Residents of many wards and townships have organised community watches ostensibly to stop police from arresting residents for participating in the protests and the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Residents of many wards and townships have organised so-called 'community watch' groups ostensibly to stop police from arresting residents for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement. (Frontier)

Myanmar junta warns public not to hide fugitive protesters

The warning comes after the junta issued arrest warrants for veteran democracy activists who have voiced support for anti-coup protests and the Civil Disobedience Movement.

By AFP

Myanmar’s new military regime warned the public not to harbour fugitive political activists on Sunday after issuing arrest warrants for veteran democracy campaigners supporting massive nationwide anti-coup protests.

Much of the country has been in uproar since last week when soldiers detained Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted her government, ending a decade-old fledgling democracy after generations of junta rule.

Security forces have stepped up arrests of doctors and others joining the growing Civil Disobedience Movement that has seen huge crowds throng streets across big urban centres and isolated villages in mountainous frontier communities.

Police are now hunting seven people who have lent vocal support to the protests, including some of the country’s most famous democracy activists.

“If you find any fugitives mentioned above or if you have information about them, report to the nearest police station,” said a notice in state media on Sunday.

“Those who receive them will [face] action in accordance with the law.”

Among the list of fugitives was Min Ko Naing, who spent more than a decade in prison for helping lead protests against an earlier dictatorship in 1988 while a university student.

“They are arresting the people at night and we have to be careful,” he said in a video published Saturday to Facebook, skirting a junta ban on the platform, hours before his arrest warrant was issued.

“They could crackdown forcefully and we will have to be prepared.”

The 1988 protests vaulted Aung San Suu Kyi to the top of Myanmar’s democracy movement, and the Nobel laureate spent years under house arrest as a prisoner of the generals.

She has not been seen in public since she was detained on February 1 alongside top aides.

Nearly 400 others have been arrested in the days since including many of Suu Kyi’s top political allies, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.

Military leader Min Aung Hlaing suspended requiring warrants for home searches and limiting detentions without court orders to 24 hours as part of several legal manoeuvres issued on Saturday.

People in some urban neighbourhoods have begun forming neighbourhood watch brigades to monitor their communities overnight – defying a junta curfew – and prevent the arrests of residents participating in the civil disobedience movement.

Crowds returned to the streets of Yangon on Sunday, with hundreds massing on an intersection near the commercial capital’s famed Shwedagon pagoda.

A day earlier, Buddhist monks gathered outside the city’s US embassy and chanted the Metta Sutta, a prayer that urges protection from harm.

“We wanted them to know most citizens in Myanmar are against the military,” said Vicittalankara, one of the participants.

The country’s new military leadership has so far been unmoved by a torrent of international condemnation.

An emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council on Friday called for the new regime to release all “arbitrarily detained” people and for the military to hand power back to Suu Kyi’s administration.

Solidarity protests have been staged in neighbouring Thailand, home to a large community of Myanmar migrant workers, as well as the United States, Japan and Australia.

But traditional allies of the country’s armed forces, including Russia and China, have dissociated themselves from what they have described as interference in Myanmar’s “internal affairs”.

The junta insists it took power lawfully and has instructed journalists in the country not to refer to itself as a government that took power in a coup.

“We inform … journalists and news media organizations not to write to cause public unrest,” said a notice sent by the information ministry to the country’s foreign correspondents’ club late Saturday.

It also instructed reporters to follow “news media ethics” while reporting events in the country.

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