The junta cut off mobile internet access and most Wi-Fi services to 11 townships in war-torn areas of Chin State and Magway Region at 6pm on Thursday evening, according to locals and members of the local resistance forces in the area.
The affected townships are Gangaw, Htilin and Myaing in Magway Region, and Falam, Kanpetlet, Matupi, Mindat, Paletwa, Tedim, Thantlang and Tonzang in Chin State.
Locals have said that the internet blackout will make it difficult for locals to both send and receive information on the conditions in the region.
“After the internet connection is cut off, the phone connection may also be cut off. In that case, I don’t think the situation will be easy,” a Mindat resident told Myanmar Now.
A church and several buildings were hit by artillery shells fired by the Myanmar army during a clash with the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) on September 22 in Mindat.
Fighting broke out between the junta’s troops and the CDF in Thantlang on September 18, forcing nearly the entire population of the town to flee. At least 18 homes and a government building were set ablaze by the junta’s artillery fire, and a Christian pastor who tried to put out the fire was shot dead by the Myanmar army troops.
Soldiers cut off the ring finger on his left hand to steal the pastor’s wedding band; details of the act went viral on social media.
In the Chin State capital of Hakha, internet access was still available on Saturday morning, according to locals.
Since September 14, the internet connection has been cut off in Myingyan and Mogok in Mandalay Region; Taungdwingyi in Magway Region; and Ayadaw, Butalin, Kani, Pale, Taze, Ye-U and Yinmarbin in Sagaing Region.
Hpakant in Kachin State has suffered an internet blackout since August.
The recent addition of 11 townships in Magway and Chin State to the blackout on Thursday brings the total of townships without internet access to 22.
A spokesperson from the anti-junta Mindat People’s Administration Team speculated that the restrictions on internet access were likely timed to occur as the military intensifies operations in the region to suppress the resistance movement.
“It is either that they cut the internet and the flow of information because they fear that we will step up offensives against them, or they are preparing to get the upper hand to launch offensives against us,” the spokesperson said.
He insisted, however, that the lack of internet access would not have a major impact on the activities of local guerrilla groups, which do not rely on the internet for communication.
An official from the Yaw Defence Force (YDF), a local resistance group operating in Gangaw, Myaing and Htilin townships in Magway, echoed the assessment of the situation by the spokesperson of the Mindat People’s Administration Team.
“The military cut the internet because they can’t win. It is their usual tactic and won’t have much impact on the revolutionary forces. We will continue what we are supposed to be doing, regardless,” the YDF official said.
The military council has not published information on the cuts.
Following the February 1 military coup, the junta imposed tight controls on the internet nationwide in an effort to suppress news of its brutal crackdowns on peaceful anti-dictatorship protests.
Internet freedom in Myanmar has since collapsed, creating what Freedom House (FH) and Free Expression Myanmar described as “the most severe decline ever documented” in FH’s annual Freedom of the Net global surveys on and analysis of the issue.
“As part of its attempt to crush dissent and maintain power, the military junta shut down internet service, blocked social media platforms and websites, seized control of the telecommunications infrastructure, and ramped up intrusive surveillance,” Myanmar’s Freedom of the Net report, released on September 21, said.
In 2019, at the height of the conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, much of northern Rakhine State lost internet access for more than a year.