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Myanmar bans telecoms executives from leaving the country

Myanmar network NEW.jpg

The military government of Myanmar has banned executives of foreign telecoms operators from leaving the country, as they refused to accept the government’s requirement that they intercept traffic.

Reuters reported this morning from Singapore that the junta, which seized power from the democratically elected government in February, has told company executives that they must not leave the country without permission. The agency cited “a person with direct knowledge of the matter”.

Meanwhile one of the companies, Telenor of Norway, has announced that it is “evaluating various options with regards to its presence in the country”. And TMT Finance said that it has hired Citi to find a buyer.

The government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, warned the companies, including Ooredoo of Qatar and Telenor, last month that executives must seek special authorisation to leave the country, whether they be locals or foreigners.

It wants the companies to install technology to let authorities spy on calls, messages and web traffic and to track users, said Reuters, though the agency said it had not seen the letters from the government.

Capacity has contacted senior executives at both Ooredoo and Telenor in Myanmar to ask for comment.

Telenor said from its head office that back in May it had already “announced an impairment of Telenor Myanmar due to the worsening economic and business environment outlook and a deteriorating security and human rights situation, with limited prospects of improvement”.

It warned in May that “the future presence would depend on the developments in the country and the ability to contribute positively to the people of Myanmar”.

At the weekend it said: “Due to the continued situation, Telenor Group is in the process of evaluating various options with regards to its presence in the country. The evaluations are ongoing, and Telenor Group will not make any further comments.”

Telenor has had a licence in Myanmar since 2014, and now has 16.2 million mobile subscriptions, bringing in revenue of €694 million in 2020. It employs 747 people in the country.

Telenor no longer lists its senior Myanmar executives on its website: the link to the management team returns a 404 error code, adding: “We can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for.”

Ooredoo does not even offer a link to any list of management on its Myanmar website, nor any news from later than 18 June. The group website in Qatar is similarly tight-lipped about the situation in Myanmar, though its first-quarter results said that “political developments in Myanmar including restrictions on mobile and wireless broadband impacted Ooredoo Myanmar’s performance in Q1 2021”. Revenues declined by 11% year-on-year, “as restrictions impacted data revenues which were partially offset by an increase in voice revenues”.

Meanwhile on Friday the US increased its sanctions on Myanmar. The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added four organisations to the entity list, including King Royal Technologies, which provides satellite communications services in support of the Burmese military. The others listed are in the mining industry.

American citizens and companies – and non-Americans living in the US – are banned from doing business with any organisation on the BIS’s entity list.