Myanmar arrests French national after reported drone flight

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar police have arrested a French national in the capital, Naypyitaw, police and France’s embassy said on Monday, after the man reportedly flew a drone near parliament.

Naypyitaw is not a common destination for foreign tourists, but some curious visitors are drawn to its oversized official buildings and largely empty, runway-like roads. The junta constructed the city in secret and moved the country’s administration there in the mid-2000s.

In 2017, two foreign journalists for Turkish state TV station TRT World and their interpreter spent two months in a Myanmar jail for flying a drone over the legislature. The three pleaded guilty to breaching the colonial-era Aircraft Act.

Thein Min Htwe, a policewoman in Naypyitaw’s Ottara Thiri township, confirmed reports a Frenchman was detained for flying an unmanned aerial vehicle, but declined to say what charges he was arrested on.

Local media said police detained the man on a bridge at the entrance to Naypyitaw’s sprawling parliament complex on Thursday and that he was accused of illegally importing the drone.

Online outlet News Watch published a photo a man holding a small Chinese-made drone and an image of a passport belonging to 27-year-old French citizen, Arthur Desclaux.

Kyaw Naing, an official at the French embassy in Yangon, confirmed that consular officials were aware of the arrest, but declined to provide details.

Asked what charges the Frenchman was facing, he said: “We don’t know yet. We are contacting the Myanmar authorities.”

The legal status of drones in Myanmar is unclear. Myint Htwe, a director at the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, said drones were not mentioned in the “dos and don’ts” displayed at points of entry, but that importers may need permission from other government departments.

“There are regional orders (on where drones can be flown),” he said. “There are some areas where you can use drones.”

Reporting by Thu Thu Aung and Simon Lewis; Editing by Nick Macfie