BOMBINGS, INSURGENCIES AND TERRORISM IN MYANMAR

TERRORISM IN MYANMAR

On October 9, 1983, a bomb planted by North Korean spies exploded during an official visit by South Korean president Chun Doo Hwon to Rangoon, Burma. Chun survived, but 21 other people were killed including four cabinet members, two top Presidential advisors, an ambassador and 10 other top South Korean officials. The Burmese captured two North Korean army agents who were later found guilty of murder. Pyongyang denied involvement, saying the whole thing was staged to discredit the North. Unpersuaded, South Korea broke off diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Several terrorist groups and ethnic insurgencies are active inside Myanmar and the government put out alert on high during the run up to the 2010 elections. Myanmar rarely reports attacks inside the country. Even so, a number of bomb attacks have occurred and been reported but responsibility has not always been claimed. The government has often blamed exile groups namely the Karen National Union and the ABSDF (an alleged armed opposition group) but these accusations have been denied. Other groups that have been mentioned include the The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (known as the “student army”), Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors, the People's Guerrilla Front and Myanmar’s 30 or so Insurgent groups. [Source: Mizzima Election 2010]

In December 1996, five people were killed when two bombs exploded in Kaba Aya Buddhist Temple in Yangon only hours after "Secretary No. 2" Lt. Gen. Tin Oo visited. In April, 1997, Oo's 34-year-old daughter was killed by a letter bomb intended for her father. The regime used this an excuse to initiate a harsh crackdown. The government blamed the bombing on anti-government dissidents. Rebel groups denied responsibility and said the bombing was likely the result of power struggle within the regime. Tin Oo died in a helicopter crash in February 2001.

In 2001 and 2002, letters with detonators were sent to Myanmar embassies in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. The letters were posted from Bangkok with letters written in the Burmese language. In March 2003, two people were killed in an explosion in Yangon on Armed Forces Day. In May 2003, four people were killed when four bombs exploded in Tachilek, a Myanmar town near the Thai border.

In April 2006, Associated Press reported: “Five explosions rocked the downtown part of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, but no injuries were reported, fire brigade officials said. Two of the blasts occurred near the general post office, shattering the windows of the adjacent post and telecommunications building. One was near a planter, and the other was several meters (yards) away, near an electricity transformer. Two other explosions occurred near electricity transformers, while a fifth was near the Yangon central rail station. [Source: AP, April 20, 2006]

ETHNIC INSURGENCIES IN MYANMAR See See Separate Articles on the Kachin Rebels, Shan Insurgency, United Wa State Army, Karen Insurgency Under Ethnic groups

Many Killed in Yangon May 2005 Bomb Blast

The deadliest such attack in recent years took place May 7, 2005, when three bombs went off almost simultaneously at two upscale supermarkets and a convention center in Yangon, killing 23 people and injuring more than 160 others. The regime blamed armed ethnic minorities, a charge the groups have denied. The perpetrators were never caught. Some people thought the ruling junta might have been behind the blast in part because few people outside the military have the know-how to build such powerful bombs.

Reuters reported: “Three explosions rocked Yangon... It was the latest in a series of explosions in Myanmar. The military has blamed previous attacks on "destructive elements" - a term used to refer to political opponents and ethnic minority rebel groups. The nearly simultaneous blasts occurred at two crowded shopping malls and a trade center in Yangon, government officials said, but they gave no further details. "So far as I can tell you, nine have died and around 100 have been wounded," an official at Yangon General Hospital said. One blast killed three people and wounded more than 10 others attending a Thai exhibition at Yangon's trade center, Thai officials said in Bangkok. "It was an explosive device placed on the third floor of the fair," Jantra Buranaruek, the head of Thailand's Export Promotion Department which organised the trade event, he said. Witnesses said traffic was jammed outside the trade center and shopping malls as rescue teams worked to evacuate the wounded. Police imposed tight security on the capital and other shopping malls were immediately closed. The Karen National Union, a rebel group based along the Thai-Myanmar border, denied responsibility for the blasts. Last month a bomb blast killed three people and wounded 15 at a busy market in the central city of Mandalay, 690km north of Yangon. [Source: Reuters, May 7, 2005]

