A warning from the mouthpiece of the Union Solidarity and Development Party to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of a visit to Rakhine State has focused attention on her personal security arrangements.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi received an ominous warning last month about her planned election campaign visit to Rakhine State, due to take place from October 16 to 18.
The warning to the National League for Democracy leader was in a news report in the Union Daily, the mouthpiece of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, on September 23.
“National extremists and political analysts are speculating that if she campaigns in Rakhine, she won’t receive a warm welcome from locals. Instead she will face strong antagonism from the Rakhine people,” the report said. It did not cite sources.
The visit to poor, underdeveloped Rakhine will be the first in 13 years for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who last visited the state in December 2002. That trip came during a series of national tours that began after her release from house arrest in May 2002 and ended on May 30, 2003, when she was detained after an attempt on her life at Depayin in Sagaing Region in which dozens of NLD supporters travelling with her convoy were killed.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s itinerary for her trip to Rakhine includes a campaign stop in Taungup Township, scene of one of the worst incidinces of communal violence that erupted in Rakhine in 2012, when 10 Muslim travellers were dragged from a bus and lynched.
The scale of the communal violence in Rakhine, in which scores died and tens of thousands were made homeless, shocked the international community and tarnished the image of President U Thein Sein’s government just as the reform process was gaining momentum.
Despite claims by the Ministry of Home Affairs that police bodyguards are deployed to protect prominent election candidates, NLD supporters and members of other democratic opposition groups have expressed concern about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s security. They are especially concerned about her visit to Rakhine.
Despite these concerns, a leading member of the NLD said there had been no special security arrangements made for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“There’s no special security plan for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi until now,” said U Win Htein, who is also the former head of the NLD leader’s security detail.
“There are bad memories from the past, but the current situation is hard to predict, and complicated,” said U Win Htein, referring to the Depayin incident, in which about 70 people were reported to have been killed in a carefully planned ambush of the NLD leader’s convoy. No one was ever charged in connection with the attack.
“We have been asking Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to wear body armour when she goes campaigning, but she refuses to wear it,” said U Win Htein, who confirmed that there was no special budget for the NLD leader’s security.
A team of bodyguards known as the Thone Yaung Chel (Three Colour Group) once provided personal security for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but it fell out of favour in 2012.
“We were kicked out of the compound because some core party members accused us of telling the media about Auntie’s schedule,” a group member told Frontier on condition of anonymity, referring to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s lakeside mansion on University Avenue.
After the dismissal of the Three Colour Group, some core members of the party took charge of security ahead of the election campaign. The head of the security group was chosen as an election candidate and handed responsibility for the role to another NLD youth member.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s security is now led by Lynn Lynn, as far as I know,” the Thong Yaung Chel source told Frontier.
A well-known rock singer, Lynn Lynn, has provided security to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi since the 2012 by-elections, and has since become her personal bodyguard.
He is one of about 20 young people who provide security for the NLD leader when she travels and at campaign stops, including at least four personal bodyguards who accompany her everywhere.
“We always put about 30 people [for security] in the crowds when she is giving speeches,” said U Win Htein.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s campaign itinerary for her trip to southern Rakhine includes visits to Thandwe – the gateway to Ngapali Beach – and Gwa, as well as Taunggok. Despite the killing of the 10 Muslims near Taunggok and another deadly outbreak of communal violence and arson near Thandwe in 2013, in which most of the victims were members of the indigenous Kaman Muslim community, southern Rakhine escaped the worst of the sectarian bloodshed.
NLD patron, U Tin Oo, said he would campaign in northern areas of the state after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ends her visit to southern Rakhine.
“I’ll go to most townships in Rakhine State except to the edge of the northern part,” said U Tin Oo, referring to Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, which border Bangladesh and have majority Rohingya Muslim populations.
Despite the NLD’s refusal to nominate Muslim candidates in the election, the party is popular in Thandwe, where most of its members are said to be of the Islamic faith.
“Most of the Muslims in Thandwe support her,” said town resident U Maung Maung Myint, 60, a tutor, who has served five years in prison for political activism.
“The main reason she is coming here is to ensure victory for her NLD party.Secondly, she wants to put right the deteriorating situation here and give encouragement to the people,” U Maung Maung Myint told Frontier.
“In view of the time and the circumstances, a Nobel laureate like her should visit Rakhine, but some ugly things may happen to her, I think,” he said.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may be counting on her charisma to protect her.
“She always says that people who love her won’t hurt her. That’s why she doesn’t need any special security at all,” U Win Htein said.