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Activists face new threats as pro-junta militias spread in Myanmar

Death threats against pro-democracy and anti-junta activists are on the rise across Myanmar as militia groups loyal to the military regime expand their presence in the country’s urban areas and other more densely populated regions, sources said Tuesday.

In late April, eight members of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) and their supporters were found brutally murdered in Mandalay with badges or cards on their bodies displaying the insignia of a group calling itself the Thway Thauk, or “Blood Comrades,” militia.

Since the killings, similar groups have emerged in Bago, Tanintharyi, and Irrawaddy regions, as well as in the capital Naypyidaw, issuing death threats on social media against the NLD, activists, journalists, and members of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group, sources said.

Among them are the Thway Thitsar (Loyal Blood) in Naypyidaw, the Yangon Castigate Group (YCS) in Yangon, the Patriotic Coalition in Bago region’s Pyay township, and the Soon Ye (Kite Force) in Tanintharyi region.

An anti-coup protester in Tanintharyi region’s Dawei township told RFA’s Myanmar Service that opponents of the military regime feel increasingly unsafe as the groups spread.

“What I am worried about is my family members, not myself. I’m worried that my family members will be killed,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Neither side has complete control on the ground and so people are in a very precarious situation.”

On May 2, a group in Tanintharyi’s Launglon township calling itself Soon Ye said in a Facebook post that it had the addresses of anti-coup protesters and would harm their family members if they did not stop their activities.

A day later, the Dawei District Democracy Movement Strike Committee said in a statement that Soon Ye members shot and killed three villagers in their homes in Launglon’s Pandale village on April 28 and killed another man on the road between Dawei and Launglon on May 3.

In Bago’s Pyay township, a group calling itself the Patriotic Coalition began posting threats in recent days, according to residents. On May 5, the Thway Thauk posted a statement on its Telegram social media account that claimed an anti-coup protester was killed in nearby Wethteegan township’s Hlwa-zin village, although sources in the area told RFA no such killing had occurred.

Kyaw Zeya, a former Member of Parliament for the NLD in Pyay township, said such threats are part of a bid by pro-junta forces to cut off support for the PDF and the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG).

“They are trying to discourage people from supporting the NUG government and to stop engaging in political activities,” he said.

“Those who have been very active on the political scene and their families could become their targets. So, this is a time for everyone to be extremely cautious in their movements.”

A former NLD MP for Irrawaddy region’s Maubin township named Ei Ei Pyone said in a Facebook post that her family received an online threat from a group calling itself the Maubin Thway Thauk on Monday. A day earlier, the same group opened fire on a resident of the town named Zaw Win Myint, while other sources reported hearing gunfire in the area that evening.

‘A downward spiral’

Aung Thu Nyein, director of ISP-Myanmar, a research institute, told RFA that rule of law “has totally collapsed” in Myanmar and said no political stakeholder is safe.

“It’s a downward spiral, with one side killing the other and so on,” he said.

“In this situation, when people have no security, who would dare to set up a political party?”

Observers have speculated that the military regime may have been behind the recent bloodshed attributed to the militia groups, but junta Deputy Minister Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied the claims in an April 27 press conference and said they were carried out by the PDF to create “confusion and instability.” He also rejected accusations that the military regime had ignored the killings, although no suspects have been arrested in any of the cases.

According to RFA reporting, pro-junta militias are responsible for killing at least 18 people between April 25 and May 10. The dead include NLD members and party supporters, family members of PDF paramilitaries, and civilians from Mandalay, Yangon, Kyaukse, Singhu and Launglon townships.

A high court lawyer told RFA that the junta assumed responsibility for such killings after it seized control of the country in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup.

“The political rivalry is gradually growing stronger and stronger, and the situation is getting out of control at the grassroots level,” said the lawyer, who also declined to be named.

“The rule of law has collapsed and the regime, which has taken control of state power, is fully responsible for the situation.”

Political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that Myanmar had become “a failed state.”

“This is a natural outcome when two sides are competing for dominance, and so we cannot say which side is right or wrong,” he said.

“All of this happened as a result of the junta’s violent repression of the people, and now our country is in ruins.”

Junta security forces have killed at least 1,833 civilians and arrested nearly 10,600 others since last year’s coup, according to Thailand-based NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners — mostly during peaceful protests of military rule.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.