Bombings in Myanmar in 2008

In late September 2008, AFP reported: “Three people suffered minor injuries after a small explosion outside City Hall in Myanmar's main commercial city Yangon, a police official said. The blast hit in the morning at a park in the downtown area, the latest in a series of explosions that have hit the military-ruled country this month. "Three people were slightly injured because of an explosion. They were sent to the hospital," said the police official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media. Police gave no further details of what caused the explosion. On September 11 two people were killed and another 10 wounded by two bomb blasts at a video cafe northeast of Yangon, near a region hit by an ethnic insurgency. Those blasts followed an explosion days earlier on Yangon bus which injured three people. Myanmar's junta has in the past blamed similar blasts on armed exile groups or ethnic rebels who have been battling the military rulers for decades. Two dead, 10 wounded in twin Myanmar blasts: [Source: AFP, September 25, 2008]

Al-Jazeera reported: “The suspected bomb blast occurred outside Yangon's City Hall and comes on the eve of the first anniversary of last year's bloody crackdown on anti-government protests. "It seems to have been a small bomb, but we are still carrying out investigations," a police official told Reuters. None of the injured is thought to have been seriously hurt. The scene of the blast was quickly sealed off by armed police and soldiers. [Source: Al-Jazeera September 26 2008]

Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times, “A bomb exploded in Rangoon but like most acts of defiance in Burma it was more of a symbol than a serious act of rebellion. It happened in the mid-morning by a bus stop close to the golden spire of the Sule pagoda – a loud bang, a rattling of windows and an immediate influx of police carrying rifles. Half a dozen people were treated for what were described as minor injuries; a set of floodlights next to the site of the explosion had to be repaired. Within a few hours, however, the police had dispersed, the broken glass had been cleared up and the center of Rangoon had returned to normal – which, in Burma these days, means helpless, miserable tension. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, September 26, 2008]

On the September 11 attach, AFP reported: “Two people were killed and another 10 wounded by two bomb blasts at a Myanmar video cafe northeast of the main city Yangon, near a region hit by an ethnic insurgency, police sources said. The blasts occurred at around 8:00 pm some 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Yangon, not far from areas where ethnic Karen fighters are battling the government, a police official told AFP. "Two people were killed and 10 others injured in the series of two bomb blasts in Kyaukgyi Township in Bago Division," the police official said on condition of anonymity. It was the latest in a spate of explosions that have hit the military-ruled country this week. Three passengers were injured when a blast ripped through the back of a bus at a busy intersection in Yangon on Tuesday. Authorities said they were investigating whether a bomb caused the explosion. Myanmar's military rulers last Sunday accused two members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) of bombing pro-government offices in July. That was the first time the junta has accused members of the pro-democracy party of being involved in a bombing. Previous blasts have been blamed on armed exile groups or ethnic rebels. [Source: AFP, September 12 2008]

In January 2008, AFP reported: “A bus conductor has been killed by a blast in Myanmar, the country's fourth small-scale bomb attack in the past week, state media said. The bus, headed to the economic hub Yangon, had stopped for a rest break when the explosion went off in Bago township, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of the former capital. Conductor Lwin Soe, 35, was the only victim. The passengers had left the bus to have breakfast at a roadside restaurant, the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said. Lwin Soe was the third person to die in less than a week as a string of small bombings has rattled the country. Two women were killed at railway stations in new capital Naypyidaw and Yangon on Friday and Sunday, while a suspected bomber died in a blast in Bago Saturday. The government has blamed the Karen National Union (KNU), an armed ethnic rebel group battling the junta, for recent bomb incidents. [Source: AFP, January 17, 2008]

