6th August 2015
The Swan Arr Shin—which means “Masters of Force” in Burmese—had not been seen since the army installed a nominally civilian
government in 2011, while the USDA became the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in 2010.
But in March, the plain-clothes thugs appeared again. The despised vigilantes reemerged during crackdowns on a student protest and a
labor strike in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city.
An investigation by Myanmar Now has uncovered how local authorities have recruited the men from impoverished areas and used them
during the clampdowns.
On 5 March, authorities in Rangoon deployed dozens of men in plain clothes to help police carry out a high-profile crackdown on an
education reform protest in downtown Rangoon. A day earlier, a garment factory protest in the city’s Shwe Pyi Thar Industrial Zone
was also quashed by police and plain-clothes men wearing red armbands with the word “duty”
Soe, an ex-convict who requested not to use his full name for fear of reprisal, was one of them. He remembered how a person at the
administrative office issued catapults and sharp iron spikes about eight inches long to the men, though in photos of the crackdown
the militiamen were only armed with bamboo clubs.
“Many people with criminal backgrounds like me had to go if we were sent for by the ward officials. If we don’t obey them they can
cause us trouble because of our background,” he said.
They were then driven in two buses to Rangoon City Hall where a small student demonstration was underway. It called on the
government not to resort to violence in the handling of an ongoing student march from Mandalay to Rangoon....