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Panic buying grips Yangon after shadow government in Myanmar declares 'people's defensive war'

The announcement of a state of emergency by Duwa Lashi triggered panic buying in Yangon. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Long queues formed at supermarkets and petrol stations in Yangon on Tuesday (Sept 7) shortly after Myanmar's shadow government declared a "people's defensive war" against the junta.

In a video message broadcast online in the morning, the National Unity Government's (NUG) acting president, Mr Duwa Lashi La, declared a state of emergency that would end only when a civilian government was restored to power.

He warned civil servants against going to the office, and urged people to avoid unnecessary travel and stock up on their medications and daily necessities.

He called on anti-junta armed resistance groups to quell junta forces in their respective areas, and also for Myanmar's ethnic armed organisations to "immediately attack" the junta through various methods.

"I believe that our neighbouring countries, Asean countries, the United Nations and all other countries around the world understand that we do it out of necessity," he said.

The announcement triggered panic buying in Yangon, with people loading up on rice, cooking oil, dried food and medicine.

Meanwhile, long queues of vehicles formed outside petrol stations as motorists rushed to secure fuel, checks by The Straits Times showed.

The NUG's declaration comes just a week before the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, where it is vying with the junta to be recognised as the legitimate representative of Myanmar.

The NUG comprises parliamentarians ousted by the Feb 1 military coup as well as allied civil society activists and intellectuals. Both the NUG and the Myanmar junta have denounced the other as terrorists.

Asean is arranging humanitarian aid for Myanmar after the bloc appointed Brunei's Second Foreign Minister, Mr Erywan Yusof, as its special envoy to try to facilitate political dialogue.

Over the weekend, he revealed a proposal for a four-month ceasefire in Myanmar to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers delivering aid. This idea was not opposed by the junta, he told reporters, adding that it was also communicated indirectly to parties opposed to the coup.

It is not clear whether NUG's declaration on Tuesday will trigger a surge in armed clashes.

Over 170 localised, semi-autonomous "people's defence forces" (PDFs) have been staging guerilla-style attacks on troops and police officers over the past few months. Some PDFs have also killed alleged junta informers and civilian ward administrators working under the junta.

The NUG first mentioned a "D-Day" in June, but had been coy about spelling out exactly what it meant before Tuesday.

In a separate announcement on Tuesday, it urged resistance fighters to abide by a code of conduct that includes compensating civilians for the use of their properties during emergencies and not killing or torturing captives.

Analysts say that an armed uprising against the junta cannot succeed without support from Myanmar's numerous ethnic armed groups. Yet the most powerful of these, like the United Wa State Army and the Arakan Army, have so far stayed above the fray.

The junta led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has killed over 1,000 people and imprisoned over 6,000 since the coup, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners. The military seized power after alleging that the November 2020 election, in which the National League for Democracy government emerged victorious, was fraudulent. The junta has invoked a state of emergency which Gen Min Aung Hlaing says will be lifted by August 2023.

In what it said was an effort to combat Covid-19, the junta has declared public holidays since July. Government offices have been shut too.

Additional reporting by Kyaw Za