The Rise of Pyu Saw Htee

March 12th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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“Pyu Saw Htee are plain-clothed, and have used their anonymity to terrorize civilians and ambush local PDF with the support of junta troops.”

The Myanmar military is utilizing the shift of the international community’s focus on the crisis in Ukraine to their full advantage, as they continue to commit heinous acts of violence against civilians, recently in Sagaing and Magwe Regions. In the past week, the Myanmar military razed and burned villages, used proxy-militia ultranationalist group Pyu Saw Htee to terrorize civilians and children and attacked People’s Defence Force (PDF) groups. Simultaneously, the junta has indefinitely cut the internet to most of Sagaing Region, blocking communication and information from reaching civilians who are left in the dark about impending airstrikes, ground offensives and raids.

The Myanmar military is switching up tactics from their old playbook in retaliation to PDFs, by arming and training ultranationalist group Pyu Saw Htee to act as a militia. Recently leaked military documents shown to a local news outlet Myanmar Now establish that the Myanmar military has armed 77 Pyu Saw Htee groups in Sagaing Region. Additionally, pro-junta administration staff, as well as Ma Ba Tha ultranationalist Biddhist monks have been provided military training and weapons. Increasing defections and casualties, in addition to a strong resistance from the people, has pushed the junta to create Pyu Saw Htee, which is a rebrand of Ma Ba Tha ultranationalist group.

Pyu Saw Htee comprises of military veterans and Buddhist ultranationalist pro-military supporters, with its roots in Ma Ba Tha, an organization of ultranationalist Buddhists whom the military bred and nurtured, both financially and politically, as part of the control machine and to garner legitimacy. Ma Ba Tha is notorious for propagating hate against ethnic and religious communities that are not part of the Bamar Buddhist hegemony. Recent photos and news reports have been circulating online picturing Ma Ba Tha monks with guns and reports of these monks encouraging civilians to crack down on PDFs. Increasingly, the military junta is using Pyu Saw Htee to spy and collect information on those who resist the junta, including protesters, those who support the Spring Revolution, PDF, National Unity Government (NUG) and Civil Disobedience Movement. They also recruit them to protect military informants, spread pro-military propaganda and assist families of military veterans. The aim is to counter the people’s resistance, as the junta’s coup attempt fails to gain control over the people of Myanmar.

Pyu Saw Htee is using increasingly violent and sadistic means of carrying out the junta’s orders. On 3 March in Lel Yar Village, Magwe Region, junta and Pyu Saw Htee thugs raided and torched 200 homes, completely destroying essential property including homes, livestock feed, a waterpump, and agriculture and food. Approximately 1,700 civilians, including 500 children, fled Lel Yar after hearing gun fire and as houses began to be set alight. On 4 March, junta and Pyu Saw Htee thugs raided Letpan Hla Village, setting fire to 30 homes and destroying property, with the junta deploying heavy artillery.

Pyu Saw Htee are plain-clothed, and have used their anonymity to terrorize civilians and ambush local PDF with the support of junta troops. For example, in the case of Myo Thit village in Sagaing Region, where 14 PDF were killed in mid February. They also form a vital part of the junta’s psychological warfare against the people of Myanmar, terrorizing civilians into submission. Pyu Saw Htee is becoming extremely violent lately, given carte blanche by the junta to conduct arrests, kill PDF members, and loot and destroy property and have been attributed with the assassination of political leaders.

While Pyu Saw Htee wrecks havoc, the military junta has ordered an indefinite internet blackout to all but four of Sagaing Region’s cities, adding to the eight townships in the region that have been without internet since September 2021 – Ayadaw, Butalin, Kani, Kawlin, Pale, Pinlebu, Wuntho and Yinmabin. Internet blackouts are used by the military junta as a premeditated tool of warfare, one that often precedes violent attacks, such as those carried out in Chin State last September and during the Rohingya genocide in 2017. This invariably forms part of the Myanmar military’s four cuts strategy used in ethnic areas over the past six decades, now being employed in central Myanmar regions such as Sagaing and Magwe Regions. This tactic also serves to hinder communication between PDF fighters, terrorize civilians who have no access to up-to-date information on junta attacks and is used by the junta to cover up their atrocity crimes. A day after the blackout was imposed, junta troops reportedly killed nine civilians and abducted a woman and two children in a raid on Min Swe Hna Swe and Muu Kan Gyi, Sagaing Region. On 5 March, military junta troops conducted a series of attacks on Dan Kone village, Khin-U Township, Sagaing Region, almost burning the entire village to the ground.

