Resistance groups bomb, set fire to administrative offices to deter Myanmar junta election preparations

Urban guerrillas carried out non-lethal attacks this week in Yangon and Mandalay to sabotage a population survey initiated by the military regime as a step towards holding junta-controlled elections later this year.

The military put forward widely unsubstantiated claims accusing the governing National League of Democracy of massive fraud two years ago after the party won Myanmar’s 2020 general election. The army rejected the results of the vote as a pretext for seizing power in February 2021; since the coup, the junta has planned to hold new elections under its own authority.

The administrators began collecting data on Monday, tasked by the military council with compiling updated voter lists as part of the standard procedure for organising elections.

Local administrators joined personnel from the junta’s immigration and population department to visit area homes, offices, and community halls. Armed police officers and soldiers accompanied the data collectors as they made their rounds, ostensibly for protection.

Within two days of the start of the operations, there were seven separate bomb blasts in Yangon and Mandalay targeting infrastructure necessary to the surveying process. 

A bomb detonated at the municipal office in the Htauk Kyant area of Yangon’s Mingaladon Township at around 3:30pm on Tuesday. The urban guerrilla group Yangon Underground Force claimed responsibility for the attack and announced that it was intended as a warning to municipal administrators helping to compile voter lists. 

The explosion destroyed a security bunker in front of the office usually manned by 10 soldiers or police officers, but there were no casualties.

“We are sending a warning to the people who are abetting the unlawful election,” the guerrilla group’s leader Ko Leo told Myanmar Now. 

An alliance of urban guerrilla forces including the Freeland Attack Force announced that they had carried out a bomb attack at 2:45pm on Wednesday in Yangon’s Tamwe Township. 

The guerrillas’ intention was to send a warning to junta-appointed administrators collecting voter data in the township’s Tar Mway Gyi ward that day, they said. 

“The bombs were set up carefully to avoid killing anyone because there were female school teachers in the group. We sent warning letters and fired warning shots,” Freeland Attack Force officer Nay Myo Nwe told Myanmar Now.

“This is the end of the warning period. They will reap what they sow if they continue their actions,” he added. 

There were five more bomb blasts in Mandalay’s Chanmyathazi and Maha Aungmyay townships, where administrators were also gathering and verifying voter information. One of the five attack sites was a ward administration office.

A Mandalay-based urban guerrilla group known as the No More Dictatorship defence force claimed responsibility for all five bombings.

“We carried out the attacks because we cannot accept false elections without real democracy. We cannot promise a long life for those collecting voter lists under the direction of the military council and against the will of the people,” guerrilla leader Ko Naga said. 

The attack was meant to serve as a warning, but he added that the group would take more forceful action if the survey continued. 

A local resident of Sein Pan ward in Maha Aungmyay Township said he saw no one collecting voter data in Mandalay on Thursday, the day after the attacks. 

“The Pyu Saw Htee members are too afraid to collect voter lists now,” the Sein Pan resident said, referring to militias allied with the junta. “I didn’t see them collecting population data today, but in any case, the voter list is just for show. They will try to win with or without votes.”

“It makes no difference to the public,” he added. “They threaten people with guns and force them to put their names on the lists.”

Resistance attacks also occurred in other cities. Members of a local People’s Defence Force (PDF) also claim to have attacked and set fire to the local office of the junta’s immigration and population department in Yesagyo Township, Magway Region, on Thursday. 

Located on the west bank of Chindwin River, Yesagyo is an anti-junta stronghold.

According to Yesagyo PDF leader Wai Gyi, the group raided the office at around 1am, capturing four immigration officers and freeing them unharmed after urging them to leave their posts and join the Civil Disobedience Movement, which aims to topple the coup regime.

The resistance fighters set fire to four buildings including the immigration department’s main office, Wai Gyi said. He added that the site was targeted because the administrators working there had extorted money from Yesagyo residents and had been preparing to conduct a population survey ahead of the junta’s election. 

Another local defence force also attacked a military-affiliated group collecting voter data in Launglon Township in southeastern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region on January 9. The incident resulted in the death of a police officer, in contrast to the non-lethal attacks carried out in Yangon and Mandalay. 

The coup regime remains firm in its determination to hold new elections this year. Junta-controlled media outlet Myanmar Radio and Television has broadcast reports on the voter data survey throughout the country.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party, a military proxy party whose leadership has been reorganised to feature regime hardliners, has also held meetings across the country in anticipation of the elections. 

Various ethnic armed organisations, as well as the PDF and the publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG), have declared that they will not recognise the legitimacy of an election planned by the military council. 

The NUG published a statement on Monday saying that all personnel participating in the collection of data for the junta-controlled election would be subject to severe punishment under the Counterterrorism Law. 

Myat Thwe contributed to this report 

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