For Myanmar’s Junta Forces, a New Sense of Vulnerability

By DAKKHA 27 May 2021

For Myanmar’s security forces, insecurity is in the air now.

Until recently, they were the town bullies. They rampaged in the streets and robbed people. They raided neighborhoods, challenging people, “Come out, you who dare to die!” while firing automatic rifles in pursuit of anti-regime protesters.

It seems those days are numbered, however.

Here is a bitter truth they have just begun to realize in recent days: They are no longer safe, wherever they are, even in big cities like Yangon.

What is the evidence for this?

Any skeptical soul would do well to take a tour around the city. Make sure to pay special attention when you pass by a police station or the regime’s General Administration Department (GAD) office in your neighborhood.

The difference can be sensed in the absence of the menacing soldiers and assault rifle-wielding police who once manned the gates outside these buildings.

At the entrances now, in contrast, there are newly erected outposts fortified with piles of sandbags. Soldiers and police armed to the teeth crouch behind them with jittery expressions.

Down the street, don’t be confused if the façade of your township’s GAD office is now covered with a high fence with wire mesh, resembling a cage in a zoo. The only thing missing is the “Don’t tease the animals” sign.

This newfound sense of vulnerability appeared almost overnight after deadly assaults on security forces last week by unknown attackers. In Yangon’s Sanchaung Township, at least two security forces were killed when explosives were thrown into the township GAD office. It happened in broad daylight. According to unconfirmed reports, a soldier on sentry duty there was shot dead at close range, too.

A ward-level administration office behind barricades and a wire mesh fence in Yangon’s North Okkalapa Township.

Next day, a member of the regime’s security forces was shot dead on the spot by an unknown attacker at a high school that had been turned into a security base in Yangon’s Thingangyun Township. Residents said a volley of shots rang out during a Hollywood-style exchange of gunfire between soldiers and unknown assailants from a vehicle. Following the shootout, a blast occurred in the township.

Until the deadly attacks last week, Yangon was relatively safe for the boys in uniform. Despite a few blasts here and there, they operated largely unharmed. The throwing of bombs from the road into a government office in broad daylight was unheard of. As was the spraying of bullets at soldiers manning gates. But these things have become a reality, and no one knows when and where the next attack will occur. When it does, rest assured that the victims will be the regime’s soldiers and police, as they have been the targets in previous attacks. Seeing the writing on the wall, it is unsurprising that they are now ducking behind sandbags to protect themselves from being hit by out-of-nowhere bullets or stationing themselves several feet behind cage-like fences to avoid any incoming explosives.

The beefed-up security measures are not limited to troop positions and government offices, but extend to regime-owned property as well.

Sandbag-fortified outposts

The best example is the regime’s newly opened MoeKaung Treasure Maternal and Child Hospital in the compound of the Military Documentation Office in Yangon’s Yankin Township.

Opened early this month by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the more than three-week-old hospital scarcely resembles a medical facility. Two days after its opening, two bombs went off near the entrance. Now, the gate is sealed off. The roofs of the security booths at the entrances are piled high with sandbags, with soldiers bearing arms stationed behind them. Roadblocks zigzag the main road outside the hospital. In short, the area has more the air of a warzone than a place for treating the ill.

For the regime troops sheltering behind the sandbags, the situation they face is a depressing one. When they meet the eyes of passersby, they see hatred in some. For the majority of Myanmar’s people today, following the regime’s slaughter of more than 800 civilians since the coup, soldiers and police are objects of disgust. For a soldier, few things can be more demoralizing than the knowledge that the people hold you in contempt. At the same time, the news outside Yangon is even less encouraging.

In the country’s southeastern Kayah State, a number of police stations have been burned to ashes by anti-regime civilian forces. Over the weekend, resistance fighters killed more than 40 regime troops in guerrilla attacks. The death toll was so significant for the junta it didn’t mention a number when announcing the attack, saying only that “some security forces were killed” and “some disappeared.” In other parts of the country such as Chin State and Sagaing Region, local resistance groups have taken up arms against regime troops, with both sides sustaining casualties.

Unlike in Kayah, Chin and Sagaing, however, no one has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Yangon. The effect is to make the security forces here feel more nervous and unsafe; they are forced to assume that everyone is a potential attacker.

Meanwhile, the sight of fully equipped soldiers and police hiding behind sandbags and cage-like wire fences is a cause of bemusement to locals. When pictures of soldiers crouching behind sandbags went viral on Facebook, people mocked them and called them cowards. Until March, it was young anti-regime protesters who used sandbags, mostly for fear of the security forces’ crackdowns on them. Now, it is the men in uniform who are tasting fear, and the barricades seem essential to them. Under a picture of one of the heavily fortified outposts, one user simply dropped the comment: “Come out, you who dare to die!”

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