Myanmar’s junta is using the Mytel telecommunications operator – part-owned by the Myanmar military – to track and eavesdrop on its own soldiers by monitoring their communications and locations in an effort to halt the growing number of defections from regime forces.
In their latest investigation released on Tuesday, Justice for Myanmar (JFM), a group of covert activists campaigning for justice and accountability, said that before Mytel’s public launch in June 2018 coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing allowed Mytel access to data that lists the name, rank and military identity numbers of soldiers. The decision was made with the support of base commanders as part of a promotion to increase the number of Mytel subscribers.
The sales campaign was named Aung Ta Khon, or banner of victory, and gave out free SIM cards with the prefix 0969 personalized with soldiers’ military identity numbers, so allowing senior officers to easily identify their troops by their phone numbers.
Mytel is operated by Telecom International Myanmar and the shareholders are Viettel Global Investment, a holding company owned by Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense, and the Myanmar military-owned conglomerate, Myanmar Economic Corporation.
Nyi Thuta, a military defector, told The Irrawaddy that he used to have a Mytel SIM card personalized with his military identity number.
“We used it to contact with our superiors as even commanders use Mytel SIMs,” he said.
JFM warned soldiers who want to defect not to use Mytel SIMs, as their conversations could be tapped and their identities and locations easily traced because their phone numbers are personalized with their military identity numbers.
Former captain Nyi Thuta, who abandoned the army after last year’s coup and now helps fellow soldiers to defect through his Facebook page People’s Goal, formerly known as People’s Soldier, said troops trying to defect had been arrested after contacting him using their Mytel SIM cards.
“Two soldiers connected with us via their Mytel SIM cards because they cannot buy another SIM card at the frontline. Later, they were arrested while on their way to us,” he said.
He suggested not even turning on phones with Mytel SIM cards because the military can trace the location of defectors through Mytel telecom towers.
As part of its promotion campaign, Mytel also gave free SIM cards to now detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, as well as others in the then government and leaders in the business sectors, including those competing with Vietnam-owned companies operating in Myanmar, JFM said.
Since the coup, Mytel has been boycotted by the Myanmar people for its affiliations with the military and the junta and to deprive the regime of revenue.
Last November, Mytel’s Chief Financial Officer, U Thein Aung, was gunned down by an anti-regime resistance group in Yangon’s Mayangone Township. The 56-year-old was a former navy lieutenant commander.
Mytel telecom towers nationwide have also been blown up by resistance groups.
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