Myanmar junta steps up security in major cities following executions of activists

Myanmar’s junta has tightened security in cities across the country following the executions of four prominent pro-democracy leaders, increasing the presence of troops and putting curfews in place, residents said Friday. 

Soldiers in military vehicles and security personnel have been patrolling the commercial capital Yangon and Myanmar’s second-largest city Mandalay since Tuesday, they said. 

Additionally, a midnight-to-4 a.m. curfew has been issued in nearly all of Yangon’s 45 townships, and security personnel in plainclothes have been checking pedestrians during the day, following attacks on the entrance gate to Insein Prison, police stations, and district administrative offices in response to the executions, sources said.

In the days following the killings, the regime banned gatherings of more than five people in all Yangon townships except the Coco Islands.  

Anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries in Yangon have vowed to attack the military in retaliation for the executions.

A Yangon resident told RFA that the city had been eerily quiet this week, and said security is particularly tight.

“People don't go out unless it’s necessary, like going to work,” she said. “Of course, there are people who have to go out every day to earn a living.”

“If you go outside, you can see military cars driving around,” she said. 

Groups of fully armed soldiers have been patrolling Yangon, making it feel like a battlefield zone, other locals said.

A resident of Mandalay, who did not want to be named for safety reasons, told RFA that the regime had beefed up security there due to strong anti-junta protests following the executions.

“In the past two days, military vehicles have been moving in groups of three or four, driving around the whole city,” he said.

“Another strange thing is that the police are not wearing their uniforms, and they are not using police cars … There's been a lot of checking of guest lists in the city, too.”

Security personnel have raided nearly every neighborhood in Mandalay, and at least 20 youths were arrested on Monday, according to residents and members of anti-regime strike committees.

Political prisoners in Mandalay’s Obo Prison and in Bago region’s Pyay Prison held protests on Monday night after the junta announced the executions, said residents who live close to the detention facilities.

Saya Kyaung, a spokesman for the Yangon UG Association, an anti-regime guerilla group, said members are planning to strike back at those who participated in the hangings.

“We are going to retaliate because it has to be a life for a life,” he said. “We will retaliate in such a way that they will suffer more than the grieving families on this side.”

The Daung Warriors group in Yangon’s Thaketa township said Thursday that it bombed two police stations the previous night under “Operation Zeya Thaw.”

PDF forces from Magway and Sagaing regions said they also conducted similar operations on Wednesday to attack the army and pro-military Pyu Saw Htee militia.


Reactions to UN’s statement

Saturday’s executions have drawn widespread condemnation, including from the U.N. Security Council, but the junta defended its decision earlier this week, saying it executed the activists for aiding acts of terror as part of the civilian resistance to the regime. 

The Security Council’s statement drew mixed reactions on Friday from observers and political analysts, depending on whether they support the people or the junta.

Kyaw Htwe, a member of the Central Working Committee of the deposed National League for Democracy, said he welcomed the council’s statement but that the body must provide more effective assistance if Myanmar is to return to the road to democracy.

“The goal of democracy desired by the Myanmar people will be reached quickly if the U.N. Security Council, various countries of the world, and all nations that value democracy and human rights, provide effective assistance in all possible ways to bring an end to the military council,” he said.

RFA could not reach junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment. At a press conference on Tuesday, he said the junta carried out the executions knowing that there would be objections at home and abroad.

China-based political analyst Hla Kyaw Zaw said it is not easy for Russia and China to protect the military regime against the will of the people. The two nations have consistently used their veto power in the Security Council to protect successive Myanmar military dictators from being punished for human rights violations.

“The public has been very firm, very strong-willed,” he said. “Because of this, both Russia and China joined the move. It is the result of our people showing they will never let down their spirit to fight this military dictatorship.”

But Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayninga Strategic Studies Institute, a group of former Burmese military officers, said the Security Council’s statement was passed on account of political pressure.

“They can issue a statement that they are not happy with or they do not accept such and such actions, based on human rights … but they cannot take action against Myanmar for carrying out a death penalty.”

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.