NAYPYITAW—A National League for Democracy (NLD) MP has asked about the ongoing existence of Myanmar’s more than 6,000 people’s militias.
“It is said that people’s militias were formed to protect the country against the threat of armed groups in unstable areas. But why are people’s militias maintained in peaceful areas?” asked Mi Kun Chan of Mon State’s Paung Township during the Lower House session on Wednesday.
“What punitive action is taken against people’s militias for their unlawful acts?” the MP asked.
Deputy Defense Minister Major General Myint Nwe replied that people’s militias are maintained under national defense policies and they will continue until those policies are changed. The military-drafted 2008 Constitution also endorses implementation of the people’s militia strategy, the military-appointed deputy minister said.
Article 340 of the 2008 Constitution states: “With the approval of the National Defense and Security Council, the Defense Services have the authority to administer the participation of the entire people in the security and defense of the Union. The strategy of the people’s militia shall be carried out under the leadership of the Defense Services.”
The provision, however, does not provide details about the role of people’s militias.
They are formed, trained, armed and assigned duties by the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s army. Militias are commanded by the military and, at the Union level, they are under the command of the Directorate of People’s Militia and Border Guard Force, said the deputy minister.
“People’s militias are not to be formed urgently only when war arises, but are organizations to be formed, trained and made ready for national defense,” he said.
Militias represent the awareness that everyone is responsible for national security and is prepared to work actively to protect the nation, the general added.
However, ethnic affairs analysts say the militias are involved in illegal logging, the production and distribution of illicit drugs, the smuggling of cattle and other crimes.
“In [the state-run newspapers] you will see pictures of the Tatmadaw supplying them. But it can’t supply them enough for them to lead decent lives. That is the main problem, I fear. They are not familiar with legal businesses and they have to rely on illegal trades,” said ethnic affairs analyst Sai Tun Aung Lwin.
Most of the militias are in conflict zones and their security is in question, he said.
There are about 6,050 people’s militia groups across Myanmar, and each group is allowed to have 20 to 60 members, said Mi Kun Chan.
She said Paung had 1,126 members of people’s militias in 45 villages, including armed militias in 28 villages with 246 firearms.
“As they live side by side with civilians, if they are given both arms and authority, it can lead to social conflict and abuse of power,” she told the Parliament.
In a case in April in Htan Pin Chaung Gyi Village in Paung, the son of a militia leader led a group that vandalized some houses in the village, she said.
“[The militia leader] abused his power for his son and threatened the residents, who filed a complaint. The district enquired but no action has been taken,” she added.
Maj-Gen Myint Nwe said militias cooperated with the civil administration, police and military in providing security for communication links, bridges, the electrical grid, mines and forest reserves.
Lower House Speaker U T Khun Myat was a leader of a special people’s militia based in Kutkai in Shan State. He was appointed in March 2018.