In the four months since the February 1 military takeover, cities across Myanmar have been rocked by more than 300 bomb blasts, and the ruling junta and its opponents are trading blame over the explosions and the rising death toll, sources in the country say.
Bomb blasts can be heard daily in Yangon, the commercial center and former capital, as fighting between the junta’s security forces and those opposed to military rule intensifies across the country of 54 million people.
According to Radio Free Asia records, most of the explosive attacks, which include the use of hand grenades and parcel bombs, were targeting areas connected to the military junta, such as police and administrative offices.
“At the moment, the explosions are happening mostly at the offices of the ward administration councils appointed by the junta. But there also are explosions in schools and universities, as well as one today at an electric power office,” Zeyar Lwin, a Yangon resident, told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday.
An explosion went off Monday in Kalemyo township’s No. 6 High School in the northwestern Sagaing region.
A Kalemyo resident who requested anonymity told RFA he thought the police stationed in the school were behind the attack.
“Ordinary people can’t get into those places. … It’s not easy. We think they blew up the bomb themselves, so they have an excuse to go around firing guns randomly to intimidate residents," the resident said.
Records from RFA and an international security firm show that in March and April there were 171 improvised mine attacks, and 140 more in the first three weeks of May.
Both sides suspected
Experts believe that both sides of the conflict appear responsible for the attacks.
“First there was the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters ... as well as arrests and detentions, which have caused the people’s resentment. People began talking about a need to retaliate for self-defense and revenge. But the other side wants to be in control and keep a grip on power,” Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a political and human rights researcher, told RFA.
“Both sides could have started the fire. So no one can say for sure which side is responsible for each attack,” he said.
The junta claims the bombings are all carried out by protesters to incite fear and instability.
“As the number of street protesters has dropped, their stand became weaker, and so now we see arson and bombings in public places. This is causing public concern and unrest,” junta Deputy Information Minister Maj Gen Zaw Min Tun told RFA.
He said that between the coup and May 12, 63 people had been killed in bombings, which he described as “cowardly.”
The junta spokesman also blamed 57 arson and improvised mine attacks at schools and education offices nationwide over the past two months on the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), made up of lawmakers ousted by the coup, and the closely related Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a government in exile.
Shadow government's denial
But the NUG has denied involvement.
"We cannot say whose hand it is. One thing we can say is that it is not the work of the People’s Defense Force [PDF], which we are building. Myanmar’s people, as well as the international community, know who is behind all this,” NUG Minister of Defense Ye Mon told RFA.
Experts told RFA that attacks on schools and hospitals could cause international opinion to sour on those resisting junta rule.
“It is possible that the military might be able to prove they are in the right, saying they are upholding the rule of law, because from the international point of view, these kinds of bombings could be labeled as terrorist attacks,” political observer Sai Tun Aung Lwin told RFA.
"So far the world is sympathetic to the people because so many peaceful protesters have died. But that can quickly change if more deaths occur due to acts of terrorism,” he said.
The Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said that as of Wednesday, at least 827 people had been killed by the junta, and 4313 were in detention.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Christine Burgener said Monday that a civil war could erupt in Myanmar if anti-coup protesters changed their defensive position to an offensive one as the junta escalated violent acts.
Certain statistics in this report were provided by an EU-based security company with a presence in Myanmar. The company requested anonymity for security reasons.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Edited by Eugene Whong.