Myanmar army chief issues law sending junta police officers to war

The military council issued a new law last week enabling them to force members of Myanmar’s police to join the fight against anti-coup resistance forces across the country.

One of the five objectives outlined in the 22-page Police Force Law, signed by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on March 25, is for law enforcement personnel to “take part in the state’s defence and security affairs when necessary.”

The move marks an expansion of traditional Myanmar police responsibilities of “law enforcement, public safety and drug control” to a role more in line with those serving in the armed forces. Myanmar’s police force falls under the home affairs ministry, which has been under military control even prior to the February 2021 coup. 

In signing the new statute, Min Aung Hlaing also abolished multiple decades-old laws which did not explicitly dictate responsibilities to fight for the defence services. They included the Yangon Police Act of 1899 and the 1949 Police Act, as well as the police acts of Karen and Kayah (Karenni) states, dating back to 1959.

The legislation gives the junta chief greater control over the police, requiring any future reforms proposed by governments to first gain military approval. Only the military commander-in-chief, for example, can sign off on the recruitment, confirmation, transfer, retirement or removal of the national police chief.  

A criminal section added to the law also allows the junta to arrest—without warrant—and imprison members of the public for a period of six months to two years for playing wind instruments or banging pots and pans—a practice that emerged nightly at 8pm as a widespread act of protest after the coup. 

The junta’s enacting of the law comes during a time in which anti-coup armed resistance has grown nationwide, with the military sustaining significant casualties in battles with local defence forces, the National Unity Government (NUG)-backed People’s Defence Forces, and ethnic armed organisations. 

Over the last year, some 3,000 such clashes took place, according to monitoring group ISP Myanmar. From June 2021 until late February this year, more than 9,000 soldiers were killed in fighting across the country, according to the NUG.

Junta spokesperson Gen Zaw Min Tun said in a press conference last week that the military planned to “accelerate” their operations by arming and training their supporters, groups of whom are known by locals as the Pyu Saw Htee. 

Some 7,000 members of Myanmar’s 80,000 police have defected to the resistance since the coup, according to the Myanmar Police CDM Channel, which is made up of such officers participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Tin Min Tun, a former police major who defected from the military-controlled Special Branch in late February last year, speculated that the law was introduced in order to place the police force under the direct supervision of the military commander-in-chief so that he can officially command and manage the institution as he wishes.

“This law is just protection for the police force so that they can carry out acts of repression against the public in accordance with direct commands from the military chief,” Tin Min Tun told Myanmar Now.

This protection accompanying greater police authority, he explained, would likely be limited to high-ranking officials—typically former military officers—and would not have a significant impact on rank-and-file members of the force. 

Htin Lin Aung, the NUG’s information and technology minister, dismissed new laws introduced by the junta as illegitimate. 

“Any law issued or any announcement of orders done without the parliament’s approval is not legal,” he told Myanmar Now. 

In early March, Myanmar Now reported on plans of the military council to dismantle six police departments and force the officers into the military to bolster its fight against the anti-coup resistance movement. 

The sections due to be cut were “special departments” of maritime, aviation, tourist, oil field, forestry and highway police forces. A Naypyitaw-based police told Myanmar Now at the time that the officers from the six departments would be reassigned to police battalions across the country supporting the military in their war against anti-junta defence forces.

Since the coup, the military has rewritten or amended other laws, including the Counterterrorism Law, Section 505 of the Penal Code for incitement, and the Telecommunications Law, and are in the process of drafting their own cybersecurity law. 

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