Bombings in Myanmar in 2009

In March 2009, Associated Press reported: “Two mysterious explosions shook parks near busy thoroughfares in Yangon. Nobody claimed responsibility for the evening blasts. Security personnel rushed to the sites of both blasts, while soldiers and police stopped and searched vehicles along another main thoroughfare that passes by the sites of both explosions. An official said there were no casualties, but onlookers saw one man being led to an ambulance after the first blast, which could be heard from several blocks away. Witnesses said the first blast took place at about 9:40pm at a small park in western Yangon near Myeinigone junction, a busy area with a bus terminal. Witnesses saw smoke rising from the scene and police and soldiers arriving with bomb-sniffing dogs. The second blast shortly after 11pm occurred by a bus stop next to a park at Kamayut junction. Truckloads of solders were quickly deployed to the area. [Source: AP, March 5, 2009]

In May 2009, two blasts occurred in Kyaukkyi town in central Bago Division early in the morning, causing minor damage to property but no injuries. The New Light of Myanmar newspaper blamed the Karen National Union (KNU). The same month three bomb blasts shook parts of Moulmein, the capital of Mon State. No casualties were reported. A small explosive device was found in the roof of a lavatory of a train in Naypyidaw-Pyinmana Station [Source: Mizzima Election 2010 <->]

In March 2009, Two bombs exploded in the space of an hour in Padomma Park, Sanchaung, Rangoon and at the Hledan bus stop. No casualties were reported. In July 2009. A small explosion occurred at a port in western Rangoon’s Ahlone Township and Burmese police allegedly uncovered a bomb plot ahead of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's visit. In September 2009, five bombs exploded in Hlaing Tharyar Township in Rangoon, another at an undisclosed industrial zone and a seventh one in Mingaladon Industrial Park, also in northern Rangoon. No one was injured <->

Bombings and Terrorism Activities in Myanmar in 2010

In November 2010 the government-mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar published an article revealing the investigations into terrorist attacks targeting the 2010 elections. It claimed that security forces had arrested five men accused of plotting to bomb public places in three major cities, including an international airport. Suspects responsible for the bombing of an election commission office in Bago in allegedly to had connections with the armed opposition group ABSDF and KNU. In January 2010. The government announced the arrests of 11 people accused of planning bombings to disrupt elections planned for this year. It said those arrested included a man who belongs to the People's Guerrilla Front, which is linked to the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors. [Source: Mizzima Election 2010 <->]

In November 2010, an explosion occurred at Gyopyaynanpyay Zedi of Nagayon Pagoda at Monsaleinda Park in the precinct of Eindawya Pagoda in Chana-yethazan Township, Mandalay, at about 7.45 am. The suspect Moe Zaw Latt, 49, suffered cuts and bruises from the explosion The same month, acting on a tip-off, officials discovered the four time bombs in two packages left under a table at Star Net internet café in the ground floor of City Star Hotel in Kyauktada Township and defused the bombs. <->

In October 2010, a n explosion in an ordinance depot in Shan State East’s Monghsat destroyed at least two warehouses including the underground storerooms. A Burmese officer claimed there was no death or injury, but according to a Lahu source, three people were killed: a sergeant and two privates. In September 2010, a bomb exploded at the Election commission office in Bago Township. No casualties were reported and staff had closed the office 45 minutes earlier. The government media blamed "insurgents, destructive elements and political opportunists" for the bombing. The same month Two explosions left two people seriously injured in Myanmar's Bago region and Myanmar authorities defused a bomb planted near a Yangon market. <->

In August 2010, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and a pack of homemade explosives exploded and injured four soldiers in Three Pagodas Pass Township near the Thai border The same months, a bomb laid on a motorcycle went off near a checkpoint manned by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in southern Karen State's Three Pagodas Pass Township. No one was reported killed or injured. In early August two people and eight were injured were killed in a bomb blast in the town of Myawaddy near the border with Thailand where ethnic Karen fighters are battling the government. The bomb exploded in a crowded night market and is believed to have been thrown from a vehicle. <->

In February 2010, two bombs exploded around noon at a market in Kawkareik Township in southern Karen State, leaving three people injured and causing minor damage. According to a staff member at the hospital in Pa'an, one of the victims later died. One undetonated bomb was also discovered. The same month 2010 a bomb exploded in Laogai and six other bombs were reportedly found and a bomb blast in Panglong town in Shan State slightly injuring four civilians. The military junta reportedly blamed the Shan State Army-South for the blast. Also in February, a bomb blast in junta-seized Laogai, injured nine according to to official sources. The Shan Herald News Agency said the explosion killed one and injured 11. In January a bomb was reportedly discovered before it could explode at a UWSA trading office in Burma’s northeastern town of Mu-se near the border with China. <->

