Myanmar junta claims of control dismissed as bid to ‘save face’ amid chaos

Junta claims that the situation in Myanmar is “under control” couldn’t be farther from the truth, residents and analysts said Friday, calling the comments part of a bid to “save face” in front of the global community as the nation crumbles.

Speaking to Chinese and Japanese reporters during a Feb. 23 online interview, junta Information Minister Maung Maung Ohn said that the regime had “taken full control of the country’s stability and security” as it had been able to “suppress — within the bounds of law — all crimes and inhumane acts” within a short period of time.

The former general said that more than 3,000 ward or village administrators in various regions and states had resigned due to “threats” by prodemocracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries — who the military calls terrorists — but that the junta was able to appoint more than 2,600 people to fill the vacancies and ensure security.

Maung Maung Ohn’s comments came barely a week before authorities in Mandalay region’s Amarapura township killed a bystander who had been taking photos during a military raid on an area home. The killing in broad daylight prompted condemnation from observers who called it just one example of how security forces have used brutal tactics to quell opposition throughout the nation, in stark contrast to claims by the junta that the situation in the country is stable and peaceful.

In the 13 months since the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup, security forces have cracked down on its opponents through by arresting, beating and sometimes killing peaceful protesters. The military regime has also attacked opposition strongholds with helicopter gunships, fighter jets and troops that have burned hundreds of villages they accuse of supporting anti-junta militias.

As of Friday, more than 1,600 people had been killed since the coup and some 12,300 arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights organization based in Thailand.

A woman who gave her name as Jewel and who works with the Pazundaung and Botataung Township Youth Strike Committee in the commercial capital Yangon told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the junta is claiming full control of the nation to “save face.”

“That’s nonsense. They don’t have any control over Yangon or anywhere else. Even their own forces are in a state of disarray,” she said. “A state of complete control means that the whole country is calm and quiet. But now, people everywhere are rebelling any moment they get a chance. The junta is using the word ‘control’ just to save face.”

She pointed to reports of the military resorting to the use firearms to force people to pay power bills they boycotted in opposition to the junta as an example of its inability to govern.

A resident of Myanmar’s second-largest city Mandalay, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing security reasons, told RFA that even if the junta did have full control of the country, its rule would still lack legitimacy.

“Anti-junta protests are still going on here and there, and arrests are still being made,” he said. “At night, we can hear random bomb blasts. Everywhere on the roads, they are checking people passing by. And they use bulldozers to demolish houses, without any court order. I see them bullying people at gunpoint. I haven’t seen one iota of legal rule at all.”

Other residents told RFA that the city streets are empty after 5 p.m. due to the lack of security at night.

‘Insecurity’ forces

A resident of Yangon noted that despite the junta’s claims of control, police and soldiers do not dare to go out without weapons because they know the country is not peaceful.

“Why have police stations turned into bunkers covered with sandbags? … Why are they still patrolling with their big guns at the ready? … Can they say they have control, and it is safe, when they themselves don’t feel safe to move around?” she said.

“It’s not that the people are calm and quiet. They are all rebelling in any way they can. … They haven’t hesitated to participate in any kind of protest. There is a revolutionary spirit in the hearts of the people.”

Even though some parts of Yangon may be crowded and seem calm and normal, people are, in reality, “ready to explode,” she said.

Aung Thu Nyein, director of the Center for Strategic and Policy Studies, told RFA that although the military is mostly in control of Myanmar’s cities, it is still struggling to stabilize the country.

“All we can say is that there is still a lot of opposition on the ground,” he said. “In some areas, villages have been set on fire, and we’ve seen many reports of human rights abuses. So, that means the regime is still working hard on ‘security.’”

Political analyst Than Soe Naing said that even with control over Myanmar’s urban areas, authorities “dare not walk on the streets.”

“They only live within their military bases or encampments in the city and are forced to defend themselves at all times,” he said.

“They dare not leave unless they are in full force in the countryside on a mission to attack villages or the opposition. The whole countryside seems to be under the rule of PDFs. In other words, we think the armed resistance has made true gains.”

Than Soe Naing noted that around 90 percent of Myanmar’s rural areas are now under the administration of PDFs and other armed opposition groups in Chin, Kayah and Kayin states, as well as in Sagaing region.

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