Rise of Online Fraud Businesses in Lawless Regions and Aerial Attacks on Schools in Hpapun

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – September 10 Scenes

Published by MoeMaKa on September 11, 2023

Rise of Online Fraud Businesses in Lawless Regions and Aerial Attacks on Schools in Hpapun

In the not-so-distant past, terms like internet scams, financial fraud, bank account hacking, and human trafficking seemed distant from Myanmar’s reality, appearing only in news stories from other parts of the world. However, over the past three to four years, these nefarious activities have steadily crept into regions controlled by Myanmar’s armed groups and the autonomous zones of certain ethnic armed organizations. Shockingly, even in urban hubs like Yangon, these illicit businesses now operate from rented office spaces.

Previously, such activities were mostly confined to areas under the sway of military-affiliated armed forces, such as those along the Chinese border, the Kokang region, and Shwe Koke Ko in Karen State. However, following the COVID-19 pandemic and the military coup, an alarming number of these activities have proliferated in Karen State. More recently, reports have surfaced of such activities operating out of rented office spaces in downtown Yangon, as disclosed by the RFA Myanmar news agency.

Around Shwe Koke Ko in Myawaddy Township, bordering the Thaung Yin River controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a border guard force established during the previous military regime, various enterprises have sprung up. These include casinos, duty-free shops selling alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and international brands, beer establishments offering a selection of foreign brews, and clandestine gambling clubs reminiscent of those found in Macao near Hong Kong. These businesses emerged nearly a decade before the military coup, creating a gambling haven. Initially, these operations generated tax revenues for the military and were safeguarded by them. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the landscape has shifted towards online scams.

The absence of law and order paves the way for drug trafficking, gambling, online fraud, human trafficking, and slavery. These criminal activities have gradually expanded their reach to various regions of Myanmar. Individuals from Myanmar and neighboring countries in Southeast and South Asia have been deceived and coerced into becoming victims, often lured to the Shwe Koke Ko area in Myawaddy Township, situated on Myanmar’s border. There, they find themselves imprisoned and subjected to threats. In many instances, the respective embassies of these countries have had to intervene for their rescue. Such occurrences have made headlines with increasing frequency this year.

This issue has transcended being a problem confined to Myanmar and has evolved into a regional concern. China has officially urged the military council to collaborate in taking action against these criminal enterprises, with a focus on apprehending online criminals operating in influential ethnic regions like Wa and Myla. Recent reports have detailed the arrest and repatriation of thousands of Chinese nationals involved in online money scams in Myanmar’s border regions, particularly in the Wa Self-Government Region. A thorough examination of these reports suggests that the ongoing events represent only the tip of the iceberg, with many facets still submerged. The online criminal groups operating within Yangon have yet to be identified. These criminals exploit Myanmar’s ongoing armed conflicts, with the military council primarily focusing on suppressing political armed resistance fighters, allowing other criminal activities to thrive unchecked.

In another news development, attacks on schools have occurred in Hpa-pun District, resulting in the tragic loss of life, including one teacher and three students. Approximately ten schools have been forced to close due to these attacks. In recent days, following an assault by the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) on the Khay Pu military base—an outpost of the military council’s army—the military council retaliated with aerial assaults on villages, residences, and schools. While school bombings are not a new occurrence, they have become distressingly frequent in Karen State, Sagaing Division, and other regions. Last year’s attack on Let Yet Kone Village School in Depayin Township, where innocent children lost their lives, stands as a somber reminder of such brutal incidents.

Regrettably, Myanmar ranks among the top three countries in the world where schools have been targeted, with Ukraine and Burkina Faso being the other two. Since the military coup, military council troops have occupied and utilized schools as bases, making them vulnerable targets. Although some incidents involved attacks by People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) on schools housing military council troops, the majority of these unfortunate occurrences have been the result of military council attacks on villagers congregating in school premises.