Burmese New Year Bomb Attacks in 2010

In April 2010, three bombs exploded at the X2O pavilion in Kandawgyi, Rangoon on the second day of the traditional water festival. The junta said that 10 people were killed including a municipal officer, police colonel and a sub-inspector. About 170 people were injured in the serial blasts. A regional commander of the Burmese Army was critically injured as well as a Chairman of the Minglar Taungnyunt Township Peace and Development council (TPDC). A police report said that three members of Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW) were responsible and that the attack targeted Nay Shwe Thway Aung, the grandson of junta chief Sr-Gen Than Shwe. [Source: Mizzima Election 2010 <->]

In April 2010, one of two men who were reportedly arrested for trying to place a bomb in a Loikaw market detonated a bomb at a police station, killing himself and wounding four officers in Loikaw, eastern Kayah state. However another report said the incident occurred in Demawso, northeast of Rangoon. The same month four workers were injured at the Thaukyegat hydropower project in Htantabin Township, Bago Province after shells believed to be fired by Karen National Union troops fell on the site operated by a subsidiary of Asia World Company. Also in April at least 14 bombs exploded at Myitsone hydropower dam project in the northern state of Kachin in rapid succession. Kachin News Group based in Thailand reported that four people had died and 12 were injured in the blasts, the majority of whom were Chinese workers. <->

Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “Burmese New Year is usually a raucous time, with locals setting off fireworks and splashing bucketfuls of water on each other as part of a purification ritual. But this year's Thingyan festival took on a more sinister tone when mysterious bomb blasts hit the nation's largest city, Rangoon, on April 15. The explosions, detonated at a lakeside pavilion where residents were celebrating the new year, killed at least eight people. The military junta that has ruled Burma since 1962 quickly blamed "terrorists" and "destructive elements" for the mayhem, without further elaboration. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time magazine, April 19, 2010 \\\]

“Then the violence spread northward to Kachin state, when a series of bombs struck a controversial dam construction site, possibly killing Chinese workers. Ethnic Kachins, who have long chafed under the repressive rule of the junta, have nothing good to say about the proposed dam, one of seven hydroelectric projects planned for Kachin state. Not only will it flood thousands of homes — as well as the Myitsone, the confluence of two rivers that holds revered status in Kachin lore. — but the electricity produced by the dam will most likely be transferred to neighboring China without illuminating the local populace. Despite pre-emptive protestations of their innocence, it seems almost inevitable that the junta will blame the explosions on armed groups fighting for Kachin rights. \\\

“But one Kachin activist accuses the junta itself of setting off the bombs in Rangoon and Kachin in order to give itself license to attack ethnic groups. "They want to crush us," he says, "and this is the excuse they will use." Before the bomb blasts, Kachin locals were already complaining that they were being forced to make contributions to Burmese new-year festivities that they had no intention of joining — just another example of how ethnic minorities are made to hew to the Burmese way. Then, the day before the dam explosions, Kachin Independence Organization delegates gathered the public to explain why they could not agree to become part of the junta's border-guard force. "Tensions were already very high," says the Kachin activist. "Everyone was expecting something to happen, but not this."

