Myanmar’s military junta has told foreign executives of major telecommunications companies that they cannot leave the country without permission.
Myanmar’s Posts and Telecommunications Department issued a confidential order in mid-June informing senior executives, both foreigners and Myanmar nationals, Reuters reported, citing a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
The order came as the junta sought to force the country’s telecoms firms to implement special technology that would allow authorities to spy on calls, messages, and web traffic, the news outlet added.
A week after the mid-June order, telecom companies were told they had until July 5 to fully implement the spyware technology, the source told Reuters.
Three other telecoms sources, all also anonymous, told Reuters that authorities had ramped up pressure on the companies to implement the technology, but they declined to elaborate further.
Two of the sources said companies were warned repeatedly by junta officials not to speak publicly or to the media about the spyware, according to Reuters.
In May, Reuters published a lengthy report revealing that Myanmar’s telecom and internet service providers had been ordered to install technology to allow the army to eavesdrop on the communications of citizens in the months leading up to the February 1 military coup.
It remains unclear to what extent the technology has been deployed by telecom firms.
Among the military’s first actions after taking power earlier this year was to cut internet access.
Internet has still not been fully re-established in the country, and telecom firms are regularly given lists of websites and activist phone numbers to block, Reuters reported.
The new travel ban order came as Norway’s Telenor, which has a subsidiary in Myanmar, announced that it was evaluating its position in the country due to the chaos that has followed the violent coup.
“Due to the continued situation, Telenor Group is in the process of evaluating various options with regards to its presence in the country,” the company said last week in a statement. “The evaluations are ongoing, and Telenor Group will not make any further comments.”
In May, Telenor wrote off the entire value, almost $800 million, of its operation in Myanmar, citing a “worsening of economic and business environment outlook and a deteriorating security and human rights situation.”
The company, though, has continued to operate in the country while calling on the military regime to “reinstate unimpeded communications and respect the right to freedom of expression and human rights.”
The other three main telecom companies in Myanmar are Quatar-based Ooredoo, Myanmar state-owned MPT and Mytel, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Viettel and a Myanmar military-owned conglomerate.