A presidential spokesperson has denied that the notorious pro-government mob Swan Arr Shin is still in existence, after anonymous men wearing red armbands emblazoned with the word “Duty” were pictured assisting police in the crackdown on labour and student protests in Rangoon this week.
Ye Htut, speaking to DVB by phone on Thursday evening, insisted that only local government overseers of the police action may know the identity of the thugs.
“That word ‘Swan Arr Shin’ does not exist nowadays. The Rangoon Division government, as a regional administration, carried out the necessary measures to maintain security and the rule of law within their jurisdiction. You should ask them which groups the men in civilian clothing belong to, and what kind of policy determines their operation,” he said.
However, political activist and eye-witness to Thursday’s violent scenes, Zaw Ram, insisted that the men in the red armbands were indeed the Swan Arr Shin.
The Swan Arr Shin are infamous in Burma for their role in repressing public protests, often through intimidation and violence, such as during the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
“The Swan Arr Shin were basically a band of local thugs who were put together by ward administrators. This week’s crowd also included shady characters such as illegal lottery ticket sellers, violent thugs, police informers and moonshine dealers,” said Zaw Ram.
“The strange thing I saw today is that some of the Swan Arr Shin members are very young – as young 16 or 17. They’re younger than any Swan Arr Shin I’ve seen before. They must be the new generation.”
Khin Maung Swe, chair of the National Democratic Force party, said the use of Swan Arr Shin is a well-known tactic of the government.
“As the government in recent days has encountered challenges, it seems to me that they want to put an end to the protests. So instead of using uniformed forces, they are using the Swan Arr Shin: getting members of the public to use violence against each other,” he said.
Track the chronology of the student protests with DVB’s interactive map.