Analysis

Timing of Deadly Yangon Blast Suspiciously Convenient for Myanmar Junta

By The Irrawaddy 3 June 2022

Coincidentally or not, weird things happen in military-ruled Myanmar when someone internationally renowned is in the country, especially if they’re visiting at the invitation of the regime.

Remember the strange simultaneous blazes at two military-owned shopping malls in Yangon in April last year, which occurred as anti-regime protesters across the country were attacking every junta target within their reach? The blazes occurred while CNN reporter Clarissa Ward was in the country being given a guided tour by the regime. Interestingly, the fires broke out during curfew hours.

Many people believe the regime itself torched the malls, hoping to convince the network’s chief international correspondent that “rioters”—the military’s euphemism for anti-regime protesters—were trying to destabilize the country. The speculation was fueled by the nightly claims by newscasters on state-run TV that government offices, local level administration offices and police stations were under attack by “rioters”. When her reports on Myanmar were aired a few days later, sadly for the regime, there was nothing about the fires. Following the blazes, the regime said it had launched investigations but nothing has been heard since then.

On Tuesday, an explosion occurred at a bus stop in downtown Yangon. The regime said one man was killed and nine injured, adding that the fatality was a People’s Defense Force (PDF) member killed while trying to detonate the bomb. PDF groups, which have been fighting the regime across the country since last year, comprise the armed wing of Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government (NUG). Both the NUG and the PDF have been designated as terrorist groups by the regime.

The NUG’s Ministry of Defense, which controls the PDFs, denounced the attack, saying its code of conduct prohibits PDFs from threatening or targeting civilians and “only the military and their system are legitimate targets.”

It added that the regime has a history of committing violence against civilians in order to discredit the resistance, accusing it of trying to “blame ethnic resistance groups and revolutionary forces for similar incidents in the past.”

The NUG’s Yangon Military Command, which oversees the resistance groups that carry out killings and bombings of regime targets in Yangon, said neither the urban guerrilla groups nor the PDFs had anything to do with the blast. Civil Guerrilla Force-YGN, one of the underground resistance groups active in Yangon, said the bombing was conducted by the regime and its affiliated organizations to smear the anti-regime revolution internationally.

Notably, Tuesday’s blast occurred following news of a planned visit by UN Special Envoy Noleen Heyzer to the country at the invitation of junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Given the junta’s well-worn tactic of trying to discredit the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD), the NUG and the PDFs for everything bad that happens in post-coup Myanmar, people have speculated about whether the regime was behind the downtown blast, in one more dirty trick to portray the PDFs as terrorists who kill civilians, presumably to attract the UN envoy’s attention before her trip as well as to smear the groups on the world stage. What’s more, the explosion occurred following US and Malaysian officials’ meetings with the NUG’s foreign minister during the recent US-ASEAN Summit, from which regime leader Min Aung Hlaing was excluded. The minister is also known to have held clandestine meetings with officials from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

Many people find it hard to believe the blast was committed by the PDF or guerrilla forces, as nothing in their year-long history suggests they would target ordinary civilians not associated with the regime. Plus, they survive on the people’s support.

“The people are well aware that we have even aborted some of our missions against regime targets in the past for the sake of the safety of civilians nearby,” Civil Guerrilla Force-YGN said.

The issue of who is responsible for the attack was only made murkier when the People’s Defense Force-Yangon claimed responsibility in a statement online, while apologizing for the civilian casualties.

“Today’s bus stop blast was intended to target the regime’s mechanism. We feel sorry to learn that there were civilian casualties as collateral damages,” it said.

However, a closer look at the statement reveals some irregularities.

First, everyone familiar with the neighborhood where the bus stop is located knows there are no regime targets in the vicinity. It’s just another busy downtown area filled with shops and swarming with roadside vendors. No regime soldiers would build a security checkpoint near a busy bus stop, as it would be too risky for them.

Second, suspicions have been raised about the People’s Defense Force-Yangon, which came to public attention in October last year when it warned that death threats had been made against the legal team that represents Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in court. According to local anti-regime outfits, Yangon only has underground resistance groups set up to carry out guerrilla-style attacks against the regime; PDF groups are active mostly in the countryside, where they conduct military operations against junta troops.

Thirdly, it’s really strange to see a contact phone number on a statement released by a resistance group; the practice is avoided as it simply helps the junta track such groups down. But in its release, the People’s Defense Force-Yangon proudly displays a number, as if it were a charity service. When attempts were made to call the number, however, it was dead. It should be noted that no contact number was included in the group’s warning to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team last year.

Since the statement was released on Tuesday, the group has been dismissed as a sham created by the regime to undermine the anti-regime movement. The group had made no further comment as of Friday and, unlike other resistance groups, doesn’t have a Facebook page. Its statement was first circulated on pro-regime Facebook and Telegram accounts.

“The statement doesn’t make sense and it’s too obvious to be true, as they have even put a phone number,” said a member of the Civil Guerrilla Force-YGN.

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