Bombings in Myanmar in 2011, 2012 and 2013

In December 2011, Xinhua reported: “A bomb blast at the junction road of Yangon University killed a woman and seriously injured a man, eyewitnesses said. The bomb explosion occurred at a public toilet built on the junction road in Kamayut Hledan township at about 11:10 a.m. local time. The bomb is suspected as a time-bomb, officials said. The authorities is still hunting for more bombs suspected to be left there. The Yangon Region Security Minister has rushed to the scene which has been blocked for detection of the suspected bombs. [Source: Xinhua, December 21, 2011]

In October 2013, the BBC reported: “The latest in a series of small bomb blasts has shaken one of the most prestigious hotels in Burma. Police have detained three suspects over the explosion at the Traders Hotel in Rangoon which injured one guest. The government says the explosions are an attempt by unknown individuals or an organisation to damage the country's image following the introduction of democratic reforms. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said they were intended to create panic. No group has claimed responsibility for the small but well co-ordinated explosions. [Source: BBC, October 15, 2013]

Small devices also exploded at a hotel in the northern part of the country - and at a pagoda in the same area - before dawn.. Police said that no-one was reported to have been injured in the blasts which took place in the Mandalay region. Two days earlier a blast occurred at a guesthouse in central Burma and there were two more explosions in Rangoon the day before.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Bangkok says that with multiple armed groups harbouring decades of grievances, there is no shortage of candidates who may have carried out the bombings. 'Investigating' The window of the hotel room where the bomb went off in the Traders Hotel was blown outThe explosion sent shards of glass onto the road outside the hotel.

The hotel explosion blew out a window in a guest's room, shooting shards of thick glass more than 30m (98ft) into the street in the city's central business district, according to the Associated Press. Witnesses said that the room overlooked Sule Pagoda road, a main thoroughfare. An American woman was taken to hospital with minor injuries. The US embassy said it was providing her with consular assistance. The device was home-made, police say, and went off in the guest's bathroom "It was a time bomb. It was attached to a clock," a police official was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. "The hotel management is working with the local authorities who are investigating this incident," said Phillip Couvaras, general manager of the hotel, which is popular with visiting officials and foreign tourists.

The bomb attacks are the latest violence in a year that has seen public euphoria over democratic reforms give way to sectarian attacks that have spread across Burma. Correspondents say that they have caused considerable public disquiet in Rangoon. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told parliament that the devices were intended "to create panic". "But the people should be cautious not to fall into the trap," she said, urging the authorities "urgently to expose the perpetrators". The country has been hit by a string of bombings in recent years, which the government blames on separatist groups.

Two people were reported killed in the blast at a guesthouse in Taungoo. One of the blasts in Rangoon injured three people, police said. Speaking before the explosion at Traders hotel, Police Lt Gen Min Aung told AFP news agency that the system used "is the same in all the cases". "We think an organisation or a person planted them all," he told the agency. A spokesman for Burma's president told Radio Free Asia he believed the bombs were planted by those who wanted to damage the country's image as it assumed the chair of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

Plot to Bomb Myanmar Embassy in Indonesia to Avenge the Killing of Rohingya

In January 2014, AFP reported: “An Indonesian court jailed an Islamic extremist bomb-maker for seven-and-a-half years for his role in a plot to attack the Myanmar embassy to avenge the killing of Rohingya Muslims. Separiano is the fourth person to be jailed over the failed plot to bomb the mission in Jakarta, which came amid rising anger in Muslim-majority Indonesia at the plight of the Rohingya in mainly Buddhist Myanmar. The 29-year-old was arrested in May, the night before the attack was due to take place, carrying a backpack full of pipe-bombs as he rode a motorbike with another alleged plotter in Jakarta. [Source: AFP, Asia News Network, January 23, 2014]

At a previous hearing, the court heard he had plotted with other militants over Facebook and had attended sermons by firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual leader of the terror network behind the 2002 Bali bombings. Bashir is now in jail. The South Jakarta District Court found Separiano, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, guilty of charges under anti-terror laws. "The defendant Separiano has been proven guilty legally and convincingly of making and transporting the bombs for an act of terrorism," said presiding judge Suwanto. He handed him a seven-and-a-half year sentence. Separiano, also known by his alias of "Mambo", could have faced the death penalty. The mastermind of the plot, Sigit Indrajid, was also jailed for seven-and-a-half years.

There have been a string of attacks on minority Muslims in Myanmar since 2012, mostly in the Rohingyas' western home state of Rakhine. Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands made homeless. There have been numerous demonstrations by Indonesians expressing support for the minority. In August, a small bomb went off at a Buddhist temple in Jakarta, slightly injuring one person.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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