Myanmar Junta’s New Policy of Arming its Supporters Will Lead to More Bloodshed

By The Irrawaddy 20 February 2023

Until the Myanmar military’s 2021 coup, assassinations involving guns were rare in the country, with the notable exception of the shooting of prominent lawyer U Ko Ni outside Yangon International Airport in 2017.

But since the putsch, assassinations involving guns have become increasingly common and are now happening on an almost daily basis.

Over 5,000 military sympathizers, alleged informants, members of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), junta officials and employees have been killed since the coup, with another 4,000 injured, said junta boss Min Aung Hlaing at a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council on February 1.

Having failed to protect its supporters and workers, the junta is now attempting to remedy that by amending the Arms Act. A new policy issued by the regime’s Ministry of Home Affairs will allow junta supporters to hold weapons to protect themselves.

The military has already turned much of the country into a battlefield. Now it is bringing arms into society itself, a sign surely of more bloodshed to come.

Under the new policy, arms and ammunition will be issued to civilians who agree to participate in local security and law enforcement in their states and regions. In other words, the new policy will allow regime supporters to fight for the junta in plain clothes.

Citizens over the age of 18 will be issued licenses allowing them to hold five different types of weapons including pistols and hunting rifles. The arms are intended for USDP members, military supporters, former military personnel, administrators, and business owners.

“In the past, licenses to hold arms were only granted to prominent cronies like U Tay Za and U Aung Ko Win. Now it appears that weapons licenses will be given to many business people,” said a source close to the regime.

U Tay Za, a notorious arms broker and long-time military crony, used to buy arms from overseas and present them to generals who were close to him, added the source.

“Generals have some of the best foreign-made guns in the world. Every general has more than one gun, apart from the one issued to them by the Ka Pa Sa [the Myanmar military’s Directorate of Defense Industries],” said the source.

In Myanmar, only the Ministry of Home Affairs is allowed to import weapons and ammunition, and citizens are prohibited from buying guns from abroad.

But it has been a long time since cronies were able to import weapons to present to generals or to use for hunting and shooting sports, said a source from the home affairs ministry.

“The weapons seized from Phyo Ko Ko Tint San were imported that way,” said the source.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, the son of U Tint San, the sports minister in U Thein Sein’s administration, was arrested on October 15, 2017, after two pistols and ammunition, as well as narcotics, were discovered in his backpack at Naypyitaw Airport. Police went on to seize more than 20 guns from his hotel, company offices and houses in Naypyitaw and Yangon. In 2020, Phyo Ko Ko Tint San was sentenced to 30 years to prison.

Under the new regime policy, pro-junta militias and security organizations will be allowed to hold pistols, rifles and automatic weapons with permits issued by the home affairs ministry. This is similar to the way the Myanmar military previously armed ethnic militias in Shan State to combat ethnic armed organizations operating there.

Since the coup, the regime has formed militias known as Pyu Saw Htee to fight the resistance in Sagaing, Magwe and Mandalay regions.

The move to arm civilians comes at a time when the junta is facing ever-growing resistance nationwide from People’s Defense Forces and ethnic armed organizations.

“This plan amounts to pushing military supporters into the killing fields. There will be more pre-emptive attacks and more bloodshed,” said a soldier who has joined the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Government employees, administrators and military supporters in the 37 townships where the regime has imposed martial law will be given priority in the issuing of gun licenses, according to information leaked from the home affairs ministry.

In the two years since the coup, weapons have already flooded into civilian society. Military supporters have publicly asked to be armed at junta press conferences so that they can respond to resistance attacks and the regime has now agreed to their demands.

Notorious ultranationalist and USDP member U Hla Swe has been urging the regime to allow supporters to have licensed guns.

He said in an interview that some junta-appointed ministers have asked him how they could acquire arms. He has said that he will apply for licenses to hold two guns.

“In fact, all the administrators, [junta-allied] politicians and business owners have guns already. And the regime is now making it legal by asking them to apply for licenses,” said a source in the capital Naypyitaw.

There have already been frequent firefights between junta officials, Pyu Saw Htee and PDFs in the resistance stronghold of Sagaing Region.

“Soldiers and police only come to wards during their patrols. They are usually in police stations and security outposts for the rest of the time. But ward administrators are always in their ward. So they face a greater security threat,” said one politician.

However, there is a risk that the new policy will backfire on the regime.

“They [junta supporters] face the risk of their guns being grabbed. And there is also the risk of officials defecting along with their guns,” said a striking police officer.

Police and ward administrators will know who has weapons in their areas, as people applying for the new gun licenses will have to apply to their ward administrators and local police first.

Eligible citizens will be allowed hold up to three different types of weapons per person under the new policy. Government employees will be permitted to hold an automatic weapon in addition to the three different types of gun.

Ammunition will also be issued. The new policy allows 50 bullets for each pistol and 100 bullets for each automatic weapon. Neither telescopic sights nor silencers will be allowed under the policy.

Retired lieutenant colonel and former National League for Democracy member U Kyaw Zeya wrote on his Facebook page: “I am not holding arms again at this age. I am happy to die if someone comes and kills me.”

“It is the duty of the Myanmar military to protect the people,” he added.

Military lobbyists are calling for arming all officials down to the level of 100-household administrators.

But there are concerns about the new guns being used to attack non-Buddhists, as the ultranationalist Buddhist association Ma Ba Tha are military supporters. And there are also concerns about the guns fueling an increase in crime.

The price of weapons on the black market along the Myanmar-Thailand border has increased by at least five times since the coup, according to arms experts.

“The price will increase again if the military issues the licenses,” said a weapon expert.

The military’s ordnance factories can produce both pistols and bullets, and they have the capacity to manufacture to order, said a striking soldier.

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun has told pro-regime media outlets that the junta will legalize the establishment of weapons-manufacturing companies.

More than 3,000 civilians have died at the hands of the junta since the coup, according to a February 17 statement from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Now it seems that many more will die as a result of the regime’s new policy of issuing weapons to its supporters.