Armed soldiers from PMFs now have a more visible presence in public areas of the border city, locals say.
Groups of men in military uniform with pistols at their waists can often be seen walking through public areas in Muse, northern Shan State.
Clearly embossed on their chest is a name such as “Pangsay,” along with badges on their arms declaring them as members of a PMF, or a People’s Militia Force.
The acronym describes armed militias allied with the Burmese military some with tens of people and some with hundreds or more. There are thought to be at least 10 PMFs active in northern Shan State alone, including Pangsay, Myoma, Walai, Kawngkha, Mongpaw, and Seinkyawt.
While little is known about their activities, many PMFs are believed to be linked to the drug trade, including through narcotics production and trafficking, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2016 report “Militias in Myanmar.”
Their increasingly public presence in the border town of Muse has been concerning to city residents, locals told SHAN.
PMF soldiers have been known to gather at a rest area on the banks of the Shweli River in Taw Ywad ward, home to restaurants and picnic areas popular with families.
“PMFs come here. It’s just normal,” Sai Myint, a youth worker in Taw Ywad, said. “People are a little bit afraid because they come here with guns,” he added.
A local woman who owns a Taw Ywad restaurant and spoke to SHAN on the condition of anonymity said that whenever she sees the armed PMF soldiers in full gear, she “prays that nothing will happen.”
Her fears are not unfounded: in February, members of rival PMFs shot at one another at a public recreation area on the Shweli River in Muse.
Taking a Stand
Locals in Muse have opposed the presence of gun-carrying PMF members in the city’s downtown, but their campaign did not end the practice.
Shan State chief minister Dr. Lin Htut visited Muse and neighboring Namkham in early March and spoke with locals about their concerns surrounding the growing PMF presence in northern Shan State.
Nothing changed, they said.
“We demanded that the chief minister control the PMFs because they were carrying guns wherever they went downtown. They stopped for a few days. But they went back to [carrying guns] as usual after the chief minister left,” U Thaung Tun, who works with the Garuna Social Volunteer team in Muse, told SHAN.
He alleged that PMFs were “behind” gambling enterprises and the production of methamphetamine pills in Muse.
“Because of the influx of drugs and the increase of gambling houses, there are many cases of theft occurring in Muse. We feel it’s not safe. It’s really difficult to go out at night,” U Thaung Tun said.
Locals say that they want the local authorities to ban gambling and prohibit the carrying of guns in public areas in an effort to rein in the PMFs, which are also known to demand tax or membership from Muse families.
“In my opinion, we need more security forces in Muse,” said local man Sai Mueng, who added that firefighters are currently providing security for locals in each ward.
Their vision, local sources told SHAN, is for the city of Muse to be free of the patterns of drugs and gambling that have become more commonplace.