Crime rates on the rise as the junta cracks down on political unrest

Residents say they have no access to police, who are unlikely to help them if they did.
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The Economist magazine ranked Yangon, Myanmar, 58th out of 60 cities in terms of personal security and 60th overall in its 2021 Safe City Index.
Photo: RFA

Nearly a year after Myanmar’s military seized power, sources say crime rates are rising throughout the country, largely because authorities are too busy focusing on the political fallout from the coup and countering armed resistance to junta rule.

Residents of both rural and urban areas told RFA’s Myanmar Service that as members of the security forces continue to deal with widespread public unrest from the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, unseating of the democratically elected National League for Democracy government, theft and assault have become rampant, with criminal acts increasingly occurring in broad daylight.

The Economist recently ranked Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon 58th out of 60 cities — following Lagos and Caracas — in terms of personal security and 60th overall in its 2021 Safe City Index, which looks at 76 indicators, including healthcare, infrastructure and environmental security.

The owner of a bicycle delivery service in Yangon region’s Shwepyithar township named Kyaw Kyaw told RFA that he was robbed of his phone and wallet by men on a motorbike in November while making his rounds.

“At first, I thought it was a prank by some of my friends,” he said, explaining that snatch-and-grabs were far less common prior to the coup.

“They ran off on their motorbike and I was on my bicycle. There were over 200,000 kyats (U.S. $115) and bank cards in my wallet. Half the money was mine and the rest belonged to my customers. I had to use my savings to pay them back.”

This thief pointed behind a woman and snatched her necklace when she turned her head.
This thief pointed behind a woman and snatched her necklace when she turned her head.

The same month, three men on a motorcycle snatched a handbag from two siblings riding a bicycle in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township, a member of their family named Ma Ei said.

“The two siblings were on their bicycle and the thugs snatched away the handbag while on the road,” she said.

“Though they grabbed back, the strap of the handbag snapped and the three escaped on their motorcycle. There were 50,000 kyats (U.S. $30) and two cell phones inside. They did not dare chase them as it could have been dangerous. My aunt’s medical records were on the phones and now they are lost.”

Both Kyaw Kyaw and Ma Ei said they did not report the robberies to the police, as it was unlikely the police would be able or willing to track down their personal items.

No access to police

In the 11 months since Myanmar’s coup, the military has killed at least 1,469 civilians and arrested more than 8,600 others, mostly during widespread peaceful demonstrations, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Pho Phyu, a human rights lawyer, said that there have been several attacks on police stations during the unrest. Civilians are now mostly prohibited from entering the stations to report crimes.

“You cannot file a case because the police themselves are so worried about their own safety they won’t allow civilians to enter the premises. They have armed guards at the entrance,” he said.

“If you are lucky to get a chance to file a case, there won’t be any investigations or hearings.”

A man confronts a woman as she leaves a building before pushing her back inside.
A man confronts a woman as she leaves a building before pushing her back inside.

Victims of crimes reported feeling more insecure because the police can no longer carry out their day-to-day responsibilities in the wake of the political turmoil.

When contacted by RFA, junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said incidents can be reported to local government administrative offices and insisted that crimes are being handled by the police. However, he acknowledged that security has been stepped up at some police stations, making it more difficult for citizens to report crimes.

“You cannot report every single issue to the police station. Only police cases should be reported to the police station, and they will be accepted according to the rule of law,” he said.

“Some police stations have tight security but only in certain places — not throughout the country. In some areas on the outskirts of Yangon … there have been attacks and tight security measures are in place for stations like that.”

Feelings of insecurity

Last month, a group of men robbed a phone shop in the small town of Pyundaza, in southern central Myanmar’s Bago region.

A friend of the shop owner told RFA that residents believe the authorities will not protect them and therefore unlikely to ask them for help.

“Most do not disclose the amount of money they lost, nor do they go to the police station for fear of further retaliation from the robbers,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A thief kicks his victim after hitting them with a club.
A thief kicks his victim after hitting them with a club.

On Sept. 9, a train engineer in Myanmar’s second-largest city Mandalay named Win Ko Oo who left his job to join the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement, was beaten to death by a group of unidentified men as they attempted to rob him from a motorcycle.

A Mandalay resident who also declined to be named told RFA he is now afraid to leave his home amid.

“We all are struggling to make ends meet and there is no guarantee of our safety,” he said.

“We cannot get help from anyone. Even in broad daylight, we must check in our rear-view mirror all the time or look ahead for half a mile or so to see if there are any dangerous elements around. We feel so insecure.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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