Authorities in Myanmar on Tuesday arrested six people in connection with a series of unexplained bomb explosions in several cities, including a key suspect behind the blast that injured an American guest at the luxury Traders Hotel in the commercial capital Yangon.
No individual or group has yet claimed responsibility for at least six bomb explosions—including two that rocked the northern Sagaing region on Tuesday—that have left two people dead and four others wounded. Four unexploded devices have also been discovered by authorities.
In the most high-profile explosion, a bomb tore through the ninth-floor of the luxurious Traders Hotel in downtown Yangon Monday, injuring an American woman and scattering glass and debris across the street in front of the popular tourist haunt.
Yangon division police officer Myint Htwe said Tuesday that four suspects had been arrested in connection with the explosion at the hotel and after an unexploded device was discovered in a nearby Chinese restaurant.
“We arrested four people—the main suspect was arrested this morning,” he said.
“We had the evidence to arrest them. These people are the [suspected] perpetrators of the failed bombing attempt at the Western Park restaurant and bomb blast at the Traders Hotel.”
Myint Htwe said the explosion at the 22-story Traders Hotel had been caused by a small, homemade time bomb that had been placed in the bathroom of an American family's room on the ninth floor.
He said that Myanmar had “doubled” the number of security forces deployed around the country as a preventive measure, assuring the public that more information would be made available as suspects were questioned.
Also on Tuesday, the police issued a statement announcing the arrest of two suspects in connection with a failed attempt to detonate a device in Mandalay city’s Golden Duck Restaurant a day earlier.
In Sagaing, a bomb exploded early Tuesday on the fourth floor of the downtown Shwe Pyae Sone Hotel and a second blast about two hours later at the Soon U Ponenyashin Pagoda in the Sagaing Hills area. No one was injured in the blasts.
The bombing saga began on Friday at a guesthouse in Taungoo, a central city located between Yangon and the national capital Naypyidaw, leaving two people dead and one injured.
Two other small bombs went off on opposite sides of Yangon on Sunday, injuring three, while an unexploded device was discovered in Yangon region’s Insein township.
Reports have said that an unexploded device was also discovered in Myanmar’s central Bago region on Oct. 9.
Small bombings, often blamed on separatists, were a frequent occurrence in Myanmar during the country’s nearly five decades of military rule, but few have taken place since President Thein Sein took power in 2011, implementing sweeping democratic reforms.
The changes led to the lifting of international sanctions against Myanmar and turned the former pariah nation into a regional player in Southeast Asia.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said Tuesday that the attacks had been 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.
He said that authorities were working “in every possible way to catch the perpetrators.”
Speaking with RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday, leaders of political parties and activist groups urged the government to forge ahead with ongoing reforms and called on the public not to be deterred by the attacks.
Min Ko Naing, leader of the 88 Generation student activist group, noted that the incidents took place as the government was in the process of signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the country’s armed ethnic groups and amid a debate over amending the country’s 2008 constitution written by the former junta.
“We are having these bomb problems while we are doing these important things [for the country] … We have to prevent these problems from continuing,” he said.
“The people must be more careful about their safety than usual. This is especially true for those organizations that are responsible for the people’s security, though they must not interfere with the livelihoods of the public.”
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi warned the people not to “fall into the bombers’ trap” of destabilizing the nation, speaking to reporters during a break from parliamentary meetings in Yangon.
“People are becoming concerned by these bomb blasts, but I believe that they must remain calm,” said the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
“The people mustn’t fall into the bombers’ trap, as these devices were planted in a bid to cause instability. The people should be careful, but shouldn’t be over-frightened.”
Nyo Nyo Thin, a member of parliament from the Democratic Party (Myanmar), said he feared that the attacks could set the country on a path to greater restrictions if the government reverses freedoms in the name of protecting the people.
“I believe that the country could move backwards because of security reasons, as it is said that only the military can provide security for the nation,” he said.
“We have had lessons about this before—the military took the nation’s power away from politicians and the parliament over security reasons in the past. We must keep this in mind when dealing with this kind of situation.”
Reported by Yadanar Oo, Win Naing, Kyaw Htun Naing and Zin Mar Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.