from their houses”, with The 74 Media putting the death toll at 40 civilians. Among the casualties was a 12-year-old boy who was killed during the fighting and a teenage girl who was seriously injured, losing one of her legs. While the resistance took a hit, another source told Kachin News Group that the military and SNA also suffered heavy casualties. The outlet claimed that at least 20 soldiers and SNA fighters were killed and the KIA also managed to seize arms and ammunition. 

Nearly all 500 houses in the village have reportedly been torched by either the military or SNA since Tuesday evening. More and more sources are indicating the SNA is collaborating with the military, but the militia continues to deny this. "This is the junta’s playbook,” said KIA spokesperson Colonel Naw Bu to RFA Burmese. “Whenever there is fighting, they kill civilians and burn down villages. That’s like their culture of war.”

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Min Aung Hlaing meets with Japanese lawmaker
Min Aung Hlaing had a new visitor yesterday, receiving ruling party Japanese lawmaker Hiromichi Watanabe in Nay Pyi Taw, according to this morning’s Global New Light of Myanmar, the first time an elected Japanese politician has met the general since the coup. According to GNLM, the two men reportedly spoke about the “need for people in Japan to know the true situations”. We have a feeling the real reason for his latest visit was more to do with the recent arrest of Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota, but naturally this was not mentioned in the GNLM write-up. 

While the junta has a habit of eventually releasing foreign detainees, especially when international pressure ramps up, Toru’s high-profile work on the Rohingya crisis, including contributing to an Al Jazeera documentary, might hurt his case. He was charged last week under section 13(1) of the Immigration Law, likely for overstaying his visa, and under section 505-A of the Penal Code for incitement for attending a protest. It remains unclear why Hiromichi, who previously served as Japan’s Minister of Reconstruction, was selected for this trip. He does have some background on Myanmar – he served as a secretary in the Japan-Myanmar Parliamentary Friendship Association, and he was part of a Japanese delegation that visited Myanmar in 2004 to meet with Khin Nyunt. But beyond that, little is known about his work on Myanmar.

Anniversary of 8888 Uprising
Monday marked the 34th anniversary of the 8888 Uprising, named for one of the first days of mass protests – August 8, 1988. While many demonstrations were cancelled due to fear of arrests, images of one protest in Yangon quickly went viral in which four activists are seen parading around Yangon with black umbrellas each affixed with the number eight in Burmese. They posted one photo at the intersection of Anawratha and Sule Pagoda roads in Kyauktada Township, just a few metres away from a police station, where many mass protests were held in February and March of 2021. Similar protests with umbrellas displaying the number eight were held in Taiwan, Japan, Australia, the United States and France. 

In rural parts of the country, especially in Sagaing Region, several larger events were held, demonstrating the military’s lack of control over these resistance strongholds. A public seminar was held in Wetlet Township in Sagaing Region and residents in an undisclosed village in Taze Township held a protest. In Kalay Township, residents banged pots and pans. 


These summaries are drawn from our Daily Briefing, which informs our members every weekday about current affairs in Myanmar, and from our Media Monitor, which features translations of headlines and stories in Myanmar-language media. Take a free trial of the newsletters here.

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