At the end of February and under the cover of internet blackouts, the military junta forces targeted Chin Pone village, Yinmabin Township, Sagaing Region with indiscriminate airstrikes from five Mi-25 combat helicopters, followed by a ground attack where approximately 80 children and nine teachers were held hostage after fleeing to a nearby monastery. At least 13 bodies, some with signs of torture, were found after troops had raided and set fire to the village. Around 5,000 villages from Chin Pone and surrounding villages fled for their safety. Yet, the rebukes from the international community have not come, undercutting the people’s resistance.

Waning international attention on atrocities being committed on civilians in Myanmar, only serves to embolden the junta’s terror campaign and in its continuing violations of international law with blanket impunity. Thus, a concerted international rebuke through cutting arms, funds and legitimacy to the junta must be coordinated as a matter of extreme urgency. Additionally, the international community must listen to the will, and prioritize the calls, of the people of Myanmar above all else, including supporting the Spring Revolution, the NUG and their desire for a fully-fledged federal democracy. The atrocities committed by the junta, and now with Pyu Saw Htee, since the failed coup attempt launched over 13 months ago on 1 February, 2021 will only increase and worsen if the international community continues to turn their backs on the people of Myanmar. The response by the international community has never been proportionate to the grave acts committed by the junta, apart from statements of concern and condemnations of the acts. The international community should have stood with the people of Myanmar and lent support as they have with Ukraine. Such solidarity wtih the Myanmar people’s courageous resistance would have toppled the terrorist military junta and resurrected democracy.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Apple Removes RT and Sputnik Apps But Keeps Myanmar Military Apps

By Burma Campaign UK

28 Companies Added to Burma ‘Dirty List’

By Burma Campaign UK

55 British MPs call for aviation fuel sanctions against Burmese military

By Burma Campaign UK

Gambia Calls for Justice as Rohingya Face Dire Threats

By Human Rights Watch

Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v. Myanmar)

By International Court of Justice

ICC Prosecutor, Karim A. A. Khan QC, concludes first visit to Bangladesh, underlines commitment to advance investigations into alleged atrocity crimes against the Rohingya

By International Criminal Court

The ICRC in Bangladesh, facts and figures 2021

By International Committee of the Red Cross

Telenor Group violating sanctions through installation and imminent transfer of German Lawful Intercept Gateway

By Justice For Myanmar

ကရင်ပြည်နယ် – မြန်မာစစ်တပ်၏ လက်နက်ကြီးပစ်ခတ်မှုကြောင့် (၇) ဦးသေဆုံးပြီး (၄) ဦးဒဏ်ရာရရှိ

By Karen Peace Support Network

Karen State: 7 Killed and 4 Injured by Burmese Military Heavy Artillery

By Karen Peace Support Network

“Special Request Letter on Food Ration Management”

By Karenni State Consultative Council

Directive (3/2022) for People’s Defence Forces Protection of Children in Armed Conflict

By National Unity Government of Myanmar (Ministry of Defence)

အကြမ်းဖက်စစ်အုပ်စုအား လေယာဉ်ဆီတင်သွင်းပံ့ပိုးနေသော လုပ်ငန်းများဆိုင်ရာ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက် (၃/၂၀၂၂)

By National Unity Government of Myanmar (Ministry of Commerce)

Statement condemning the hostage-taking of up to 80 children by military junta forces in Sagaing Region

By National Unity Government of Myanmar (Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry of Women, Youths and Children Affairs)

Statement by Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun at Emergency Special Session of UNGA on Situation in Ukraine

By Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations

Rohingya Genocide Trial Sends Important Signal

By Refugees International



Myanmar Situation Update ( 21 – 27 February 2022)

By Asian Network for Free Elections

Coup Watch (Feb 2022) – Attacks Continue and ASEAN Chair Throws Up His Hands

By Asia Democracy Network, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Burma Human Rights Network, Initiatives for International Dialogue, International Federation for Human Rights, Progressive Voice, and US Campaign for Burma

Seeking Justice Amidst Chaos: Methods to Identify and Document Individuals Implicated in Crimes Against the Rohingya in August 2017

By BioMed Central

Summary of SAC human rights violations in Karenni State and Pekhon Township (Feb 14-27, 2022)

By Karenni Civil Society Network

On-The-Ground in Burma: A Digital Briefer Issue 13

By US Campaign for Burma

UNICEF Myanmar Humanitarian Situation Report: Reporting Period: 1 January to 28 February 2022

By United Nations Children’s Fund

The Arbitrary Arrest and Detention of Rohingya Since the Attempted Coup

By Women’s Peace Network

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”