Three bombs have exploded in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state near the border with China, leaving one person dead and at least five others injured, according to officials, as the authorities stepped up security following a series of unexplained blasts in the commercial capital Yangon and other cities.
The United States in a statement called the bombings “acts of terror” but urged the authorities to adhere strictly to the rule of law in trying suspects held over the blasts, which have left a total of three people dead and nine injured.
The new explosions in Shan state’s Nanhkan township have also prompted a security alert in western Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state—where clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists last year left more than 200 dead.
The first of the fresh blasts went off late Wednesday followed by two other blasts early Thursday, Sai Tin Oo, a member of parliament for the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) in the area, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“One blast occurred [Wednesday] at around 10:45 p.m. with a loud noise in the middle of a downtown street, though no one was killed or injured,” he said.
“The second bomb went off at around 7:00 a.m. inside a garbage can in front of a downtown church. A man was killed by the blast while he was removing garbage from the bin, and two others were wounded.”
“The third bomb blast occurred at around 7:30 a.m.,” he said, adding that three others were injured by the explosion.
The man who was killed in the second blast was a staff member of the City Development Committee, the parliamentarian said, and the five injured—including a teenage boy who was wounded in the abdomen—had been sent to Nanhkan Hospital for treatment.
By Thursday afternoon, four of the injured, who were in critical condition, had to be moved to a hospital in Muse, across the border from Ruili in China’s Yunnan province.
Sai Tin Oo said that police and soldiers were deployed to the area after the explosions to secure the area.
“The people are frightened and concerned about whether there might be additional blasts in town,” he said.
Authorities are investigating the blasts, he said, and plan to hold a press conference on Friday detailing how they will address the series of explosions that have rocked Myanmar since last week.
'Acts of terror' condemned
So far, nine explosions have hit five cities—Yangon, Mandalay, Taungoo, Sagaing and Nanhkan—since Oct. 9. Four unexploded devices were also found in various cities and towns.
The U.S. Embassy in Yangon on Thursday condemned the explosions and attempted bombings as “acts of terror” and urged the authorities in Myanmar to “proceed with full respect for due process under the rule of law” in trying the suspects.
“Acts of violence like those perpetrated and attempted over the past week have no place in civilized society,” the statement said.
“We are confident in the people of this country to confront such acts of terror with strength, determination and a continued commitment to national peace, development, and reconciliation.”
Police have cast a wider net for perpetrators of the bombings based on evidence provided by six suspects arrested so far, as reports suggested that some of those held had confessed to an organized bombing spree.
A key suspect held over Monday’s blast at the luxury Traders Hotel in Yangon and linked to an unexploded device found at a restaurant in the city earlier in the day has been linked in several media reports to Myanmar’s ethnic Karen National Union (KNU) rebel army.
KNU Deputy Secretary Phado Thaw Thi Bwe told RFA that the rebel army’s Fifth Brigade—based in Phapon district in predominantly Karen-populated Kayin state—is investigating the claim that Saw Myint Lwin had been a soldier in their division.
He said that the suspect was likely independently-motivated to carry out the bombings, as the KNU had held cease-fire negotiations with the government and was seeking peace.
“The KNU hasn’t carried out any acts of violence as we have discussed peace with the government,” he said.
“We can’t forgive the people who perpetrated these bomb blasts because we really want to have peace in the country.”
Phado Thaw Thi Bwe said that it was unlikely that any of the other ethnic Karen organizations along the Thai-Myanmar border area were involved in the blasts “because they also want peace.”
Police are searching for a seventh suspect, Saw Tun Tun, over Friday’s deadly blast at a guesthouse in Taungoo and have said that those held so far in connection with the bombings had provided information that helped authorities identify other suspects.
Atmosphere of fear
Following the series of bombings, authorities in Rakhine state said they had tightened security measures in the region.
Military officials, police officials and immigration officials are conducting searches and questioning passengers, particularly on buses from Yangon to the regional capital Sittwe, Rakhine state government spokesperson Win Myaing told RFA Thursday.
“Several groups of security forces have been deployed on roads in Rakhine state because landmines could be placed anywhere,” he said.
“They have searched and questioned people for reasons of security as needed, especially at crowded highway bus stations.”
The recent spate of bombings have shaken the will of the public, buoyed by sweeping democratic reforms implemented since President Thein Sein took power from the former military junta in 2011.
The changes have led to the lifting of international sanctions against Myanmar and turned the former pariah nation into a regional player in Southeast Asia.
The president’s office has said that the blasts were carried out to “frighten the people and to break the nation’s image” as it took over the chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc last week and prepares to host the Southeast Asia Games in December after a 44-year hiatus.
Reported by Zin Mar Win, Tin Aung Khine, Kyaw Thu and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.