Burma’s military regime is preparing to intercept more than 3,000 GSM and CDMA phones belonging to politicians, businessmen, social activists, artists and media personnel, according to an official from the state-run Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT).
The official, who is involved in the implementation process, told The Irrawaddy that Military Affairs Security (MAS), the regime’s intelligence agency, arranged the phone interception plan and will implement it with technical assistance from MPT. A team consisting of more than 20 MAS members and an MPT engineer will be responsible for maintaining constant surveillance of the designated cell phones, but an operation base has not yet been chosen, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Apart from executive members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the list of those whose calls will be listened in on reportedly includes some independent candidates and leaders from political parties that were newly formed to contest last year’s election in November.
Others on the list include some of the junta’s leading business cronies, such as Tay Za, Zaw Zaw, Htun Myint Naing, Chit Khaing and Nay Aung, along with more than 60 other businessmen, including MPs-elect Khin Shwe, Htay Myit, Win Myint and Ko Ko Gyi, all of whom contested the election as members of the regime’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Social activists and artists are also targeted, according to the official. HIV/AIDS activist Phyu Phyu Thin, writer Than Myint Aung and actor Kyaw Thu and his wife are reportedly on the list under the category of “social activists,” while movie directors Maung Myo Min, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and Cho Too Zaw and singers Anaga, Yan Yan Chan and Kyar Pauk, along with some other hip hop performers, are placed under the “artists” category.
High-profile media personnel are also on the MAS list, including Dr Than Htut Aung, the CEO of the Eleven Media Group; Dr. Nay Win Maung, the CEO of the Voice Weekly journal; Thaung Su Nyein, the editor-in-chief of the 7 Days news journal; Ko Ko, the editor-in-chief of the Yangon Times news journal; and foreign correspondents Aye Aye Win and Aung Hla Htun.
The MPT official said he thinks junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe directly ordered the MAS to carry out this plan, because a number of USDP MPs-elect are included on the list.
He said a similar program existed when Gen Khin Nyunt was the junta’s military intelligence chief, but it was shut down after Khin Nyunt was purged in 2004 and his intelligence unit was dismantled.
“There were not many cell phones in Burma when the former intelligence unit was active, so they were easy to intercept. These days, however, there are so many phones in use, and people keep changing them all the time, so I doubt the interception plan will be successful,” said the MPT official.
The regime, which always keeps a close eye on the country’s political opposition, often traces the telephone records of politicians and activists to find evidence to try and imprison them.
Soon after the monk-led protests in Burma in September 2007, also known as the Saffron Revolution, about 200 mobile phones belonging to politicians, journalists and students were blocked without explanation.