Myanmar military ‘discreetly’ arming Naypyitaw villagers loyal to regime

Myanmar’s military junta is continuing its efforts to form militias around the country by arming villagers near its administrative capital Naypyitaw, according to local sources.

The move, which comes as explosions continue to hit Naypyitaw despite tightened security, has been carried out “discreetly,” one man living in the area told Myanmar Now.

“They sounded like they wanted to be discreet. They told the villagers not to let anyone outside the village know about it,” said the man.

According to a resident of Ye Oh Sin, a village in the Naypyitaw Union Territory’s Lewe Township, the authorities have also been very careful about who they allow to join the newly formed militia. 

“The 100-household administrator said that one person from each household had to attend a meeting to form a ‘public security force’ for the village. But in the end, they only chose people loyal to them,” said the villager.

Many of Ye Oh Sin’s inhabitants are known to be supporters of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Ma Ba Tha, a Buddhist nationalist outfit that was disbanded in 2017 by Myanmar’s then civilian government.

Before it was outlawed, Ma Ba Tha’s controversial leader, Ven. Wirathu, identified the abbot of the village’s monastery, Ven. Thuzana, as the chair of the group’s Lewe Township chapter.

Another village that has formed a militia is Yan Aung Myin, which is also regarded as staunchly pro-military. Located in Dekkhinathiri Township, it voted overwhelmingly for the USDP candidate in the 2020 election.

According to a resident of the village, it was difficult to photograph the activities of the militia or provide any evidence of its presence because it was keeping a low profile.

Several villages in Pyinamana Township have also reportedly formed militias. Each group has 30 members, but only 10 of them are armed, according to one villager who spoke to Myanmar Now.

“They recruit people by telling them they’ll get weapons and training, but it’s just a trick,” he said, noting that the 20 unarmed members are just “backup” for the main members.

In areas with large numbers of veterans and others with military experience, however, the army has been dispensing weapons more freely, according to locals.

One resident of Ywar Taw, a ward in Pobbathiri Township where many junta troops are stationed, said that recently recruited militia members there seem quite pleased with their new firearms.

“They’ve been showing off their guns all over the ward and talk about them all the time when they get drunk. They’ve started acting like important people since they got their guns,” he said.

According to a member of the Sittaung Urban Guerrilla Force, a group that has carried out attacks on junta targets in Naypyitaw, the purpose of the militias is not just to protect villages loyal to the regime.

“It seems the military council wants us to shift our focus away from them to these militias that they’ve been creating,” he said.

On August 24, Naypyitaw saw the latest of a series of attacks targeting regime forces inside the junta capital, with an explosion that hit police guarding the Dekkhina District Court.

Previous incidents have targeted both regime supporters and members of the junta’s security forces. 

In May, at least six people were injured by explosions as they gathered near the entrance to Lewe Township to attend a pro-regime rally.

The following month, two more blasts were reported at a checkpoint manned by around 30 junta personnel on the road to Naypyitaw’s airport, resulting in an unknown number of casualties.

Since April, the regime has been stepping up its efforts to form militias as part of its strategy to fight resistance groups opposed to last year’s military takeover.

Militias have played a major role in the military’s operations in Sagaing Region, where members of the notorious Pyu Saw Htee militia have taken part in numerous raids on pro-resistance villages alongside junta soldiers.

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