The Myanmar military has stepped up its inspections of home ownership and “guest registration” in an attempt to locate and arrest anti-junta guerrilla fighters after accusing them of hiding in plain sight as new and short-term tenants.
An anti-terrorism group formed by the junta issued an announcement earlier this month ordering homeowners and landlords to provide ward administrators with detailed information about all residents living in their properties.
Anyone who fails to register short-term tenants or guests who are later found to have carried out an attack against the coup regime will have their property confiscated, the junta warned.
In the announcement, the junta cited a June incident in Mandalay where its forces seized weapons, explosives, and ammunition from a rented house, as well as a shootout later in the month in which a military officer was killed during a raid on another rented home.
The third incident cited in the junta’s order was the attack on police officials on the circle train in Yangon in August. It said the attackers were found to have rented property in the former capital while they were carrying out anti-junta activities.
In a leaked September 14 document for an order issued by the military’s Southeastern Command, authorities in 16 Karen and Mon State townships where the Karen National Union’s armed wing is active were ordered to report a list of houses rented out to tenants. The order asked the authorities in those townships to provide the exact addresses, disclose the number of tenants living there and information about landlords, as well as the start dates of the existing rental contracts.
The underground National Unity Government (NUG) declared a resistance war against the junta on September 7 and urged the public to revolt against the military that has killed over 1,100 civilians nationwide since the February 1 coup. In the wake of the declaration, guerrilla fighters have stepped up attacks on military targets across the country.
In an effort to hunt down members of the resistance, the junta has summoned and interrogated residents who are living in the addresses shared by those who have been arrested on incitement charges, several sources told Myanmar Now.
Two residents of Sein Pan ward in the Shan State capital of Taunggyi said the junta police called them in on September 12 to inquire about their detained relatives. They both requested anonymity in this report for their security.
The 22-year-old brother of one of the residents was arrested at the home of his friend in May and charged with incitement.
“They asked about my relationship with him and who owns the house, as well as if he used to live at our address,” the woman told Myanmar Now.
She added that the police also asked how many people live on her property.
The second resident whose 38-year-old husband was detained said she was also called in on the same day to ask her about the ownership of her home.
“The ward administrator told me to come to his office to ask about ‘something.’ And he asked whether our house was solely owned by my husband or not. He mainly asked me about the house,” she said.
The two Taunggyi residents said they feared the junta authorities would confiscate their property and sentence them to prison time if their detained relatives were found guilty of carrying out attacks against the regime.
Refusing to comply
Hundreds of thousands of residents in Yangon do not own houses or apartments and pay rent to live in the city, typically signing annual or six-month contracts but not officially registering at the address.
An apartment tenant in Yangon’s Tamwe Township told Myanmar Now that his landlord pressured him to get a temporary household registration on September 16 to report his details to his ward administrator.
Since the requirement of reporting “overnight guest registration” was repealed when the National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in 2016, he has also not registered with any household in Yangon.
The junta revitalised the requirement soon after it seized power from the elected NLD administration in February. Despite this, the Tamwe tenant has been defying the junta’s order like many others in the country who have refused to recognise the military as legitimate government.
“I believe that I have a right to live anywhere I want in my country without reporting it to any [authorities], as long as I have my citizenship card as a Myanmar national. So I have been refusing to comply with that guest registration requirement,” he explained.
Under the overnight guest registration system, which was based on a provision in the Ward and Village Tract Administration Law, officials can come to residences unannounced and inspect the property in its entirety.
Due to the junta’s latest announcement, landlords and house owners fear losing their investments and have been pressuring tenants to comply with the requirements.
“Whether we are sitting inside our own home or going outside, it is not safe. And it won’t be safe wherever we are as long as we are under this coup regime. Reporting guest registration is, in a way, seeking a small sense of safety while living in a very unsafe environment,” the tenant in Tamwe said.
Dangers of reporting
Three residents who live in Sanchaung, South Okkalapa, and Shwepyitha townships in Yangon said their landlords were asked to vouch for them when reporting their details at ward administration offices.
Guests and tenants were also asked to provide administrators with their personal information and photos through their landlords, they added.
“Landlords had to sign the reporting papers and we had to give three photos: one was attached to the reporting paper and the other two were for the ward office’s record and the 100-household administrator,” a Shwepyitha resident told Myanmar Now.
The South Okkalapa resident said her ward administrator asked her to provide a signature from her landlord, verifying her stay at the property.
A homeowner in Sanchaung said residents in his neighbourhood were pressured to report overnight guests after a bombing attack in which at least two military personnel were killed by resistance fighters earlier this month.
He said, however, that ward administration staff have been unable to operate their offices out of fear of attacks and killings by anti-junta groups, which have been widespread across the country after the officials were accused of supporting the junta’s administrative mechanism.
The Sanchaung resident said he and his neighbours were told to report their guest registration at a nearby police checkpoint where junta authorities gather. But residents do not dare go near such checkpoints, which are targeted for attacks by guerrilla groups, he said.
“What we have been feeling all this time is fear,” he added. “We are living in fear of what the soldiers and police might do to us. We all want to be free of that fear as soon as possible,” he said.