Anti-junta forces set up satellite-based internet service in 60 areas

The high-speed system was built by Starlink, a division of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
By RFA Burmese
2023.12.19
Anti-junta forces set up satellite-based internet service in 60 areas Anti-junta protest in Hpakant, Kachin state in 2021
(Citizen Journalist photo)

Anti-junta forces have set up satellite-based internet access in more than 60 areas under their control in the Sagaing and Magway regions and in Karenni and Kachin states, officials from Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government told Radio Free Asia.

The military junta cut off access to regular internet services in many communities following the Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat as they sought to weaken communication capabilities among resistance forces.

Mobile phone services have also been blocked in many townships where fighting has taken place between junta troops and People’s Defense Force paramilitaries or ethnic armed organizations.

Officials from the National Unity Government, or NUG, said that the Starlink satellite internet technology is being set up primarily for use by administrators in communities that resistance forces have secured. 

Residents of those villages and townships will eventually have access as well, said Ko Lin, the joint secretary of NUG’s Ministry of Communications, Information and Technology.

The NUG is mostly made up of former civilian government leaders. Its “Federal Net Campaign” was launched on Nov. 20.

ENG_BUR_SatelliteInternet_1219202302.JPG
Villages of Yinmabin and Salingyi townships in Sagaing region protest against junta enforced internet blockage in 2022. (Citizen journalist photo)

“We use satellite-based technology, and are seeking ways with other technologies,” Ko Lin said. “Now there are more peaceful areas at present. We are expanding our project to ensure more effectiveness.”

The lightweight, high-speed internet system built by Starlink – a division of U.S. billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX – has connected people in remote parts of the world and has given Ukrainian forces a crucial advantage on the battlefield, according to the Associated Press. It uses almost 4,000 low-orbit satellites across the skies.

Junta’s legal threat

A resident of Ye-U township in Sagaing region said the junta-implemented internet outage hurt people’s ability to stay informed and connected with friends and family.

“We could use social media platforms such as Facebook for communications before the internet was cut off,” the resident said. “The outage has many impacts on us. There are only a few places to connect to the internet, but they aren’t stable. So, I don’t use the Internet anymore.”

But locals in some townships in Kayah and Shan states have recently been able to log on after several Internet cafes were connected to Starlink, NUG officials said.

The junta’s Ministry of Transport and Communications announced on state-owned media outlets on Nov. 23 that legal action will be taken against the illegal use of satellite devices and internet services. 

The announcement should serve as a warning to the public about avoiding internet services that aren’t licensed by junta authorities, said Myo Swe, the director-general of the ministry’s Post and Telecommunications department.

“As per Telecommunications Law, service providers need to apply for a license at our department,” he told Radio Free Asia. “Both satellite internet service providers and users need to apply for registration.”

An email sent to SpaceX requesting comment on the junta’s threat of legal action against those who use Starlink in Myanmar wasn’t immediately returned on Tuesday.

Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian relief service helping oppressed ethnic minorities in Myanmar, condemned the restrictions on any communications among people. The group helped facilitate the use of Starlink in Karenni state, director David Eubank said.

“Freedom of expression and communication is a fundamental human right between all peoples, and for all peoples,” he said. “The government of Burma or any government that tries to control peoples’ ability to communicate with each other is doing an evil act against their own people.”

Alternative access to the internet will make it more difficult for junta officials to “hide their crimes and offenses in the world,” said Zaw Win of the Southeast Asia-based human rights group Fortify Rights.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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