BANGKOK – A top election official in Myanmar was fatally shot in his car in Yangon, the country’s commercial capital, in the latest attack attributed to militants opposed to military rule.
Sai Kyaw Thu, deputy director-general of the military-appointed Union Election Commission, was shot multiple times on Saturday, according to the military’s information office, media reports and a statement of responsibility from an urban guerrilla group.
The information office on Sunday said the attack was carried out by the People’s Defense Force, the loosely organized armed wing of the pro-democracy National Unity Government, an underground group that opposes the military-installed government that was established when the army seized power two years ago.
Many opposition forces including local People’s Defense Force groups operate autonomously from the National Unity Government but the military labels them all as “terrorists.”
A resistance group calling itself “For The Yangon” said it carried out the attack on Sai Kyaw Thu, a former lieutenant colonel. It declared “Mission: Accomplished” in a Facebook post on Saturday evening that was illustrated with three photos of their target.
Sai Kyaw Thu is believed to be the most senior official of the Election Commission to be shot since the army seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Resistance groups earlier this year attempted to disrupt preparations for a new election the military had promised by attacking personnel conducting a population survey that could be used to assemble voter rolls and other low-level election workers. Plans for the polls, whose date was never set, were set back indefinitely in February when the military government announced it was extending a state of emergency due to security problems.
Urban guerrillas have carried out many targeted killings, acts of arson and small bombings. Victims included officials and members of the military and their cronies, as well as people believed to be informers or military collaborators.
In November 2021, a former navy officer who was the chief finance officer of Myanmar’s military-linked Mytel telecommunications company was fatally shot on a Yangon street. Than Than Swe, then a deputy governor of Myanmar’s Central Bank, was shot at her home in Yangon in April 2022. She survived and was promoted to the bank governor.
Most recently, a veteran corporate lawyer accused of helping military leaders was shot dead in Yangon by self-proclaimed urban guerrillas in March.
After its takeover, the army clamped down harshly on opponents in the cities, arresting thousands and using deadly force even against nonviolent demonstrators. The repression, which has now accounted for more than 3,400 civilian deaths, triggered widespread armed resistance.
The military dismissed the members of the previous election commission — which had ratified the victory of Suu Kyi’s party in a November 2020 general election — and appointed new ones. It also detained several members of the old commission, and according to reports in independent Myanmar media, pressured them to say there had been election fraud.
The new military-appointed commission declared the 2020 election results invalid and prosecuted Suu Kyi and 15 other senior political figures for alleged fraud.
In the statement, “For The Yangon” claimed Sai Kyaw Thu had been a plaintiff in the election fraud case against Suu Kyi. She and ousted President Win Myint and the former minister of the president’s office, Min Thu, received three-year sentences in September last year in that case.
A member of guerrilla group said in a text message on Sunday that Sai Kyaw Thu was assassinated “for being the deputy director-general of the illegal election commission of the military council, which disrespected the votes of the people in 2020 general election and abused the people unjustly, and also for being the one who falsely prosecuted President Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi as an accessory of the military council."
“The one who insults the public will be punished by the people,” said the member of group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears arrest by the authorities.
According to reports in Myanmar’s independent media, Sai Kyaw Thu was cross-examined as a prosecution witness in the trials against Suu Kyi last year.