Myanmar Junta Cuts Internet Access in Hpakant

By The Irrawaddy 24 August 2021

Myanmar’s military regime has cut off internet access in Hpakant, Kachin State since Friday.

Mobile internet services were blocked around 8.30pm on Friday, followed by a shutdown of wifi internet hours later, said residents. Telecom operators said that they did not know why internet services were blocked or when they would resume, according to locals.

“Not only is the internet blocked, but we also can’t make phone calls or send SMS now. And we can’t top up our mobile phones either. From previous experiences, when the internet is shutdown in Hpakant it normally means military operations are in progress, so we are concerned,” said a female resident who requested anonymity.

Last Saturday, police from Police Battalion 30 based in Seik Mu village on the outskirts of Hpakant left their base and joined the Hpakant Township police inside the town. The same evening, the ethnic armed group the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) torched the barracks of the police battalion in Seik Mu.

Junta troops have been seen patrolling in Hpakant at midnight following the internet shutdown, said residents. Previously, they normally stayed in their outposts at that time.

“They are patrolling almost every night now. My house is by the road and I could not get to sleep once they drove past. Around 40 to 50 of them drove past around 2am today,” said a resident of Lone Khin village.

Hpakant residents said they felt unsafe talking about the situation on the phone because the military regime is monitoring phone calls. The junta has ordered the country’s telecom and internet service providers to install spyware that allows the military to eavesdrop directly on calls, read text messages, emails and other web traffic, as well as tracking the locations of users.

There have also been rumors in Hpakant that the military regime will install checkpoints to isolate the town. On Monday, some people were leaving the town for fear of fighting, said one Hpakant resident.

Telecom operators were also ordered to restrict internet access in Rakhine from June 2019 until the February 1 coup, as the military was engaged in heavy fighting with the Rakhine ethnic armed group the Arakan Army.

However, the regime’s spokesperson, Major General Zaw Min Tun, denied that there was an internet blackout in Hpakant. “There is no internet shutdown in any part of the country,” he said.

Any military operations in Hpakant are being done in response to the attacks of the KIA and the local People’s Defense Force, said the military spokesman.

Hpakant is home to the world’s largest deposits of high-quality jade, as well as gold and other precious gems. All the jade mining companies operating in Hpakant have ties to Myanmar’s military or the KIA.

Prospectors have to pay taxes to the military and the KIA if they find jade or precious gems,  and both the KIA and the military rely on Hpakant’s mines to generate crucial funds.

KIA brigades 6 and 26 are active in Hpakant, while battalions under the command of Division 33 of the Myanmar military are based in the township.

In Waingmaw Township, which is separated from the Kachin State capital Myitkyina by the Ayeyarwady River, the military’s Battalion 58 shelled nearby villages every night from August 3 to August 19, following a KIA attack on July 29. Residents from at least four villages near the battalion’s base have been forced to flee their homes amid the daily shelling.

KIA information officer Colonel Naw Bu said that the regime has been continuously reinforcing its troops. The junta brought in some 5,000 additional soldiers after the coup, and hundreds more reinforcements are being sent either by road or by the river, he added.

Hpakant residents have formed anti-regime protest groups in their wards and villages to organize demonstrations and other forms of daily defiance against the junta. Locals are continuing their anti-coup protests, despite the internet shutdown, said Hpakant residents.

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