Myanmar’s anti-junta townships fear internet shutdown signals impending military offensive – Radio Free Asia

Residents of Myanmar townships where authorities have shut down internet access say they fear an impending military offensive amid a lockdown of information and an increase in arrests since the shadow government of national unity (NUG ) declared war on the junta last week.

Internet access is now cut in 10 municipalities in five administrative regions which have seen numerous anti-junta protests since the army seized power in the February 1 coup, notably in Sagaing, Mandalay and Magway , as well as in Kachin state, sources told RFA’s Myanmar service.

In Kachin Township in Hpakant, the internet has been down since August 20, while access in most townships in Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway regions was blocked on September 14.

Calls to Ooredoo Myanmar, which operates telecommunications services in the country, were routed to a recorded voicemail message informing the public on Thursday that the cuts had been made “on instructions from the Ministry of Transport and Communications” and that customers would be informed “as soon as possible, if service is restored.”

Residents of Kani township in Sagaing, where reports indicate that around 40 people were killed following an anti-junta protest in July, told RFA they believed internet access had may have been closed to prevent access to information by the local branch of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias formed to protect the public from the military.

“There are a lot of problems now because of the internet outage – we don’t have any information out of nowhere,” said one resident, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“People are speculating that the military is considering launching an attack on PDF forces now that the Internet is closed. This could be true, since telecommunications towers have been blown up in Butalin and Kani, and there could be a revenge offensive.

RFA has recorded the destruction of a total of 65 communications towers since September 4 in the Mandalay, Sagaing, Magway and Ayeyawaddy regions, as well as in Chin and South Shan states.

PDF militias have destroyed dozens of towers operated by the military telecommunications company Mytel Telecommunications Co. in an attempt to reduce the company’s revenues, they say the regime will use to buy weapons to use against the population. Several have been destroyed since September 7, when NUG declared a nationwide state of emergency and called for an open rebellion against the junta regime, escalating attacks on military targets by various militias. pro-democracy allies and armed ethnic groups.

No less than 11 towers were destroyed on September 7 alone in Butalin township in Sagaing, they said. At least five Mytel towers exploded between September 9 and September 15 in Tedim Township in northern Chin state, and residents said Mytel’s internet connections had not been available since Wednesday.

In several areas, including Taungdwingyi commune in Magway, residents said the internet connections of Myanmar’s four operators (MPT, Telenor, Ooredoo and Mytel) had been cut.

A Mytel tower is destroyed in the canton of Butalin, in the region of Sagaing, on September 7, 2021. Information HTY

Risk of rights violations

A resident of Yinmabin County in Sagaing warned that human rights violations perpetrated by the military could escalate once the internet is shut down.

“Even when internet access was available, brutal massacres were committed by the military, but without it the situation would be unthinkable,” he said.

A Magway region state employee, who declined to be named, told RFA that the junta has asked all telecom operators to shut down 3G, 4G and WTTH (broadband) internet lines to Sagaing, Mandalay and Magway starting September 14.

One of these operators, the Norwegian Telenor Myanmar, confirmed to RFA that it encountered “limitations in the provision of services due to compliance with local laws in the country”, without providing details.

In the seven months since the February 1 coup in Myanmar, security forces have killed 1,105 civilians and arrested at least 6,572, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (AAPP) based in Bangkok, mainly during the crackdown on anti-junta protests.

During the coup, the internet was cut across the country, with Wi-Fi and broadband services closed until the end of April, and only wired and business internet services are accessible. According to figures compiled by RFA, a total of 707 people were killed in gunfire by the security forces during this period.

The junta said it toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government because the party won a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 elections through widespread electoral fraud. He has yet to present any evidence for his claims and public unrest is at an all time high.

During the last internet shutdowns, there were reports of government soldiers entering villages to loot and burn houses, forcing residents to flee to safety. However, the junta defended the lockdowns, with Major General Zaw Min Tun’s spokesman telling RFA last year that the restriction on internet access had reduced the number of social media posts on issues. national security, including military movements and activities.

Amid nationwide unrest since the February coup, the military has stepped up its offensives in remote areas of the country, sparking fierce battles with local PDF militias and some of the dozens of ethnic armies who control large swathes of land along the outskirts of Myanmar.

A resident of Mandalay told RFA that he believed the junta’s main objective in cutting Internet access was “to conduct some kind of military operation.”

“This is intended to prevent PDFs from exchanging information so that they can attack them,” he said.

“Even before the Internet was shut down, [the military was] do what they wanted to do. I fear that there is no more brutality against innocent people.

Myint Kyaw, a senior journalist, said the junta would “take over” by shutting down the Internet, and said he expects “there will be more human rights violations” as a result.

“It’s a news blackout to cover things up,” he said.

The junta’s Ministry of Transport and Communications had yet to comment on the internet shutdowns on Thursday.

Junta security forces patrol Ward 1 of Mayangone County in Yangon on March 20, 2021. RFA
Junta security forces patrol Ward 1 of Mayangone County in Yangon on March 20, 2021. RFA

Enhanced security in Yangon

Meanwhile, the military has arrested at least 220 civilians across the country since the NUG statement last week, according to the AAPP.

In particular, authorities have stepped up security and stepped up arrests in Yangon, where at least 11 people, including five women, were arrested and beaten on Wednesday in wards No.7 and No.3. RFA obtained a video that shows allegedly a young man among the 11 being kicked by the army and the police.

A young activist involved in the Yangon Urban Guerrilla Movement told RFA that the military is targeting and arresting young people in the city, while increasing random searches.

“They want to do a check-up as soon as they see a young person. They open and search your backpack if you have one – once I even had to take my clothes off, ”he said.

“In the city center, only passenger cars were inspected before. But following an explosion on a bus after the NUG declared war, they also began to carry out surprise checks on the buses. The restrictions in the neighborhood are becoming more and more strict. “

Additionally, residents told RFA that military forces patrolled key areas of the city, checked guest lists at night, and beat and arrested people on a daily basis.

More than 100 people were arrested in Ward 13, Hlaing County in Yangon, on the night of September 8 alone, the day after NUG’s announcement, for failing to register guests. Residents of Hlaing said they were released the next day after being questioned about whether they had any contact with NUG or PDF groups.

The junta revived the Neighborhood Administrators Act, known as the Guest List Act, on February 13. Two days after NUG’s announcement last week, the Army’s Central Counterterrorism Committee issued a statement warning that any owner who fails to register a guest who is guilty of acts of violence is liable to prosecution. , while their property may be confiscated by the state.

Nan Lin, leader of the Rangoon University Students Union, said that by reinstating the guest list law, the military had empowered itself to oppress the people in the way that ‘she deemed appropriate, while claiming to act in the best interests of the nation.

“It is true that things are getting complicated for our movement, but we must find ways to stand up against the junta,” he said.

“Either way, we will continue our mission in this city. The military cannot stop us just by stopping us or torturing us. Revolutionary movements will continue to emerge in various forms across the country.

Reported by the Myanmar service of RFA. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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