A demonstrator steps on an image of Army chief Min Aung Hlaing during a protest outside Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on 1 Feb 2021
A demonstrator steps on an image of Army chief Min Aung Hlaing during a protest outside Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on 1 Feb 2021 | Photo: Andre Malerba | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: The Myanmar military and police are dropping off criminals in small neighbourhoods of commercial capital Yangon at night to incite violence and unrest, a businessman who is part of the anti-coup protests in the country has alleged.

Speaking to ThePrint over the phone, Yangon-based start-up founder Thaw Zin said this is being done to justify the use of force against anti-coup protests.

“I fear for my life because I am out on the streets protesting everyday, organising protests, contacting journalists etc,” he said. “I could be next. They could arrest me,” he added, saying there is an internet shutdown every night from 1-9 am.

Thaw Zin, who is currently living alone in Yangon, is a Brown University alum who holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Oxford. He founded an education consultancy in Myanmar last year.

On 1 February, Myanmar’s military took control of the country after detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, in the first coup d’etat since 1962. Power was then transferred to Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing, and a one-year state of emergency announced in the country.

The coup was launched on the day the newly-elected parliament was due to meet for the first time after last year’s elections in November. The polls delivered a landslide victory to the NLD, but the military alleged fraud in the election. 

The coup has spawned waves of protests across the nation, with at least four protesters reportedly killed in the ensuing crackdown. 

There has also been speculation that thousands of prisoners released earlier this month as part of an amnesty scheme are being used by the authorities to spread panic and violence around Myanmar. In response, Myanmar protesters have set up “neighbourhood watch” groups to guard against troublemakers as also night-time arrests.

Also Read: Myanmar polls and events that led to military coup and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, others

Crackdown intensifies 

According to the BBC Burmese news service, a 30-year-old member of a neighbourhood watch group was shot at Shwepyithar township in Yangon Saturday night. The wife and father of the man went to police but reportedly weren’t allowed to register a case. Residents have blamed police for the fatal shooting, according to local media reports.

Two other protesters were killed Saturday in Mandalay, when security forces opened fire to disperse people at a protest in the city. Thaw Zin said one of the victims was a teenage medic around 16 or 18 years old, and was shot by a sniper. 

Last Tuesday, a young woman died in capital Naypyidaw she was shot in the head by police during a demonstration. A spokesman for the ruling military did not deny the 19-year-old woman was shot by security forces, but said she was part of a crowd that had thrown rocks at police, and the case was under investigation. There were no independent accounts of her taking part in any violence.

As the authorities look to crack down on the protests, gatherings of more than five persons have been declared illegal in Yangon and Mandalay, and there is a curfew in place between 8 pm and 4 am. The military has also blocked online platforms like Facebook and Wikipedia.

‘Military deliberately causing unrest to justify crackdown’ 

Earlier this month, the new junta released about 23,314 prisoners on a national holiday. While amnesty for prisoners on national holidays has been a tradition in Myanmar, the Burmese non-profit Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has raised concern that the latest release was meant to “clear space for the detention of political prisoners”.

Thaw Zin alleged that the prisoners were also being used to cause unrest. “This is exactly what they (Myanmar military) did when cracking down on the 1988 uprising. My parents warned me that there would be violence once prisoners are released. They deliberately cause unrest to justify the crackdown and use of force.”

He said he has noticed unidentified cars roaming streets beyond the 8 pm curfew. “These criminals are dropped off, sometimes even in ambulances. They try to poison water supplies and create unrest. We call it the ‘purge’,” he added. “In another neighbourhood where my aunt lives, seven homes were burnt down by arsonists.”

On some occasions, he said, neighbourhood watch groups capture the criminals to stop them from inciting violence and release them in the morning. “There’s no point in turning them over to the police. The same thugs just come back to the same neighbourhood the next night,” he added.

Pictures on Facebook show people buying wooden sticks and metal poles at local supermarket Pro-1 in Yangon. “I bought one too. Though the thugs have not come into my neighbourhood yet, it’s good to have protection,” he said.

This is an updated version of the report

Also Read: Myanmar coup shows a new chapter in the Great Game of the East is unfolding. India watching


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