Residents patrol Yangon neighbourhoods amid fears after coup

Demonstrators flash the three-fingers salute during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 13, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

(Reuters) - Residents said they banded together to patrol the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city of Yangon overnight, fearing arrest raids by authorities and common crime following a military coup and after the junta ordered the release of thousands of prisoners.

In different quarters of the city, groups of mostly young men banged on pots and pans on Saturday night to sound the alarm as they chased down what they believed to be suspicious characters.

“All the streets near me are also making groups to defend themselves from these troublemakers,” said Myo Thein, a resident of the South Okkalapa township who planned to patrol through the night.

Neither government nor police responded to requests for comment.

Fears of the police have grown after reports of night raids targeting critics of the junta that took power on Feb. 1, when soldiers overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and detained her. The United Nations human rights office said on Friday more than 350 people have been arrested since the coup.

Worries about criminal activity have also soared since Friday, when the junta announced it would free 23,000 prisoners, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline” and would “please the public”.

Unverified pictures on social media have fueled rumours that criminals are trying to stir unrest by setting fires or poisoning water supplies.

“We formed the patrol with the elders and men. The ends of the roads are blocked,” said Phoo Phoo in the Mayangone township. “We girls are just waiting in front of our homes holding sticks.”

Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Frances Kerry