Myanmar Vigilante Groups Formed to Handle Night Thugs

By The Irrawaddy 14 February 2021

Yangon-Residents of Myanmar’s major cities have organized night-time vigilante groups to deter thugs and mobs rumored to have been dispatched by the junta to create community disturbances at a time the whole country is reeling from a week-long anti-coup protest.

Myanmar’s military seized power on Feb 1, claiming that the general election last year was stolen. They have arrested the country’s democratically elected leaders the President U Win Myint and the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since Friday night, thuggish strangers have been spotted behaving suspiciously around curfew time in some neighborhoods in Yangon, Mandalay and other cities. Upon roundups by neighborhood residents, some were found with large amounts of cash or were under the influence of drugs. Most of them couldn’t give proper reasons for their late night behavior.

Their sudden appearances also coincide with the military regime’s pardon of more than 23,000 inmates—mostly criminals—and the circulation of rumors about arson and the poisoning of drinking water supplies.

Given the arrival of the thugs and rampant rumors, people feared that the junta was reviving an old, nasty tactic used by its predecessor 33 years ago during the popular democracy uprising in 1988 when provocateurs were dispatched to wreak havoc.

During that time, when suspected drugged thugs were arrested, people took justice into, their own hands, conducting public killings amid accusations of spying and arson.

When the situation worsened, the military used the instability as an excuse to step in with a bloody crackdown, claiming that the country was descending to anarchy. The military takeover just ended in 2011.

Discussing the recent arrests of strangers, U Than Soe, a private English language teacher in Yangon’s Hlaing Thaya Township, said people experienced this kind of scenario in 1988.

“One thing sure is they (the regime) are provoking instability. Only when that happens, they could be able to justify their action,” he said.

On Saturday night, residents manned improvised security posts in their neighborhoods after curfew hours began at 8 p.m. Some armed themselves with sticks big enough kill someone.

Unlike what happened in 1988, those arrested by the residents have not been mistreated. Mindful of the bitter consequences what they have experienced more than three decades ago, people held livestreamed public interrogations before handing the suspects over to the police instead.

Mandalay-based journalist Ko San Yu Kyaw said the current situation is instilling fear in the public.

“They (the regime) are trying to push the situation to what happened in 1988. So, the leaders of vigilantes should be smart and visionary,” he said.

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