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A member of Karenni Resistance Force is seen among the destroyed military vehicles on the frontline of Shadaw township. As one of the missions of 1111 Operation, Karenni Resistance Force seized the Shadaw township which had been occupied by the military junta. The Resistance Force able to take control of the town after 27 days of mission.SOPA Images/Getty Images

A series of dramatic advances that left Myanmar’s military on the back foot and saw resistance forces make territorial gains across the country have emboldened some armed groups to take the fight to the junta’s doorstep.

In the past two weeks, there have been at least three bombings in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and financial capital, and some resistance fighters have drawn up a list of senior military figures, regime officials and allied businesspeople for assassination.

A copy of the list shared with The Globe and Mail features playing card graphics with photos of targets, their names and positions. It includes figures such as junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and Deputy Prime Minister Soe Win, as well as businessmen Thein Aung and Nyan Lwin Aung, who were shot dead by unidentified assailants in 2021 and 2023, respectively.

“There are many war criminals on our list, but we don’t get many chances to get close to them,” said Hay Win, who provided the list to The Globe and identified himself as an officer in the Karen National Union, or KNU, a resistance group that operates near Myanmar’s border with Thailand. While the list is newly compiled, he said, it includes several people who have already been killed in the hopes of inspiring similar action.

“We want to publish their faces, names, positions, etc., so more people will know them. People can join us to fight with these criminals.”

A spokesperson for Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council did not respond to a request for comment.

Myanmar has been in various stages of conflict for decades now. But unlike in the past, when successive military and civilian governments fought ethnic armies seeking self-determination in border regions, the civil war, which has raged since a February, 2021, military coup, has encompassed the entire country.

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A composite image showing two playing cards from a deck of 54 circulated by resistance groups in Myanmar calling for the assassination of junta leaders and supporters.

Two playing cards featuring businessmen Thein Aung and Nyan Lwin Aung from a deck of 54 circulated by resistance groups in Myanmar calling for the assassination of junta leaders and supporters.

As well as long-established ethnic militias such as the KNU-linked Karen National Liberation Army or the Arakan Army, the military has dealt with attacks by the smaller People’s Defence Forces (PDFs), made up largely of former pro-democracy protesters. Some PDFs operate in big cities such as Yangon, where they have taken credit for assassinations and bombings, including those this month.

In the first year after the coup, at least five former senior military figures, including Thein Aung, a one-time lieutenant-commander of the navy, and retired brigadier-general Ohn Thwin, were assassinated by Yangon-based guerrillas, according to U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia.

Last April, Sai Kyaw Thu, the deputy director-general of the military-appointed Union Election Commission, was shot dead in Yangon. In October, Nyan Lwin Aung was killed while eating at a street food stall in the city.

Urban Owls, a guerrilla group that claimed responsibility for Nyan Lwin Aung’s assassination, said it was intended as a ”warning to all business tycoons and associates” of the junta. The group posted photos online that allegedly showed him meeting with Russian Defence Ministry officials.

The playing cards seen by The Globe, apparently modelled on a similar set distributed to U.S. soldiers during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, include two jokers featuring the likenesses of Russian Air Force deputy commander Sergey Dronov and Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation.

Moscow is a major arms supplier to Myanmar, and Russian fighter jets have been used in brutal attacks by the military on resistance and civilian targets.

A secret attack plan drawn up by the KNU, and shared with The Globe, calls for targeted attacks and psychological warfare against air-force bases. The plan recommends targeting soldiers as they travel between bases or visit their families, carrying out drone attacks during inspections by senior officers or acquiring the phone numbers of airmen and officers in order to “be able to keep harassing them on the phone and ruin their morale.”

According to Myanmar media, some junta figures and retired generals relocated to the military capital, Naypyidaw, after the initial wave of assassinations.

Richard Horsey, the International Crisis Group’s senior adviser on Myanmar, said he doubted that resistance groups had the capability to carry out decapitation attacks, however.

“Some prominent individuals have been assassinated, but it’s more about opportunity (or serendipity) than a target-led approach,” he said in an e-mail.

“If senior military officers were killed, it would no doubt be celebrated in some quarters and seen as justice for their crimes against the people, but it would be unlikely to have a material impact on the dynamics of the conflict.”

A spokesperson for the parallel National Unity Government, Kyaw Zaw, said the NUG did not have a policy of assassinations and hopes junta figures responsible for war crimes will be held accountable.

“We believe that transitional justice according to law is important,” he said.

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