Thursday, 02 December 2021

Myanmar’s military wants “to have discussions physically” with Telenor execs

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Thursday 21 October 21

The junta said that this was a “request” for the Telenor management team not to leave the country

In an interview with Reuters yesterday, Aung Naing Oo, the military junta’s appointed investment minister, revealed the military wants to meet, in person, with Telenor’s executives, describing it as “kind of a request not to leave the country.” In the same interview, Aung Naing Oo noted that these restrictions were limited to Telenor because of the military government’s interest in a physical meeting…

In an interview with Reuters yesterday, Aung Naing Oo, the military junta’s appointed investment minister, revealed the military wants to meet, in person, with Telenor’s executives, describing it as “kind of a request not to leave the country.”

In the same interview, Aung Naing Oo noted that these restrictions were limited to Telenor because of the military government’s interest in a physical meeting, and other foreign telecoms officials would not be restricted. 

This report builds on previous rumours back in July, which suggested that a confidential order had been given to transport officials not to allow senor Telenor officials to leave the country without special permission. 

When the military overthrew the civilian government at the start of 2021, Telenor Myanmar was immediately thrown into disarray. In the months that followed, the military regime leaned heavily on the telecoms sector to impose restrictions of various kinds, ranging from blocking access to Facebook to complete service blackouts. 

Telenor was one of the more outspoken telcos regarding restrictions they were being forced to impose, calling on the new administration to “immediately reinstate unimpeded communications and respect the right to freedom of expression and human rights". The company also reportedly resisted requests from the military to install spyware on their network that would allow for the surveillance of web traffic. 

But despite their best attempts at resistance, the civil unrest within the country quickly made Telenor Myanmar’s continued existence within the country untenable. In May, Telenor wrote off the $782 million unit, but were hopeful that they could still eek out a future within the country. By July, however, the situation had only grown more severe, and Telenor instead announced that it had sold the unit to Lebanese conglomerate M1 Group for $105 million.

At the time, M1 suggested that they were ready to invest $330 million in the business. 

Civil rights onlookers decried the sale, even petitioning the Norwegian government, suggesting that M1 had a track record of working with authoritarian regimes and would not put up the same level of resistance to the military regime’s demands as their predecessor. 

The junta itself has also voiced concerns over the sale, pressuring the Ministry of Transport and Communications to veto the sale for numerous reasons, including M1’s owners being charged with corruption, as well as objecting to the nation’s critical infrastructure being owned by a foreign company.

It is likely these concerns that form the basis of the “discussions” that the junta intends to have with Telenor officials. 

Nonetheless, the deal continues to await approval, with Telenor saying they would not comment on any possible travel restrictions in the meantime “due to safety concerns for individual employees”.

 

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