Blood on the Streets Runs a River of Sadness

May 9th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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“Whether it is the Pyu Saw Htee burning homes in Sagaing, or Thway Thout Ah Pwe dumping bodies across Mandalay, these are classic terror strategies designed to provoke fear in the population who overwhelmingly support the people’s resistance.”

The emergence of a new group that aims to kill and torture Peoples’ Defence Force (PDF) and National League for Democracy (NLD) members, as well as their family members and supporters, is the latest in a series of sinister, cruel and violent moves by the junta. The clear aim is to strike fear in the people’s resistance to the military junta, and represents the military’s desperation to fight back against a people’s revolution that they cannot defeat.

The Thway Thout Ah Pwe (referred to as Blood Drinking Group or otherwise “blood-sworn”) announced itself in Mandalay with its’ Operation Red, pledging to “exterminate NLD party members, extremist NLD supporters, PDF [People’s Defence Forces] terrorists and their family members.” It has already claimed responsibility for a series of macabre murders in the city. Eight members and supporters of the NLD were abducted and killed, their bodies found with Thway Thout Pwe Ah Pwe badges left on them as a calling card.

In one example, they abducted the owners of a popular Mandalay teashop, both prominent NLD supporters, one of whom is an NLD ward representative, U Khin Maung Thein. His dead body, which was covered in bullet wounds and stab wounds, was dumped outside the NLD’s district office in Mandalay. His wife, Daw Kha Kha, co-owner of the teashop, was still alive, but is in critical condition after several stab wounds in the throat, as well as a bullet wound to the head. His brother, who joined the search for them after they went missing, was also killed, his dead body found with stab wounds to the throat. An audio clip that was shared on Telegram social media platform featured an interview with a member of the Thway Thout Ah Pwe Group who told of how members will receive 300,000MMK and a weapon upon joining the operation. Rumours of other groups in the cities of Yangon and Taunggyi are also circulating, with the aim of murdering NLD and PDF supporters.

While the military junta spokesperson has denied that the Mandalay group is officially affiliated with the junta, it is clear that they support the junta’s aims. Furthermore, the Myanmar military has a long and sordid history of organizing the types of groups that can do their dirty work. In rural areas of Myanmar, especially in the dryzone of Sagaing, Mawgay, and Mandalay, where the junta is suffering significant losses against a firm and well organized resistance, they are increasingly using Pyu Saw Htee militia groups to target civilians. These junta-created groups, admitted as such by junta spokesperson, have been especially active in joining raids on villages, burning down people’s homes. According to the National Unity Government (NUG) the Pyu Saw Htee Groups have been “killing and robbing civilians, torching villages, violating human rights, pitching the civilians against each other and fighting the PDF and other revolutionary forces.” It is worth noting that as with the Thway Thout Ah Pwe Group, the junta initially denied that they had anything to do with Pyu Saw Htee.

The increasing use of the Pyu Saw Htee and the emergence of groups like the Thway Thout Ah Pwe, reflects two aspects of the revolution. First, and it is clear, they are used to terrorize the local populations who are supporting the revolution. Whether it is the Pyu Saw Htee burning homes in Sagaing, or Thway Thout Ah Pwe dumping bodies across Mandalay, these are classic terror strategies designed to provoke fear in the population who overwhelmingly support the people’s resistance. The spectacular displays of cruelty and savagery also offer a measure of distance from the Myanmar military, who can blame rogue, civilian outfits for such bloody crimes, and provides a small measure of plausible deniability. Such examples are not particular to Myanmar either. For example the Wagner Group that Russia has employed in Syria, Central African Republic and Ukraine, or Blackwater that the US has used in Iraq, albeit with a more sophisticated corporate veneer. These are also non-state groups that have been accused of war crimes but are a step away from their respective paymasters.

The second aspect that this development reflects is the desperation of the junta. It is not just the use of shadowy vigilante terrorist groups to do their dirty work, but the coerced recruitment of civilians into the miltiary’s rank-and-file. Myanmar Now has reported that weapons factory workers are being sent to the frontlines to join soldiers in the battles against PDFs, in addition to orders to send Police, Fire Service, and Red Cross members to battle. In Karen State, Karen News reported that the local Border Guard Force, a proxy military group under the command of the Myanmar military, has been recruiting young men to work for their casino projects, only to be sent to the frontline to bolster forces that are experiencing heavy losses against the Karen National Liberation Army. These are desperate attempts to bolster a demoralized, under-resourced, and thinly stretched military that cannot win a war against the people.

The reason why the military is trying to install fear into the heads and hearts of the Myanmar people, as well as its increasing use of civilians at the frontline, is because it is losing. Its regular forces simply cannot combat a whole country that is in revolt and wishes them gone. And while fear may be prevalent on the streets of Mandalay since the emergence of the Thway Thout Ah Pwe, it almost certainly will not be victorious. The increasing territory controlled by PDFs, the defections of junta soldiers, and the loss of any semblance of administrative capacity of the junta reflect a situation where they cannot in all seriousness argue that they are in control of Myanmar. And while international diplomatic conventions, multilateral agencies and bodies such as the UN, and even some international NGOs may continue business as usual by engaging and working with the junta, this increasingly looks misguided. Support for the legitimate National Unity Government, local People’s Administration Teams, ethnic resistance organizations’ administration and service provision entities, and local civil society and community-based organizations are the avenues to cooperate with and support the Myanmar people and the bodies that represent them. The cruelty and desperation of the junta, manifest in groups such as Pyu Saw Htee and Thway Thout Ah Pwe reflects not power, but impotence.


[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.

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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.”