Bombings Pick up in Burma

Burma, despite supposedly being under the tight control of an overwhelming military that has cracked down brutally on opposition demonstrations, has become the scene of a growing number of bombings against the regime from rebel forces in recent weeks.

The latest occurred Wednesday when a powerful bomb exploded in the key Pegu Region town of Taungoo, the base of the Burmese government's Southern Regional Military Command headquarters, while a second exploded in Mon State and two buses were set ablaze. While no casualties were reported in the Taungoo blast, the bomb tore a hole in the front of a municipal building, witnesses said.

“The blast made a huge hole in front of the hall,” a local physician said of the Taungoo blast. “Shortly after the blast, security forces came to view the site and blocked access to the area.”

The bombings follow three others that hit major northern cities including the new capital that the ruling junta built for itself at Naypyidaw, 320 km north of the old colonial capital of Rangoon, as well as a spate of other attacks. The Naypyidaw blast injured three people and destroyed a house. The other bombs were reported in Mandalay, where a vehicle was destroyed, and in the city of Pyn Oo Lwin, 670 km north of Rangoon.

The New Light of Myanmar, considered to be a mouthpiece for the Burmese government, accused three Shan men of responsibility for the series of bomb blasts although no one has yet been arrested.

“Sai Kyaw Myint Oo, Sai Hsam and Sai Aik rented houses and bought a cheap car without a license with the intention of detonating bombs in Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin simultaneously,” the newspaper said. “In doing so, they spent 4.74 million kyat [US $5,600] on house rentals and 6 million kyat on the car—a total of over 10 million kyat. Their aim was to cause death and panic among the public. They left the car in front of a crowded Mandalay Zaycho Market apartment; then detonated the bomb.”

The report said the individuals, described as “culprits,” had rented houses in Naypyidaw and Pyin Oo Lwin, according to testimonies given by various neighbors. However, the chairman of the Burma Lawyers’ Council, Thein Oo, called the report a direct insult, not only to the three men, but also their families, and their nationality.

“They can’t use the word ‘culprit’ because they haven’t arrested anyone yet,” Thein Oo said. “We have to recognize that nobody is guilty before they are charged by a court. The authorities must use the word ‘suspects’ for them, just as the international community is doing.” He described the accusation as a political move due to a recent surge in the conflict in northern Shan State between government forces and the Shan rebels.

Whenever there is an incident such as a bomb explosion in Burma, the government and the authorities usually accuse ethnic armed groups through the state-owned media, observers say.

Because it is a Southern Regional Military Command base, Taungoo is a strategic town situated en route to Naypyidaw in the north and another key town in Pegu Region, Prome, to the west. It is also on the road east towards Karani State’s Loikaw and Karen State’s Than Daung. On June 18, an unknown group of armed men launched a rocket propelled grenade attack on a hydropower project only 14 miles from Taungoo.

The Mon State bomb exploded behind the township authority office in the town of Thanbyuzayat at 12:30am on Wednesday morning.

“It was only one bomb and did not cause any causalities or damage,” a resident told The Irrawaddy by phone on Wednesday. But the bomb blast was not the only recent trouble to have occurred in Mon State. Local sources revealed that an unknown armed group also torched two buses at Thar Yar Aye village between Thanbyuzayat and Lamine townships.

The buses were set afire at around 9 am on Wednesday, according to an eyewitness who was a passenger on one of the buses.

“They stopped around 20 buses at the same time and set fire to two of them. They took away six people—some of whom were bus drivers,” he said. “I did not dare to look at their faces and don't know why they shot the buses and burned them.”

These latest bomb attacks come soon after the National League for Democracy revealed that their leader Aung San Suu Kyi had planned travel outside of former capital Rangoon this week, but has since postponed visiting regional areas until July. The government has warned the National League for Democracy not to become too active politically.

Regarding Friday's three explosions in upper Burma, the state media has accused three men with ethnic Shan names of being the bombers. “Sai Kyaw Myint Oo, Sai Hsam and Sai Aik rented houses and bought a cheap car without a license with the intention of detonating bombs in Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin simultaneously,” The New Light of Myanmar said.

Yet another bomb exploded on May 17 aboard a Rangoon-Mandalay train, killing two people and injuring nine others. In that explosion, the government blamed the Karen National Union. It alleged that three Karen explosive experts paid a youth to put the bomb on the train.

Portions of this article appeared in The Irrawaddy, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement