VIII. Security Agencies Involved in the Crackdown

The crackdown on the August-September 2007 protests involved elements of the Burmese army (Tatmadaw Kyi), the Office of Military Security Affairs (Sa Ya Pa), the Riot Police (lon thein), divisional police, the Special Branch Police, as well as militias associated with the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and the Swan Arr Shin. Human Rights Watch has been able to collect significant information on the units involved in the crackdown and their commanders from individuals who requested anonymity. While Human Rights Watch can give an overview of the formal command structure involved in the crackdown, we cannot establish the exact responsibilities of particular commanders during the crackdown at this stage of our investigation.

The operational cooperation between various military and police units as well as the various militias in downtown Rangoon during the crackdown is clear from media footage and corroborated from several eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch. To clear streets, a line of lon htein riot police would form armed with batons and shields, backed up by a line of Burmese army soldiers which would follow behind, directed by an army captain or major with radio communication.247 After a five-to-ten minute warning relayed by loudspeaker, the riot police would advance until protesters were dispersed. In some cases, baton charges, replete with tear gas, rubber bullets, live fire, and beatings of civilians were used to clear streets. Regular army units were predominantly the units who fired weapons with live ammunition.

The insignia of the 11th LID, Rangoon Army Command, and the Burmese Police Forces.

Army Units

In Rangoon, four main army command units were involved in the crackdown on the democracy protests: the Rangoon military command, the 11th Light Infantry Division (LID), the 66th ID, and the 77th LID.248 However, it is clear that the army crackdown in Rangoon directly involved the most senior levels of the army. The current commander-in-chief of the Burmese Army is Vice Senior General Maung Aye, who is outranked only by the current military leader of Burma, Senior General Than Shwe.

The Rangoon military command is permanently stationed in Rangoon City, and is commanded by Major-General Hla Htay Win, who was involved in the deadly 1988 crackdown on democracy protesters.249 Hla Htay Win also serves as the chairman of the Rangoon Division Peace and Development Council (PDC).250 The deputy commander of the Rangoon Division is Brigadier-General Kyaw Kyaw Tun. The Rangoon military command provided the bulk of troops deployed on the streets during the crackdown on the protests.

Rangoon is divided into four military regions under the Rangoon command. Military region No. 1, under the command of Colonel Myat Thu, is responsible for northern Rangoon townships including Insein (where the GTI ad-hoc detention facility is located), Shwebyitha, North Okkalapa, Mingaladon, Hlaign, Hlegu, Mawbi, and Taikgyi townships. Military region No. 2, under the command of Colonel Nay Myo, is responsible for eastern Rangoon townships including South Okkalapa, Tamwe, Yankin, South and North Dagon, Thingan Kyun, Dawbon, and Thaketa. Military region No. 3, under the command of Colonel Tin Hsan, is responsible for western Rangoon townships including Kyee Myin Taign, Ahlon, Dagon (where the Shwedagon Pagoda is located), Bahan, Kamayut, Hlaingthaya, and Htandabin. Military region No. 4, under the command of Colonel Khin Maung Htun, is responsible for southern Rangoon, including the six townships that make up the downtown area, and is headquartered in the City Hall.251

The Rangoon military command is also in control of the subordinate 11th LID, which is the Rangoon military command’s “mobile response unit.” Like the Rangoon military command, the 11th LID was directly involved in the violent crackdown, and further provided security for UN Envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s visit to Burma. The 11th LID is commanded by Brigadier-General Hla Min, who supervises three tactical commanders: Colonel Myat Thu, Colonel Htein Lin, and Lieutenant-Colonel Tun Hla Aung. 

In addition to military units headquartered in Rangoon, the 66th and 77th LIDs were deeply implicated in many of the violent incidents and killings documented in this report, as shown by eyewitness accounts and videos of the suppression. Elements of the 66th LID 66 were dispatched to Rangoon in September 2007 in response to the growing protest movement. Although the 66th LID is headquartered in Inma, it is an operational combat unit that is frequently deployed in frontline areas to combat ethnic insurgents. The 66th LID based itself inside the City Hall during the crackdown.  The 77th LID was also actively engaged in the violent suppression of demonstrations.  The 77th LID, also a frontline combat unit, is regularly deployed in Rangoon for security.

Human Rights Watch has been unable to establish the identity of the commander of the 66th LID, but was able to identify two of his three subordinate tactical commanders as Colonel Htwe Hla and Colonel Han Nyunt. The 66th LID consists of five infantry battalions and five light infantry battalions.

Soldiers of the 66th LID guard the entrance to the Sule Pagoda during the September crackdown.
© 2007 Private

The commander of the 77th LID is Brigadier-General Win Myint, and his three subordinate tactical commanders are Lieutenant-Colonel Mya Win, Colonel Win Te, and Colonel Soe Htway.  The 77th LID consists of one infantry battalion and nine light infantry battalions.

Human Rights Watch also received reports that the 702nd Light Infantry Battalion (LIB), commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Tun Aye, was engaged in the crackdown against civilians in South Okalappa on September 27 in which already eight people are believed to have been killed, in many cases from bullet wounds to the head. The 703rd LIB was reportedly involved in recovering the bodies of persons killed in that incident.  The 702nd and 703rd LIBs are both special forces units attached to the Operation Control Command No. 4, a division-sized combat unit based in Mawbi, which is commanded by Colonel Tint Wai.

Other smaller army units also were brought into Rangoon for specific duties: for example, troops from the Army Training Depot (Lei Kyin Ye Tat) at Yemon, a small military town between Rangoon and Pegu, were brought in for guard duties at the Government Technical Institute in Rangoon. Lieutenant Colonel Tin Thaw of the Yemon Army Training Depot was the overall commander of the Government Technical Institute detention center.  Army training units and air force soldiers were also present at the GTI detention center.

Military Security Affairs

The Military Security Affairs (MSA), commonly referred to by its Burmese acronym Sa Ya Pa, is the office of the armed forces tasked with intelligence gathering. The MSA played a central role in monitoring the protests, collecting photos and other intelligence during the protests, and using the information collected to help coordinate the widespread arrests that followed the crackdown on the protesters. The Military Security Affairs also took a leading role in the interrogation of detainees who were believed to have connections to exiled dissident organizations and armed groups fighting the Burmese government. 

Within Rangoon, the Military Security Affairs has two support units. The commander of MSA Support Unit 1 is unknown to Human Rights Watch; Military Support Unit 2 is commanded by San Nyunt, rank unknown.

Military Security Affairs and Special Branch investigators were involved in extensive interrogations of detainees, particularly at the Insein prison in Rangoon.  Both MSA and Special Branch officers used sleep deprivation and slapping of prisoners during their interrogation in addition to brutal beatings and kicking of detainees until they became unconscious. According to former detainees, the head of the Military Security Affairs interrogation team at Insein prison is U Maung Maung Oo, who oversaw the interrogations, reviewed interrogation notes, and sometimes personally participated in the interrogations.252    

Police Units and Lon Htein Riot Police

The Ministry of Home Affairs, currently headed by Major-General Maung Oo (who is not related to the head of the MSA interrogation team at Insein, U Maung Maun Oo), oversees all police units which include the riot police (lon htein),253 the Special Branch, the Bureau of Special Investigation, the Criminal Investigation Department, and regular divisional police forces. All of these offices were identified as having been active in suppressing the demonstrations or interrogating detainees.  Photos and film footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch frequently show lon htein riot police and regular police forces mixed together during the suppression of protests in Rangoon between September 26 to 29.

The insignia on the left is the Burmese police from Rangoon Command, the insignia on the right belong to the Lon Htein riot police.

The overall director-general of the police, Brigadier-General Khin Ye (also spelled Khin Yi), exercises command control of the regular police and riot police forces. He was personally present during the violent crackdown on protesters at the Shwedagon Pagoda on September 26 and is believed to have played a central role in orchestrating the suppression of the demonstrations in Rangoon. The deputy-director of police is Police Brigadier General Zaw Win. According to a publication of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the deputy director normally “takes responsibility for the proper command, control, and monitor[ing of] all the Departments of the Myanmar Police Force.”254 Four police brigadier generals are responsible for departments concerned with general staffing, personnel, logistics, and battalion control command.

The Ministry of Home Affairs also exercises jurisdiction over jails and other correctional units; the director of the Rangoon detention facilities is U Myo Aung.

Human Rights Watch has not yet obtained details of the lon htein battalion commanders in charge of the units that suppressed the demonstrations.  All police battalions are subordinate to the Myanmar Police Force under the command of Brigadier General Khin Ye.

