RANGOON — A court in Shan State has issued arrest warrants for members of a local militia who allegedly destroyed party signboards and flags of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
Five members, including a liaison officer, of the government-aligned Matkyan militant group were issued arrest warrants late last week, according to a senior legal officer from the Nansang Township court who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the case.
“The court issued the arrest warrant on Friday for five members,” he said.
Nay Zaw Naing, a central committee member of the local NLD branch, told The Irrawaddy that party billboards and banners were destroyed last month at 28 NLD offices in Nansang and Mong Nai townships.
He said the party had learned that the warrants were forwarded to the Burma Army’s Eastern Central Command, seeking military assistance in apprehending the men, given their ties to the local armed group.
“The local police station informed us that we will learn the progress [whether the suspects have been arrested] of the case on Sept. 2, as the police will have to report back to the court on the case,” he added.
Authorities at the Nangsang police station could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Four suspects from the militia group were briefly detained on July 21, the same night of the vandalism, after police said they caught the men destroying the NLD materials. The men subsequently admitted their affiliation with the Matkyanmilitia during an interrogation by police, township elders and NLD members.
“They were brought to court the next day. The court transferred the case to the police but they released them as it was not a police case,” said Nay Zaw Naing, explaining that police were reluctant to pursue prosecution because of the men’s links to Matkyan.
“They didn’t appear at the next court hearing on July 29 and are still at large,” he added.“That’s why they have had warrants issued.”
The Matkyan militia is an offshoot of the Mong Tai Army—the former forces of the infamous warlord Khun Sa, who was dubbed an “opium king” by the Western press for his involvement in the global narcotics trade. After splitting from the Shan State Army-South, the 100-strong militia now operates under the control of the military’s divisional command and Shan State Border Affairs Minister Col. Aung Thu, according to Taunggyi District NLD chairman Tin Maung Toe.
“We think there is political motivation behind [the destruction of party paraphernalia]. They want to scare off the NLD supporters here,” Nay Zaw Naing said.
With NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi planning to visit Shan State early next month, he said local party branch leaders would seek her advice on next courses of action if there is no progress in the case after the Sept. 2 court hearing.
News of the warrants comes as political parties nationwide gear up for the official start of the general election’s campaigning period on Sept. 8. The nationwide vote is slated for Nov. 8 and could be Burma’s first free and fair election in 25 years, though intimidation tactics and violence are concerns in the high-stakes election year environment.