Leaked Govt Memo Warns of Attack on Myanmar Capital; Embassies Issue Security Alerts

By Zarni Mann 26 September 2019

MANDALAY—International embassies in Myanmar issued security alerts on Thursday after a classified security memo from the President’s Office to all Union-level organizations was leaked, warning of a possible attack in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyitaw.

The classified security warning, which circulated widely on social media on Thursday, was signed by President’s Office Director-General U Naing Swe Oo, issued by the President’s Office Politics and Security Department and dated Sept. 16.

The warning instructed governmental offices and departments to take increased security measures because the Ministry of Home Affairs had reported a possible plan by ethnic armed groups to attack the area around the Naypyitaw Council building.

“The Ministry of Home Affairs reported that members of the Karen National Union (KNU), the Chin National Front (CNF) and some members of the Northern Alliance group, allegedly from the Arakan Army (AA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), have planned for an attack in Naypyitaw on September 16 or 26, or on October 16 or 26,” read the warning from the President’s Office.

The warning also stated that the Ministry of Home Affairs had found ethnic armed groups held a meeting near the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand on Aug. 30 at which they planned and chose the possible dates for the attack on Naypyitaw. The goal of the plan was allegedly to reduce pressure on the ethnic armed groups in the conflicts in Shan, Rakhine and Kachin states.

The Myanmar military has been fighting with three of the four Northern Alliance members—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the AA—in northern Shan State and in Rakhine State.

On the other hand, the warning from the President’s Office incorrectly stated the location of Mae La refugee camp as Mae Hong Son Province in Thailand. The camp is actually located in Tak Province.

Pado Saw Kwae Htoo Win, the vice chairman of the KNU, said the government must review the information it has, and that ethnic groups such as the KNU that have already signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement do not conduct attacks, as they are trying to maintain the agreement.

General Gwan Maw, vice president of the Kachin Independent Council (KIC), also wrote on his Facebook that the information stated in the warning about the attack is fake.

Another confidential warning was also leaked, issued by the Union Supreme Court and dated Sept. 19, telling all government departments and offices in the area near the Naypyitaw Council to impose security measures.

Police were deployed in Naypyitaw on Thursday to markets and crowded areas. A police officer on duty in Naypyitaw confirmed to The Irrawaddy that they were deployed because of the security warnings and news of possible attacks.

Although the situation is stable and markets were operating as usual in Naypyitaw on Thursday, some shops closed out of fear for their safety.

“We’ve read the warnings on Facebook and worry for our safety. Some shops did not open today because of them,” said a gold shop owner in Naypyitaw’s Thapyaygone market.

Meanwhile in Mandalay, a police official, who asked not to be named, confirmed that bomb squads were conducting random security checks and searching for bombs and suspect items in crowded areas such as shopping malls, Mahamuni Pagoda, parks and cinemas, with preparations underway to boost security.

Following the warnings, the US Embassy in Myanmar issued a warning to US citizens, travelers and their staff in the country on Wednesday, stating that there was a possibility of attacks in Naypyitaw, Yangon and Mandalay on Sept. 26, Oct. 16 and Oct. 26.

The US Embassy’s security alert encouraged people to review their personal security plans and maintain increased security awareness, especially while interacting with security forces and at government facilities, while monitoring local media for updates.

The Canadian Embassy, the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Australian Embassy issued similar security alerts, telling their citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to conflict areas in Rakhine, Chin and Shan states, as well as Mandalay Region, Yangon and Naypyitaw.

The security alert from the British FCO also stated that the Myanmar government had not confirmed the information.

“The Myanmar government has not corroborated this information. No specific measures are recommended at this time,” said the security alert from the FCO, warning British citizens and travelers to take care while traveling in any areas near Myanmar’s borders.

Despite the embassies’ warnings to their fellow citizens and staff, the Myanmar government hasn’t officially raised any public alert on the issue. The President’s Office and military representatives were unavailable for comment on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Moe Moe from Naypyitaw