Riot Police were deployed throughout the crackdown. Observers in Rangoon estimated that between 800 and 1,000 riot police were deployed during the crackdown in Rangoon, a much higher number than had been previously seen on the streets of Rangoon. Some of the riot police were wearing red helmets with white bands, a previously unknown distinction that may indicate special training. The riot police, dressed in full riot gear with body armor, helmets, riot shields, and bamboo and metal batons, frequently charged into protesting crowds, beating and detaining protesters. They worked closely with the army in most instances, and were frequently armed with rifles or shot guns.

In addition to their role on the streets of Rangoon, the riot police also played a role in the detention of protesters. Many protesters, particularly the ’88 Generation protesters detained in August and other suspected opposition activists, were taken to lon htein bases for their initial interrogation and detention. Human Rights Watch documented detentions and interrogations at the lon htein Battalion Bases 3 at Shwemyayar commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Zaw Win, Base 5 in Mawbi commanded by Major Mya Thaung, and Base 7 at Thanlin Township commanded by Major Aung San Win. 

Special Branch Police

The Special Branch (SB) is a special force of the Myanmar Police Force. It is headed by a police brigadier general. Human Rights Watch has not yet identified the Special Branch command structure involved in the suppression of the demonstrations and related arbitrary arrests and detentions and human rights abuses committed during interrogations.

According to statements made by Burmese police officials to Amnesty International in 2004:

The main purpose of SB is to collect information, especially in political cases, and… the SB functions as the intelligence arm of the police. They went on to say that the initial investigation in custody could be undertaken by Military Intelligence, Bureau of Special Investigation…, SB, or the ordinary police. In criminal cases the police are responsible for the investigation. According to the police, in ‘other cases, including National Security cases’ different departments. […] such as the BSI, SB, or Criminal Investigation Department (CID) conduct the investigation.255

Special Branch police were active in overseeing and conducting extensive interrogations of detainees in ad hoc detention centers, police departments, jails and prisons, and other facilities.256 Special Branch police officers used sleep deprivation and slapping of prisoners during their interrogation, and in some cases were involved in brutal beatings and kicking of detainees. A Special Branch facility in Aung The Byae was used to detain and interrogate persons arrested in connection with the protests.

The Role of “Mass-Based” Organizations for Social Control

In order to gain a civilian cover for its military rule, the SPDC has created a dense network of “mass-based” organizations and neighborhood organizations that are directly controlled by the SPDC. These organizations include, among others, the SPDCs own state-level, township-level, and ward-level Peace and Development Councils (PDC), the mass-based “social-welfare” Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, and the Pyithu Swan Arr Shin (People’s Masters of Force, more commonly referred to as Swan Arr Shin), a militia implicated in numerous serious rights abuses.

Although the SPDC tries to portray these “mass-based” organizations as the true voice of the Burmese people, they are in fact institutions directly created and controlled by the military leadership. Their role is not only to serve as a legitimatizing civilian face of the SPDC (and perhaps ultimately to allow the SPDC to transition itself into a “civilian” government through the USDA), but also to serve as a dense network of social control and civilian surveillance that quickly identifies and deals with dissent through intimidation and arrests.

The high level of social control exerted by these SPDC-controlled organizations is perhaps best illustrated by the requirement that all households in Burma provide their local ward PDC officials with a list of persons residing in the household, and must register any overnight guests with the ward PDC officials before dark. Burmese households are regularly subjected to “midnight checks” to ensure that no unauthorized persons are staying at their homes. 

The main organizer of state-sanctioned civil society in Burma is the mass-based “social-welfare” called the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). The USDA is being groomed by the military as a future military-controlled civilian government in Burma, if and when there is a transition from military rule. Creation of the USDA emulated past efforts in Burma to foster a nationwide social movement to entrench military rule, such as during the Ne Win era from 1962-1988 when the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party made party membership mandatory for many government employees.

When formed in September 1993, the USDA was registered as a “social welfare” organization to avoid laws banning military members and civil servants from belonging to political parties. This loophole allowed the association to spread its operations throughout Burma as a parallel arm of military rule.257

In a country of 52 million people, the USDA now has 23 million members throughout the country, with 17 branches at state and divisional level, 65 at district level, 320 at township level and 15,308 branches at the village level.258 The first and continuing “patron” of the USDA is President Gen Than Shwe. Many military officers are members, including the top SPDC leadership. The current secretary general of the USDA, Maj.-Gen. U Htay Oo is also the Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation.  According to recent speeches by Prime Minister Soe Win, the USDA is slowly taking control of some local Ward and Village Peace and Development Councils from military officials.

Membership of the USDA is mandatory for civil servants and teachers. It is almost essential for community members who wish to stay on good terms with the local authorities. Students are particularly encouraged or forced to join by teachers, according to many accounts.259 The USDA’s ideology directly mirrors that of the SPDC: its three main national causes and its 12 political, economic, and social objectives are the same as those of the government, which aims for “the promotion and vitalization of national pride.”260

While much of the association’s funding comes from government sources, it has increasingly spread its economic power through loans to local businesses and the rental of market spaces and land, which many sources claim comes from property seized by the military and handed to the USDA. The USDA has been given responsibility by the government to cooperate with international development agencies and accompany foreign workers on inspection trips. It has attempted to accompany the International Committee of the Red Cross on prison visits. Increasingly, the USDA is replacing SPDC officials in minor diplomatic duties, such as receiving delegations of sporting and youth groups, presiding over the opening ceremonies of infrastructure projects, and conducting training projects. The purpose of this is to promote the organization and its leadership as future political leaders. The USDA is, in effect, the acceptable face of the military, even though its pronouncements echo SPDC ideological dogma.

The USDA promotes Burmese military objectives throughout the country in mass rallies, speeches and demonstrations in support of the “Road Map” for a new constitution. It denounces Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, ethnic resistance groups, and foreign critics such as the United States. These rallies are televised frequently by the state media, with rows of thousands of men and women wearing the distinctive white shirts of membership and pumping their fists in the air when a dignitary shouts a particularly stirring slogan or denunciation of an “internal or external destructive elements and axe-handle.”261

For several years, USDA cadres have harassed and intimidated opposition political figures, in many cases pressuring NLD members to resign from their party. The USDA responded with vindictive vitriol to the UN Security Council debates on Burma. The USDA’s armed wings, which receive training by military units, now operate throughout the country with names such as “People’s Strength Organization,” “Strength of the Nation Group,” and “Anti-Foreign Invasion Force.” It was armed groups such as these that were involved in attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD supporters in Rangoon in November 1996 and in Depayin in May 2003.

In addition to the USDA, the SPDC has more recently formed a new paramilitary group called the Swan Arr Shin or “Masters of Force.” Although the SPDC rarely officially acknowledges the existence of the Swan Arr Shin, almost all Burmese interviewed by Human Rights Watch spoke about the activities of the Swan Arr Shin in their neighborhoods, and were able to identify Swan Arr Shin members from their areas. According to an opposition leader, the SPDC has strategically recruited Swan Arr Shin members as a means of further dividing Burmese society and undermining a broad social movement:

The military is organizing the Swan Arr Shin in poor areas that were very active during the 1988 demonstrations. This is smart, as it will help ensure control over these areas and it will split the poor from the broader [protest] movement. Swan Arr Shin members are paid 3,000 kyat a day and given two meals—this is good pay and it is easy work, as most Swan Arr Shin are day laborers who are used to doing hard manual labor, like working as porters in the market or at the ports.

Each day, the Swan Arr Shin units are sent by bus in a convoy led by an army vehicle to areas other than those where they are resident. They are under the control of an army major and the police. In the area where I saw them working, they were under the command of an officer from the 66th Light Infantry Division. The township offices have to raise funds to feed the Swan Arr Shin that are sent into their areas.  In our area, each quarter has to provide 500 kyats per day. This leads to resentment, so the officials collect the money under false pretenses, saying it is for street cleaning and such things.262

In Sittwe, most government departments are also required to provide two or three staff members to join the Swan Arr Shin in October 2007. Each village, quarter and ward are also required to send members for training. 

Swan Arr Shin members are given rudimentary military training in marching, shouting slogans, organizing participants and basic hand combat techniques. One person told Human Rights Watch that the sports facility at Kyimintaign was used for Swan Arr Shin training as recently as September. In Sittwe, the riot police trained recruits at the army’s Regional Control Command. Training for this first batch of recruits was abruptly halted and the recruits immediately deployed during the first week of November after reports surfaced that additional protests would occur.

