NLD supporters celebrate the party’s election victory in Mandalay in November 2020. / The Irrawaddy
Following death threats and deadly attacks against them by a pro-regime vigilante group, members of Myanmar’s ousted National League for Democracy (NLD)—including high-profile ones—and their families have been forced into hiding or have fled the country for their safety.
The terror group Thwe Thout announced on April 21 that, to counter resistance attacks on junta targets, it was launching “Operation Red” against the members and supporters of the NLD, their families, and supporters of the anti-regime People’s Defense Force (PDF).
Since late April, the group’s threats have become severe, with the terror group killing at least eight people in a week, mostly in Mandalay, and sending death threats to the homes of NLD members and supporters elsewhere. The dead bodies were left with Thwe Thout lanyards. The group posted graphic pictures of the victims with the lanyards on its Telegram channel.
The threats include not only killing but attacking the residences of those concerned, putting their families’ lives at risk.
Recently, the residence of a detained high-profile NLD member in Mandalay was attacked several times, including arson attacks, forcing family members to flee.
The latest attack came on Tuesday night when the residence of U Naing Htoo Aung, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Myanmar’s shadow and exiled National Unity Government (NUG), was torched in Mandalay Region’s Nahtogyi Township. The attack destroyed some parts of the property. The permanent secretary, who is an elected NLD lawmaker, confirmed the attack. No one was hurt during the attack as no one is currently staying there.
The regime has blamed the NLD and its sympathizers for anti-regime protests that have erupted since the coup last year. More than a year after the military takeover, the junta still can’t control the country, as many people have rejected their rule. But the regime said it is the NLD that has been destabilizing the country. It has also designated the NUG—which was formed by ousted NLD lawmakers and their ethnic allies—as a terrorist organization.
Regarding the attacks, the NLD said seven NLD members and seven party supporters have been killed by the group and their allies as of May 5. The party said the regime’s security forces were behind the atrocities as military and police vehicles were used during the arrests and to dump the bodies, citing witness accounts.
The number rose to at least 20 as of May 16, according to data collected by The Irrawaddy through messages shared by Thwe Thout Group supporters on Facebook and Telegram.
Last week the group’s supporters threatened to kill NLD members’ families and supporters of anti-regime resistance groups in Upper Myanmar such as Myingyan, Myinmu and Ngarn Zun.
An NLD member who spoke on condition of anonymity as he himself had to go into hiding following a Thwe Thout threat, said: “Many of us are in hiding. We can’t safely stay in our own homes. These include not only the NLD township-level leaderships and their families, but also the families of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee members.”
The Irrawaddy tried to contact some 20 NLD MPs and their family members in various townships but many of them had switched off their phones and a few of them refused to talk “out of fear.”
An observer of the vigilante group said the way the Thwe Thout Group acts depends on the agitators in each location. In places like Mandalay, Sagaing and Magwe regions and Myingyan Township, they target not only the NLD members, but also active supporters of the party. In Yangon, the threats so far have been against strong supporters of the NLD.
Recently in Yangon, a grenade was hurled into the home of an NLD supporter in Pazunhtaung Township. Luckily, the explosive didn’t go off and no one was hurt.
In May, more vigilante groups were formed in different townships in Sagaing, Magwe, Bago, Yangon, Ayeyarwaddy and Tannitharyi regions. They use several titles such as Kite Force in Dawei, Yangon Castigate Squad in Yangon, Thwe Thout Group in Mandalay and upper region towns, and Patriotic Alliance in Pyay.
In the first week of May, Thwe Thout threw incendiary devices at an NLD member’s home in Maubin, Ayeyarwaddy Region. Another NLD member’s home in Dawei was sent a warning letter by the Thwe Thout Kite Forces.
Meanwhile in Mandalay, the remaining family members of the victims dare not speak out about the terror they have faced, an NLD member told The Irrawaddy.
“They don’t dare to talk to us about their situation, not to mention the media. You can imagine how scared they are,” he said.
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