RANGOON — Signboards and party flags for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were defaced and torn down in 20 Nansang Township villages on Tuesday night, according to local reports.
Four suspects from the government-aligned Matkyan militia group were arrested the same night, according to township NLD press officer Khin Maung Aye.
“It started around 8pm on Tuesday and it happened in 20 villages,” said Khin Maung Aye. “Four suspects were arrested around 1am. They said their superiors instructed them on their actions.”
The township, located 130 kilometers (81 miles) east of Shan State capital Taunggyi, is also home to the Napwe and SSS militia groups, and a branch of the Pa-O National Organization ethnic armed group.
The Matkyan militia is an offshoot of the Mong Tai Army—the former forces of notorious warlord Khun Sa, who was dubbed the “opium king” by the Western press for his involvement in the global drug trade. After splitting from the Shan State Army-South, the militia now operates under the control of the military’s divisional command and the Shan State Border Affairs Minister Col. Aung Thu, according to Taunggyi District NLD chairman Tin Maung Toe.
Local NLD officials had earlier been involved in negotiations with Matkyan leaders to campaign in Nansang ahead of November’s general election. Tin Maung Toe told The Irrawaddy that the NLD felt the need to negotiate its presence to ensure the security of its campaign workers, given the heavy presence of armed groups in the township.
Following Tuesday night’s vandalism, the NLD filed a complaint with the township court and police hauled the four suspects in for questioning on Wednesday morning.
Police Officer Aung Phyu from Nansang Police Station told The Irrawaddy that the four suspects were bailed at 3pm the same day, pending a July 29 court appearance. Khin Maung Aye disputes this, saying the alleged offenders were released without posting a bond. The Irrawaddy has been unable to independently confirm the conditions imposed on the release of the four suspects.
Tin Maung Toe said that the NLD is aware of the need for its members to campaign in groups, noting that campaigning alone in areas of militia activity or other dangerous locations would heighten risks for party workers.
“We have expected this sort of thing, because some of the political parties are backing armed groups,” he said. “They give them financial support and do business with them. We will inform the people as soon as similar cases arise and we will take action to minimize possible dangers.”