During the crackdown in Rangoon, Dyna car drivers (a form of public transport, a truck with benches on the back) were coerced into providing transport to Swan Arr Shin and USDA members, who also used the Dyna cars to transport detained protesters to detention centers.

Police and Swan Arr Shin members in commandeered vehicles arrive in downtown Rangoon to assist in the crackdown on September 27, 2007. © 2007 Private

Ordinary Swan Arr Shin members are paid 5,000 kyat a month, a bag of rice, and some cooking oil by pro-government business leaders, and are used mostly for routine neighborhood surveillance and police assistance during ordinary times. Other SAS members, mostly known thugs and petty criminals, are used more often to engage in violence against opposition figures, and are paid between 3,000 and 5,000 kyat per day.263

The SAS command structure parallels that of the local government structure. Ward level SAS units reportedly have 20 members and in some cases are overseen by former ward leaders. Township level SAS units vary in size depending upon the number of wards they comprise. District level SAS units are reportedly overseen by USDA members. Swan Arr Shin operations are commanded by the riot police and indirectly overseen by the army.

247  Human Rights Watch interviews with Burmese civilians and Western sources (names and location withheld), October 2007.

248 Initial reports claiming that the 22 LID, a counterinsurgency force based in Pa-an in Karen State which played a major role in the 1988 crackdown, was involved in the crackdown are not substantiated.

249 “Burma’s new Rangoon and special bureau military heads named,” Mizzima News, January 30, 2006.

250 “Families of Tatmadaw (Army, Navy and Air), wellwishers present provisions and cash to monasteries and nunneries,” New Light of Myanmar, July 24, 2006.

251 See also Network for Democracy and Development Documentation Unit, “Civil and Administrative Echelon of State Peace and Development Council in Burma,” May 2007. The Rangoon military command oversees three garrisons, which are commanded by Brigadier-General Myint Soe (Garrison 1), Colonel Tin Tun (Garrison 2), and Colonel Hla Aye (Garrison 3).

252 In Rakhine State, plain clothed officials who were presumed to be from the Military Security Affairs or SB forced detainees to sit for periods of 8-12 hours at a time, over a period of several days to a week, in stress positions on a stool that had ¼” protrusions through the seat. In one incident documented by Human Rights Watch, a detainee had a plastic bags repeatedly placed over his head to stimulate asphyxiation.

253 The formal name of the Lon Htein riot police is Combat Police Battalions. There are 16 Combat Police Battalions in Burma: 7 are based in Rangoon, 3 in Arakan State, 2 in Mandalay division, 2 in Pegu, 1 in Mon State, and 1 in Karen State.

254 Endeavors, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of the Union of Myanmar, undated.

255 Amnesty International, “Myanmar, the Administration of Justice - Grave and Abiding Concerns,” April 1, 2004, available at

256 Human rights groups have well documented the Special Branch’s involvement in arbitrary arrests and detentions and other human rights abuses over the past decade. With the dissolution of the Military Intelligence branch in 2004, the Special Branch appears to have assumed an increasingly prominent role in suppressing non-violent political opposition. See, for example, Amnesty International, “Myanmar, the Administration of Justice - Grave and Abiding Concerns,” April 1, 2004.

257  David I. Steinberg, “The Union Solidarity and Development Association,” Burma Debate, vol.4, no.1, January/February 1997, pp. 5-9.

258  Kyi Win Nyunt, “Cherish the Union, perpetually serve national and people’s interest,” New Light of Myanmar, November 7, 2006, p. 7.

259  Human Rights Watch interview with Shan migrant worker, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 7 October, 2006; Network for Democracy and Development, “The White Shirts: How the USDA Will Become the New Face of Burma’s Dictatorship,” Mae Sariang, NDD, May 2006, pp.20-26; “USDA: The Organization Strengthening the Military Rule in Burma,” The Mon Forum, April 2005.

260  Information obtained from Union Solidarity and Development (USDA) website,, (accessed March 20, 2007).

261  Internal and external destructive elements are a key slogan in state propaganda, and an axe-handle is a symbol of betrayal, taken from a Burmese parable of a man killed by a neighbor with an axe-handle.

262 Human Rights Watch interview with “Thet Myo Tin,” (location withheld), October 11, 2007.

263 Human Rights Watch interview (name and location withheld), October 26, 2007.