Myanmar’s shadow government creates guerrilla militia in Yangon

Forming the new unit in a junta stronghold will likely lead to more violence
By RFA Burmese
2023.06.14
Myanmar’s shadow government creates guerrilla militia in Yangon Fighters of NUG’s People Defense Battalion 5101 of Yangon train on Jun. 6, 2023.
Yangon Region Military Command

Myanmar’s shadow government has established an armed battalion in the country’s largest city of Yangon, intended to strengthen opposition to the junta and strategically formulate the fall of military rule, shadow government officials told Radio Free Asia.

Defense officials from the National Unity Government, or NUG, announced on June 1 that Public Defense Force 5101, or PDF 5101, is operating under its Yangon Region Military Command. 

Yangon and its surrounding areas are the second strongest power base for the military junta behind the capital Naypyidaw, to the north.

In the aftermath of the military coup on Feb.1, 2021, armed citizens opposed to military rule began banding together to form PDFs–guerrilla-style militia groups–to fight back against the junta. Many of these affiliated themselves with the NUG after it was formed by remnants of Myanmar’s democratically elected government.    

Claiming a PDF in Yangon is a stepping stone towards a stronger resistance toward the junta, Naing Htoo Aung, secretary of the  NUG’s Ministry of Defense, told RFA’s Burmese Service. He said it aims to combine existing urban guerrilla attack strategies with traditional combat tactics to shorten the response time to junta military threats in Yangon.

“After regiments like this have been established, we will be able to organize stronger, more united and more traditional battles that can formulate more strategic attacks at the military junta,” said Naing Htoo Aung.

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A hospital staffer cleans a stretcher stained with blood from a protester killed during a crackdown by Myanmar military during a demonstration against the military coup at a hospital in Yangon, March 30, 2021. Credit: AFP

Following the NUG’s announcement, junta personnel took to the Yangon streets, saying to residents through loudspeakers that they should not harbor members of PDFs in their homes, not to rent their homes ot PDF members, and to report to authorities any suspicious activity, Yangon residents told RFA.

Wake up call

The establishment of the PDF in Yangon is a wake up call to the junta, Sayar Kyaung, leader of the anti-junta Yangon UG [Urban Guerrilla] Association, a coalition of guerrilla groups from the city. But the announcement will cause the junta to come after groups like the UG association.

“Since Yangon is under the control of the enemy, they search very thoroughly, inspect and arrest more people in the area, making things harder for us.”

RFA attempted to contact the junta’s spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment, but he did not answer phone calls. 

The NUG’s announcement is likely false according to Thien Tun Oo, the executive director of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a group of former military officers said.

“In my opinion, it’s more like a propaganda attempt,” he said. “It cannot be practical for them to do anything in the Yangon region under the current situation.”

More violence expected

Anti-junta forces shot and killed about 600 junta military personnel in and around Yangon during the month of May, including officers ranked as high as majors, the NUG’s Yangon Regional Military Sub-division announced on June 3. 

On June 5, six people were injured in an explosion at the office of the chief of Internal Revenue Department in Yangon, and on On June 6, three bombs exploded near the city’s Insein Prison.

The NUG’s declaration of a newly formed armed battalion will likely cause more violence between the two sides, Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a political analyst, told RFA.

“There can be more deadly incidents leading to escalating anxiety among the people,” he said. “I think that those who are already hiding from the military forces will have narrower freedom to move about and fewer choices of accommodation with more difficult livelihood opportunities.”

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Smoke rises over Tamwe township in Yangon on March 27, 2021 as Myanmar security forces continue their crackdown on protesters against the military coup. Credit: AFP

According to NUG data, there are more than 300 PDF groups in 250 townships nationwide. 

The junta has therefore attempted to take a page out of the PDF playbook and has organized citizen militias loyal to the junta.

Dialogue will, however, be the only way to avoid more fighting and casualties, Ye Tun, a political analyst, told RFA.

“There have been escalating anxieties, feelings of insecurity and personal vendettas among the people lately. This is a very bad consequence of politics in Myanmar,” he said. “We need to be very careful not to let things like this happen.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 3,659 pro-democracy activists and civilians have been killed since the military coup, and 23,337 people have been arrested as of Wednesday.

A junta statement issued April 9, reported that from the coup through March 16, 2023, a total of 4,645 civilians were killed by PDF forces. 

RFA could not independently verify the data from either organization, but if both statements are accurate, a total of 8,304 people have died on both sides since the coup.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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