Pro-military rallies once again bolstered with paid stooges, witnesses say

Pro-military rallies once again bolstered with paid stooges, witnesses say

Two independent sources confirmed yesterday that a majority of recent pro-military protestors in a number of towns were paid by the military to attend rallies that were held on Monday. 

On October 25, pro-military rallies took place close to military bases in towns including Myitkyina and Putao in Kachin, in Pyin Oo Lwin, Madara, and Meiktila in Mandalay, as well as in Yangon, Naypyidaw, Lashio, Pathein, and Mawlamyine.

The protests come as tensions festering between those for and against Burma’s military institution have spilled out into open warfare, and when the eyes of Southeast Asia have fallen back upon Burma following the start of the ASEAN Summit.

One source, who preferred to remain anonymous to preserve the contingency of his activism work, said that, between 7 and 9 a.m., protests erupted in Aye Mya Tharyar ward and Panmatti village in Myitkyina. He says that the majority of protestors, if not all, were paid anywhere from K5,000 to K10,000 (US$2.8 – 5.6).

“It’s estimated that around 300 participated in the march, but bystanders dared not say anything, because it was held inside the military headquarters,” he said. “They chanted the slogans: ‘We don’t need UN support, who supports OIC,’ ‘We don’t want ASEAN,’ ‘Oppose the NUG and CRPH rioters, ‘oppose PDF, and ‘Myanmar military is our army.’”

In Kachin, the anonymous activist says the junta also played on ethnic tensions to bolster their numbers, noting that protests also consisted of those from Lisu and Shanni groups (some of whose leaders are strongly sympathetic to the military), Ma Ba Tha, the ultra-orthodox Buddhist group, and families of military personnel, who he says were ordered to attend. He added that this is not the first time the military has played on the tensions between the Lisu and Shanni People’s Army and the local Kachin Independence Army. 

“They have a feeling about the KIA, as they got arrested by the KIA and accused the KIA of asking for money,” the anonymous activist said. “By using those feelings, the Tatmadaw formed the Shanni People’s Army and Lisu People’s Army.”

Similar trends were reported in Pathein, where three-day rallies slowly garnered participants from October 25 to 27, peaking at 90 people on the second day, but falling to a mere 40 by October 27. 

Human rights activist U Tun Tun Oo reported that the majority of protestors in Pathein were recruited from the working class and poorer wards, with some offered up to K15,000 to participate. Despite trying to keep a safe distance from the protests himself, the activist says he could verify this through being in constant communication with those with pro-military allies.

“They are protesting, but look insecure. The pro-military protesters in Pathein were clearly either people who were out of money, informants (dalan), or members of the army. There really are not many people who support the military,” he said, echoing the theory that the protests were orchestrated to demonstrate alleged military support.

“In addition, these pro-military protests came across the country after the ASEAN’s meeting, which did not invite the junta leader to attend the summit,” he said, noting the suspicious trend of pro-military rallies appearing at times that the military feels insecure. 

Another anonymous source said that the military had used a similar tactic in other regions, paying up to K10,000 to people—largely those with low education and literacy levels—that soldiers had gathered.

Such bribery is certainly not a new tactic, and is reminiscent of junta-backed protests immediately following the coup, where protestors admitted to participating for between K2,000 and K10,000. After protests in many towns turned lethal, many others said that they had received orders, and in some cases weaponry, to cause violence towards pro-democracy protesters.