Conflict fears leave Muse trade stilted
SECURITY fears are still haunting the Muse border post, slowing vital trade to a trickle amid a climate of fear. The official resumption of trading has brought little relief, local merchants say.
Muse was shaken by an outbreak of fighting that began on November 20 when an alliance made up of soldiers from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Kachin Independence Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army launched an attack on military and police targets.
Thousands of civilians have been displaced internally or fled across the border to China. As of November 30, 16 Myanmar government security personnel and civilians had been killed, according to U Zaw Min, head of the Muse district administration. One civilian was injured on November 28 when security forces fired on him near the site of one of several explosions in Muse township.
“Tatmadaw security forces around the blast areas are carrying out clearance of the territories,” the Ministry of Defence announced on November 29.
Economic activity in the trading zone, a key overland route for many Myanmar exporters, remains scant. Though local banks have reopened they close early and lack sufficient funds, while the rental cost of vehicles has risen sharply.
Trader Ko Lin Yaung Htein said, “Trading has resumed, but we have to go to Muse township office to get the necessary customs documents because the customs officers are afraid of more violence. The 105 mile office of Myanmar Economic Bank also dare not open as they cannot guarantee security.”
Some banks in Muse have reopened, but close at noon, and some restrict withdrawals because they lack sufficient funds in Myanmar kyat, said Ko Lin Yaung Htein, adding that local residents in Muse did not dare to leave their homes since the attacks.
A Ministry of Commerce spokesperson for the Muse 105 mile zone, who asked to remain anonymous, said trade volume at the normally bustling post was down to a few hundred trucks a day, carrying only US$2 or $3 million worth of goods. Over 1000 trucks and around $10 million worth of goods typically pass through the zone every day, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
Traders of perishable goods like fruit and seafood lost stock in the days immediately following the initial attack when trade was frozen. Some traders have since turned to alternative export routes to China, including the Bhamo route in Kachin State. But merchants and agricultural industry officials have warned that prices for agricultural goods in the local market could slump if trading at the 105 mile zone is curtailed for a long period of time.
“Trading resumed on November 26-27,” said Mandalay rice trader U Myint Lwin. “But still some drivers dare not go. [to Muse].” He estimated that trade volume was still down by 90 percent.
Truck driver Ko Moe Oo said the police presence at the border gate had increased and that he had been going back and forth for several days now.
“There’s no problem,” he said. “The police are there for security. Trucks were arriving as of November 29, with fruit deliveries passing through daily. We can drive on the bridge, but there are delays on the other side because there’s a hole in the road.”
The violence of caused damage to the india and Nant Pot bridges on the road to Mandalay from 105 mile post, considerably slowing traffic.
Watermelon trader Sai Khin Maung said truck rental fees had doubled, from K600,000 or K700,000 to K1.3 million, but it was still difficult to find vehicles.
“People don’t dare to go Muse 105 mile from Mandalay. Sugar, maize and rice can’t pass by that route. They go via the Chin Shwe Haw route. But entry into Myanmar from Shweli China is blocked.”
He said about 1000 tonnes a day of agricultural produce passed from Mandalay into China via the Chin Shwe Haw route. But trade in other goods was reduced. – Translation by Emoon, Khine
Thazin Han and San Layy
A member of the Kachin Independence Army helps a fellow soldier light a cigarette during a break in October.