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World

Myanmar opposition attacks military’s population survey

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s pro-democracy resistance forces have attacked military government personnel conducting a population survey, in an attempt to disrupt preparations for an election later this year that they consider illegitimate.

Units of the People’s Defense Force, the loosely organized armed wing of the main opposition group, the National Unity Government, have claimed responsibility for several attacks in the past few weeks. At least two police officer have been killed, along with other local officials.

The NUG was established by elected lawmakers who were prevented from taking their seats when the army seized power in 2021 and serves as an underground parallel national administration.

Since the population survey began on Jan. 9, at least 13 people have been killed and four government workers have been detained by the resistance, according to pro-military and independent media and statements issued by resistance groups. It was impossible to verify details of all the incidents.

The state-run Myanma Alinn newspaper reported on Jan. 14 that survey activities were attacked seven times and two policemen were killed by “terrorist” groups between Jan. 9 and Jan. 13.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s military ruler, said in a Jan. 4 Independence Day speech that free and fair elections will be held in line with the 2008 Constitution after the end of a state of emergency that was declared when he led the February 2021 takeover that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The emergency decree is expected to be lifted at the end of this month.

Critics say this year’s election cannot be free and fair because there is no free media and most of the leaders of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which won a landslide victory in 2020, have been arrested. Suu Kyi, 77, is serving 33 years’ imprisonment after being convicted in a series of politically tainted prosecutions brought by the military.

The military justified its seizure of power by claiming massive fraud in the 2020 general election, though independent election observers did not find any major irregularities. The takeover was met with massive resistance which has since turned into what some U.N. experts have characterized as civil war.

The NUG issued a statement on Jan. 9 rejecting the population survey, describing it as an initial step in compiling voter lists for the military-planned polls.

The statement from the NUG’s Home Affairs and Immigration Ministry said those who participated or collaborated in collecting data for the survey will face severe action under its Counter-Terrorism Law. The NUG tries to mirror the military’s laws, which are wielded frequently against opponents, and each side calls the other a “terrorist” organization.

NUG spokesperson Nay Phone Latt said the military’s planned election is just a “deception” and requested people not to cooperate with it.

“As the NUG is the only official government in Myanmar, those involved in the election held by the terrorist group will be arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the law for encouraging terrorist acts,” Nay Phone Latt said in a text message to The Associated Press.

Since the NUG issued its statement, the two police officers, two members of a military-sponsored militia and seven current or former administrators and employees of local wards have been killed for allegedly participating in the collection of data to prepare for the election, according to reports in state-run newspapers and independent online news sites such as Myanmar Now.

An 8-month-old boy was also accidentally killed when gunmen attacked a village administrator and his predecessor on Jan. 17 in a village about 105 kilometers (65 miles) south of the capital, Naypyitaw, in Bago region, according to a member of the emergency rescue team “Save The Trees” who helped the victim. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested.

According to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a private organization that tracks killings and arrests, 2,810 civilians have been killed by the authorities since the 2020 army takeover. Although the military is responsible for massive use of violence throughout the country, militants in the opposition have carried out bombings and assassinations of military officials and their supporters.

The NUG reported on Jan. 15 that four government personnel were detained by a local resistance group while visiting Sagaing’s Myaung township to collect population data.

According to reports in Myanma Alinn, nine buildings of the Immigration and Population Department and 13 Election Commission suboffices have been destroyed since 2021.

Grant Peck, The Associated Press