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Nearly 100 arrested ahead of Thingyan in Myanmar’s Yangon, Mandalay

Authorities in Myanmar arrested nearly 100 people in the country’s two largest cities and the Myawaddy township in Kayin state in the first 10 days of April as part of a pre-Thingyan crackdown, according to data compiled by RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Of the 99 people arrested in the lead up to the April 13-16 New Year Water Festival, 47 were from the commercial capital, Yangon, 43 from Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay, and nine from Myawaddy on the country’s border with Thailand, an investigation found. Some of those detained had joined anti-coup protests, while others were accused of being members of Yangon-based anti-junta paramilitary groups, including the People’s Defense Force (PDF).

A total of 15 people, including Thiri Wai — the mother of 3-year-old Thant Phone Wai Yan, who was taken by security forces from a kindergarten in Yangon’s Ahlone township on April 5 — were arrested “in possession of explosives,” pro-junta dailies reported on Wednesday.

A member of the Pazundaung and Botahtaung Townships Youth Strike Committee, a Yangon-based anti-junta group, told RFA that city authorities had tightened security and stepped up arrests in response to increased activities by the armed opposition ahead of Thingyan.

“In the past, if one of your comrades was arrested, you still had time to escape or go into hiding. But now it’s becoming very difficult,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.

“Now, if a close contact is arrested, you must be extra careful. People who normally want to hide us are also becoming reluctant because if the military finds out, these people will get into big trouble. The security situation is becoming very difficult.”

In Mandalay, Nyein Chan Aung, a member of another anti-junta group known as the Mandalay Strike Committee, told RFA that security forces had arrested several young protesters during a pre-Thingyan campaign that he likened to “a military operation.”

“They are making arrests in a crackdown just like a military operation, locking down the towns as soon as they get information about us,” he said.

“If they catch a person, he is immediately interrogated. If they don’t get what they want to know, they beat and torture him, before continuing their interrogation. Once they get information, they immediately move to a new location and begin making more arrests.”                         

Nyein Chan Aung said the junta has employed a variety of new tactics to sweep Mandalay and tighten security ahead of other recent holidays, including Union Day on Feb. 12 and Armed Forces Day on March 27.

One such tactic is to increase the presence of army informants and pro-junta militia forces to monitor for any would-be protesters and in areas where urban resistance groups are believed to be operating, he said.

9 killed in Myawaddy

Meanwhile, sources reported that on April 6, a combined force of junta Border Guard Forces (BGF) and military troops in Kayin state’s Myawaddy township shot dead nine youths who were sending supplies to a PDF group in the area.

A spokesman for the Kayin State PDF, who declined to be named, said that since the incident, the military has placed Myawaddy under a state of near-total lockdown.

“We know that they have sentries hiding in all parts of the township. Some of them are in civilian clothes — mostly BGF members,” he said. “The BGF and other [pro-junta] groups are also patrolling around. The military is now in control of most areas in and around the township.”

Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, went unanswered on Thursday.

Nan Lin, a spokesman of the University Old Students Association veteran activist group, said no number of arrests would stop the people from working to unseat the military regime.

“Taking advantage of Thingyan, the junta is making more arrests and killing people unnecessarily,” he said. “Our conviction has become stronger, and we will try harder in every way.”

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, junta troops have killed at least 1,751 civilians and arrested more than 10,200 others since the Feb. 1, 2021, power grab — mostly during peaceful anti-coup protests.

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