BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military government plans to allow loyal civilians, including government employees and retired military personnel, to carry licensed firearms, but they must comply with orders from local authorities to participate in security and law enforcement actions, the military and media reports said.
The announcement fanned fears of even more violence in a country wracked by what some UN experts have called a civil war.
A 15-page document about the policy attributed to the Ministry of Home Affairs was initially circulated on pro-military Facebook accounts and Telegram channels. It was also published by pro-military and independent news outlets, which stated that it had been issued on Jan. 31 after being approved at a December Cabinet meeting.
The document says recipients of gun permits must be loyal to the nation, of good moral character and not involved in disturbing state security.
The military’s spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, confirmed the policy to the BBC Burmese-language service on Sunday, saying it needed to be issued because some people were asking to carry weapons to protect against attacks by anti-military groups.
Two pro-military online news media quoted Police Brig.-Gen Kyaw Lin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, as saying that the policy revives and modifies one introduced in 1977 by the government of the late dictator Gen. Ne Win. After a massive but unsuccessful popular pro-democracy uprising in 1988, the military revoked gun licenses for civilians and ordered people to turn in all firearms.
The military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi two years ago, triggering widespread peaceful protests that turned into armed resistance after security forces used lethal force to suppress all opposition.
The decision to license guns is widely seen as a way for the military government to arm its supporters to support state security forces in battling pro-democracy opponents.
Criminal activity has reportedly increased due to the chaos caused by the fighting and the government’s focus on battling its political opponents. Most violence, however, involves fighting between the army and guerrillas belonging to the pro-democracy People’s Defense Force, the loosely organized armed wing of the main opposition group, the National Unity Government, and their allies in ethnic minority militias.
The NUG was established by elected lawmakers who were prevented from taking their seats when the army seized power and serves as an underground parallel national administration.
Nan Lin, a co-founder of the University Students’ Unions Alumni Force, a nonviolent pro-democracy activist group, said the military is taking the action because it is under great political and military pressure.
“The military still can’t see the situation correctly. I think they are trying to create more conflict and break down society,” Nan Lin said Monday.
Under the new policy, people can apply for licenses for five types of firearms including .38 caliber and 9 mm pistols, some types of shotguns and air guns. Special permits are needed for larger weapons. Licenses have a one-year term.