Once Bustling Yangon Eerily Silent Amid Military Arrests, Anti-Junta Bombings

The former epicenter of anti-coup protests is nearly empty by day and a ghost town at night.

Once Bustling Yangon Eerily Silent Amid Military Arrests, Anti-Junta Bombings

Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon—once a bustling metropolis—has become a relative ghost town amid a heavy security lockdown and a declaration of war on the ruling military junta by the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), according to residents.

Prior to the spread of the coronavirus and the military takeover, tens of thousands of people would gather on religious holidays at the sacred Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar’s most populous city, which is home to more than 7 million residents.

However, on Sept. 20 this year—a day that would normally see multitudes marking the full moon—only a few hundred pilgrims made the trip to pay homage at the holy site, also popular with tourists, where uniformed and plain-clothed security forces stood guard at its four gateways.

Yangon resident Su Su told RFA’s Myanmar Service that it had been ages since she was able to visit Shwedagon Pagoda.

“I visited famous sites like Shwedagon, as well as Sule and Kaba Aye Pagodas, quite frequently in the past, but I haven’t been there for more than two years due to the surge of COVID-19 cases and the military coup,” she said.

“Now, it seems like there is an entire army battalion on the pagoda. When you visit, the first thing you see is the soldiers, and we had no interest in meeting with them. You can never tell what might happen.”

Other residents told RFA that the streets of downtown Yangon, which used to be constantly congested with traffic and pedestrians, are free of crowds during the day and eerily silent at night.

Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government on Feb. 1, claiming the party had stolen the country’s November 2020 ballot through voter fraud.

The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,120 people and arresting 6,698 others, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). More than 1,700 have been arrested in the Yangon region, which was once the epicenter of demonstrations against the coup.

According to reporting by RFA, police killed at least 134 people in Yangon alone between Feb. 1 and Sept. 21 as the result of crackdowns, arbitrary arrests, and torture. The city was the stage for weeks of huge mass protests in the wake of the coup that tapered off as repression intensified.

Junta soldiers patrol Yangon, May 7, 2021. AFP
Center of resistance

On Sept. 7, Duwa Lashi La, interim president of the five-month-old NUG, declared a nationwide state of emergency and called for open rebellion against junta rule, prompting an escalation of attacks on military targets by various allied pro-democracy militias and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs).

Residents said that since the NUG announcement, Yangon has become one of the most dangerous cities for those who resist the military regime.

Dora, a 30-year-old woman from Yangon’s Bahan township, said she had to even be careful about what she wears when she leaves her home.

“I live in fear. When I go out, I cannot wear a black shirt or a black mask, as black indicates mourning [junta rule],” she said.

“I cannot carelessly take out my phone. If there are any photos or posts related to the anti-junta movement or protests, they must be deleted.”

A 42-year-old woman in Yangon’s South Dagon township, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that she lives in fear that her son will be arrested or killed in a bomb blast while doing his job as a garbage collector.

“I have to pray that nothing is happening to my son because there are regular explosions around the city,” she said, adding that he is the family’s primary breadwinner.

“I want to go out on my own and earn some money, but I have an illness. I can't do anything with my two other children at home.”

According to RFA’s records, there have been 22 bomb blasts in Yangon since July, including in the townships of South Okkalapa, North Okkalapa, Twantay, North Dagon, Shwe Pyi Thar, Pazundaung, Hlaing, Bahan, Mayangone, Thanlyin and Kayan.

Ma Nyo, a woman in Thaketa township, said she personally transports her 16-year-old son back and forth from his job an electronics salesman each day.

“There is no security outside, and I am always worried,” she said.

“When my son goes to work, I have to send him and pick him up myself. But I’m always worried until he gets home.”

Ma Nyo noted that every time a bomb goes off in the city, security forces conduct random searches and raid nearby homes.

Bahan Market in Yangon, Sept 15, 2021. RFA
Bahan Market in Yangon, Sept 15, 2021. RFA
‘No rule of law’

Kyaw Gyi, a taxi driver in Tamway township, said he is constantly on the lookout for danger from passengers in his car as a result of the frequent inspections.

“I have to be careful when people stop me on the road, and when my passengers exit, I need to check what is left behind, because you don’t want to get injured or killed if something is left in the car,” he said.

“I dare not speak freely because I have no idea who the passenger might be.”

A 20-year-old man from South Dagon township said he lives in fear of the military’s daily arrests.

