NUG’s battle cry triggers panic shopping, but no immediate escalation of violence

Tensions were high in Myanmar’s two largest cities a day after the country’s shadow government made its latest bid to increase pressure on the regime that seized power in February.

The National Unity Government (NUG) announced on Tuesday that it was calling for a “resistance war” against the military junta, triggering panic buying and other signs of unease in Yangon and Mandalay, according to residents.

Bombings and other attacks on targets linked to the regime have also led to heightened security in both cities, residents said.

State media reported an explosion near the Bayintnaung Bridge in Yangon’s Mayangone Township on Wednesday morning and another blast near an electricity office in Thingangyun Township in the afternoon. There was no mention of casualties.

Local residents told Myanmar Now that they heard gunshots near the Bayintnaung Bridge at around 10am, at roughly the same time as the explosion, but this could not be confirmed.

In downtown Yangon, soldiers were seen patrolling the wet market on 26th Street, while traffic was heavier than usual in the area around the nearby Sule Pagoda.

“The people at the market said they weren’t used to seeing such patrols. There were more people than usual at the rice and oil shops, and more shoppers in general,” said Hein, a resident of Kyauktada Township.

Farther to the east, in Dawbon Township, the Nyaung Pin Lay market also had more customers than normal.

“People were stocking up on food supplies because they didn’t know what was going to happen. Places like Nyaung Pin Lay market and City Mart were overcrowded. There were also long queues at pharmacies,” said Dawbon resident Bhone.

In nearby Pazundaung Township, similar scenes were reported at the local market and other shopping areas.

“I had to stand in line for nearly two hours at the pharmacy this morning. Every shop was crowded. People were telling each other to hoard supplies. There were no security checks on the roads, though,” said a local resident.

However, another resident of the township said that defences had been set up around the Pazundaung police station and the general administration office on Lower Pazundaung Road.

“There are many more sandbags than usual. It’s like they’re building forts. We also saw a machine gun in the upper level of the station that wasn’t there before,” he said.

In South Dagon, which is currently under martial law, there were four-vehicle military convoys patrolling around the township early Wednesday morning, according to a resident.

Shwepyithar Township, which is also under martial law, had more soldiers than usual stationed at its township hall, as well as more security checkpoints, a resident told Myanmar Now.

“We can see that they’ve reinforced even further. There were only two vehicles stationed at the township hall before, but now there are four,” the resident said.

In Hlaing Tharyar, another township that came under martial law following massive protests earlier in the year, residents also appeared to be digging in amid fears of further unrest.

“People are buying a lot of house-building goods, especially zinc plates to protect their homes. They also bought slingshots and swords,” said the owner of a shop in the largely industrial township.\

The Bayintnaung commodity exchange, which is influential in setting prices around the city, there was no major change, according to its chair, Khin Han.

“It’s just the same as usual. This is not even the actual D-Day. It’s just an announcement of a state of emergency,” he said, referring to the NUG’s declaration on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, local gold prices have reached new highs, hitting roughly $2,000 per ounce, according to Kyaw Win, the chair of the Myanmar Goldsmith Association.

“It’s getting worse because people keep spreading rumours. The prices will hopefully go down again when this phase is over,” he said.

Private banks, which have been offering only limited service since the coup, appear to be operating according to previously announced schedules.

However, a convenience store owner in Tharkayta Township said there has been an increase in digital transactions using online services such as Wave Money due to rumours of an internet blackout.

The US dollar, which is officially valued at 1,725 kyat, according to the rate set by Myanmar’s junta-controlled central bank, now trades for 1,835 kyat in the open market, an investigation by Myanmar Now has found.

In Mandalay, the NUG’s announcement appears to have had less of an impact on prices, but seems to be raising serious security concerns.

Prices at the city’s Zay Cho market were stable on Wednesday, although traffic in the surrounding area was heavier than usual, according to a local resident.

Of greater concern was the junta’s response to a series of grenade attacks or bombings targeting police and soldiers on Tuesday.

“There are five guards in places where there were only three before. And they are holding their guns at the ready now, instead of just wearing them on their bodies,” the Mandalay resident said.

The Mandalay People’s Defence Force (PDF), part of the loose network of anti-regime forces active around the country, released a statement on Tuesday warning civilians to stay away from junta forces and calling on them to support the NUG’s war on the regime.

In his speech declaring war on the junta, delivered early Tuesday morning, the NUG’s acting president, Duwa Lashi La, urged armed groups to work together.

“The people’s resistance fight will happen simultaneously in rural and urban areas. The shortness of the duration of the revolution depends a lot on the people’s unity, innovation, intelligence, and dedication,” he said in the speech.

Capt Nyi Thuta, an army defector who is well known for his role in the Civil Disobedience Movement, noted that the speech did not signal an immediate escalation of hostilities.

“This only means that actions will be accelerated. It is not necessary for PDFs that are not ready to start fighting. D-Day will be the day when the all-ready coalition army carries out its assault on its target,” he said in a post on social media.

Efforts to reach military spokesperson Gen Zaw Min Tun for comment on the NUG’s announcement went unanswered.

However, in a response broadcast by the junta-controlled MRTV television station, the regime was quick to dismiss the move as a stunt.

“They’re doing this just so they can say at the UN General Assembly on the 14th of this month that they have done something,” a commentator said, expressing the junta’s views.

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