MANDALAY – The message “Save our Mandalay,” printed on an illustration of images of injured persons and silhouetted against the old palace wall, has been spread widely over social media in the last week, particularly by locals from the ancient capital.
The online campaign began as an effort to appeal to the chief minister, the local police chief and administration officers to ensure security in the city, following news of a reported increase in violent crime in the city in recent weeks.
“We feel unsafe in our city. We are handing out stickers to create awareness and to urge the people of Mandalay to join hands to help eliminate crimes,” the campaigners told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday as they distributed information in downtown Mandalay.
Mandalay had a reputation in the past as being one of Burma’s most secure cities. However, following news of people being robbed and seriously injured late at night and early in the morning—and, at times, even in broad daylight—the streets of Mandalay have become nearly deserted after 10 p.m.
Men on motorcycles reportedly have been targeting locals also traveling by motorbike late at night, stealing money, mobile phones, and even their transportation. According to witnesses and the families of the victims, they work in a group and carry iron rods and bamboo sticks.
“We’ve witnessed many robbery cases in the past, but now, the robbers getting more vicious, because they are using weapons to hurt the victims more,” said Ma Haymar Tun, a local who said her brother suffered a serious head injury after being robbed in March.
She explained that he was driving a motorbike and talking on his phone when five men on two motorbikes attacked him and grabbed his mobile phone. The act caused him to lose his balance and fall off his bike, at which point he was beaten, and the perpetrators fled with his motorcycle. Passersby found him laying in the road and helped him to the hospital.
“The police officer at the hospital took record of the incident, however, we never found out if the robbers were arrested or where my brother’s motorbike is. We don’t want any problems in filing for legal action, because we don’t know who [the perpetrators] are, so we just carry on and never inquire about the case,” Ma Haymar Tun added.
In another recent incident in Chanmyathazi Township, a teenager was stabbed in the neck and his motorbike was stolen, again attacked by men on motorbikes. He is in critical condition at Mandalay General Hospital.
In Pyigyidagun Township, a man on a motorcycle was killed in broad daylight when he was hit by a bullet, the origin of which remains unknown.
The police said that the bullet was a stray, and had accidentally hit the unlucky man. The comment became the subject of ridicule over social media, as locals questioned the assurance of their security in the city.
A murder on Saturday has also shocked locals. A woman in her sixties was killed in her home in Chanayetharzan Township, and around 30 million kyats were reportedly stolen.
Police reported that they arrested two suspects in the motorbike robberies and that they had admitted to eight such acts in Chanmyathazi and Maha Aung Myay townships.
“After all of this news, I have to be cautions while riding my motorbike alone. When other motorbikes approach me, I am so afraid, even in daytime, that they might hurt me or rob me,” said Ma Chaw Kalyar, a resident of Maha Aung Myay Township.
The regional Minister of Security and Border Affairs told The Irrawaddy that while the deployment of police officers in the city has increased, the manpower of the police force is not yet strong enough.
“There is only one policeman for every 1,700 locals here in Mandalay, so we are still weak in providing security for the whole city. However, we are now forming special forces, patrolling and deploying at specific points to fight crime,” said Gen Aung Naing Moe, Mandalay regional minister of security and border affairs.
The minister said that the rate of crimes in the city has not actually increased, but greater access to social media has meant that news spreads more quickly.
According to records from the Mandalay district police office, more than 4,000 varying crimes were reported and recorded from January to March. The cases include robbery, theft, murder, rape, and assault. Nearly 3,000 of the cases reached the courts.
“Most of the criminals who were arrested were youth and they were drunk [at the time that the crimes were committed]. Some were found using drugs. I believe that they admitted to committing the crimes because they were able to make easy money from the robberies, while a few of them did it for pleasure as they were drunk or stoned,” said the minister.
As the country is about to celebrate Thingyan—the Burmese New Year—Mandalay is expecting visitors from across the country, and locals are worried that the crimes could affect the image of the city.
“The crimes are getting more malicious and we feel that the weakness of rule of law and negligence of the authorities,” said Mandalay resident Hsu Ngat.
“To bring back the Mandalay nights where we can go out safely, we would like to urge the local authorities to take the matter seriously, and the locals too, to join hands in eliminating the crimes,” he added.