“The soldiers can arrest anyone they want—if you are a suspect, there is nothing you can do because you will be dragged away and beaten,” said the man, who declined to be named.

Residents told RFA that most inspections and arrests take place at night, when authorities suddenly force open locks and enter homes.

“I think this is the worst time we have seen in Yangon,” said Nang Lin, a leader of the University Old Students Movement.

“The nearly 7 million residents of the city are feeling insecure and helpless and are living in constant anxiety because there is no way to protect their lives or property,” he said.

“There is no rule of law, as the laws will not protect us from anything.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Malaysia to Seek China's Views on AUKUS Pact in Minister's Beijing Visit

One expert calls the proposed consultation 'inappropriate,' noting Malaysia is not a member of the AUKUS Pact and will appear to be siding with China, the Pact's potential target.

Malaysia to Seek China's Views on AUKUS Pact in Minister's Beijing Visit

Malaysia’s defense chief will seek Beijing’s views on a new U.S.-U.K.-Australia security pact and determine what action the Asian superpower plans in response, during an upcoming visit to China, he told parliament Wednesday.

The so-called AUKUS pact has opened a divide among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with Malaysia and Indonesia worrying it may spur a regional arms race, and Singapore and the Philippines welcoming it. Meanwhile, an analyst told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, that Malaysia consulting China on the alliance was “inappropriate.”

“We need to get the views of the leadership, particularly China’s defense, on what they think of AUKUS and what their action could be,” Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

“I plan to soon undertake a short work visit to China.”

He was replying to a question asked in parliament about whether Malaysia would be involved with the new pact because the nation is a member of the Five Powers Defense Arrangement – along with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

The trilateral pact provides Australia with the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. It is thought to be aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the South China Sea where Beijing has sweeping claims, which its neighbors, including Malaysia, dispute.

China has denounced the pact.

Singapore and the Philippines, however, have expressed support, saying the pact would help restore an “imbalance” and lead to stability in the region.

Under the 50-year-old Five Powers Defense Arrangement, members such as Malaysia and Singapore would consult each other “immediately” if there were a threat of an armed attack on any of them. These consultations would help them decide what action to take together or separately.

Despite this arrangement, Malaysia considers itself non-aligned, but has increasingly found itself caught between superpowers China and the United States, in those nations’ quest for dominance in Southeast Asia. Other nations in the region are in a similar bind.

Hishammuddin said he would have to “tread carefully” to try and balance the “two major powers” and that was “not any easy thing” to do. He did not invoke any names but invoked ASEAN.

“Our strength is not when we are alone, our strength is when the 10 ASEAN member countries unite to ensure the position and security of the region be defended,” Hishammuddin said.

Split within bloc

The AUKUS deal, however, has exposed a divide in the regional bloc, Southeast Asian affairs analyst Richard Heydarian remarked.

“The AUKUS deal has clearly shown that there is NO ASEAN position,” Heydarian said on Twitter.

“This is not a monolithic region, with Indonesia and Malaysia predictably throwing neutralist affectations, Vietnam (and likely Singapore too) quietly welcoming it, and the Philippines openly BACKING it!”

Another regional analyst, Oh Ei Sun, said Malaysia preferred to maintain a working strategic relationship with China, “despite China’s frequent incursion into what Malaysia considers to be its territorial waters” in the South China Sea.

“Malaysia would increasingly have to rethink its position straddling the intersection between AUKUS and an increasingly assertive China, particularly in the SCS,” Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told BenarNews.

One such recent intrusion, according to Kuala Lumpur, was the May 31 overflight by 16 Chinese military planes into Malaysia’s maritime airspace over South China Sea waters near Borneo.

Last year, Kuala Lumpur said that Chinese coastguard and navy ships had intruded into Malaysian waters in the disputed waterway 89 times between 2016 and 2019. These Chinese ships often stayed in the area despite Malaysia’s navy telling them to leave, the Malaysian government said.

Malaysia is “in no position whatsoever to feel happy or unhappy about the AUKUS deal, as it does not unequivocally align itself to the U.S.-led coalition,” Oh said.

However, Malaysia would send a message that it no longer is non-aligned if its defense minister consults with China about the trilateral pact, according to Azmi Hassan, an expert in geopolitical strategy.

“For Malaysia to consult China … it creates an uneasy atmosphere as China is not a member of the AUKUS pact, and instead is the potential target of the pact,” Azmi told BenarNews.

“The perception would be that Malaysia sided with China. It is very inappropriate.”

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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