Myanmar’s military rulers have branded a group of deposed lawmakers running a shadow government as “terrorists”, and blamed it for bombings, arson and killings, state-controlled media said on Saturday.
Since the military seized power in a February 1 coup, detaining and deposing civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a nationwide uprising has refused to back down on its demands for a return to democracy.
Bombings are reported daily and local militias have been formed to confront the army while anti-military protests have been maintained across the Southeast Asian country and strikes by opponents of the coup have paralysed the economy.
The National Unity Government (NUG), which operates under cover and itself describes the army as a “terrorist force”, announced this week that it would set up a People’s Defence Force to protect its supporters from violence instigated by the military government.
Myanmar state television MRTV announced that the NUG, a committee of deposed lawmakers known as the CRPH, and the new force would all now be covered by the anti-terrorism law.
“Their acts caused so much terrorism in many places,” the announcement said.
“There were bombs, fires, murder and threats to destroy the administrative mechanism of the government,” the announcement said.
Meanwhile, anti-coup protesters again marched against the military government across the country on Saturday.
At least 774 civilians have been killed by security forces and 3,778 are in prison, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
The military government disputes those figures and says at least two dozen members of the security forces have been killed in protests.
Fighting has also flared on Myanmar’s periphery with ethnic armies that have been fighting for decades, some of which have rallied behind the protesters. State television said the army had advanced against the Kachin Independence Army in northern Myanmar, but there was no independent confirmation.
In western Myanmar, the newly formed Chinland Defence Force said it had overrun an army camp. The army made no comment on the report.
The military has defended its power grab, alleging fraud in the November election, which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in a landslide.
Journalists potential targets
The new designation means anyone speaking to the groups – including journalists – can be subjected to charges under counterterrorism laws.
The Arakan Army – a rebel group that had clashed with the military in conflict-wracked Rakhine state – held the designation last year, and a journalist who had interviewed a high-ranking representative was arrested.
He faced “terrorism” charges, carrying penalties ranging from three years to life in prison.
While he was released not long after, the use of the counterterrorism law against journalists sparked fears of a tightening noose around the country’s embattled press.
Dozens of journalists have been arrested in the wake of the coup, while media outlets have shut down and various broadcasting licences have been revoked for some TV stations – placing the country under an information blackout.