Reports suggest that SIM cards issued to soldiers and civilians before the public launch of Mytel are being used to track their location and conversations

This week, reports from the covert activist group Justice for Myanmar (JFM) suggest that Burmese operator Mytel is helping the military junta track defecting soldiers via their SIM cards. 

Back in 2018, before the commercial launch of Mytel, the operator launched a sales campaign called Aung Ta Khon (‘Banner of Victory’), handing out free SIM cards to soldiers with the backing of military leadership. 

Having been given access to data pertaining to the soldiers’ name, rank, and ID number, Mytel then assigned SIM cards to each soldier that corresponded to the soldiers’ military ID, typically prefixed with 0969. In this way, the military could easily identify its troops by their phone numbers alone.  

It is worth noting that the choice of 0969 is seemingly no coincidence: the 696 Movement is a Buddhist nationalist movement that broadly opposes the Islamic religion within Myanmar. 

Now, JFM is alleging that the military is using these SIMs to track the movements and conversations of its soldiers, saying that a number of soldiers trying to defect had been arrested after having used their Mytel SIMs.

“Two soldiers connected with us via their Mytel SIM cards because they cannot buy another SIM card at the frontline,” explained Nyi Thuta, a former captain the Burmese military who defected after the coup and now helps others to do the same. “Later, they were arrested while on their way to us.”

Following the Aung Ta Khon promotion, similar SIM cards were given to government officials and business leaders in the country, many of whom, including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, have since been detained by the military junta following the coup.

JFM is calling on Mytel to be sanctioned by the international community, saying that the company’s profits are being used by the military to commit crimes against humanity.

"Mytel is a product of the Myanmar military’s systemic corruption, supporting war criminals including Min Aung Hlaing and the illegal military junta that he is heading, with revenue, technology and intelligence,” said JFM spokesperson Yadanar Maung speaking to Radio Free Asia.

As a joint venture between the Burmese military and Viettel, controversies surrounding Mytel’s relationship to the military are nothing new.

Granted a telecoms licence in 2017, the company has since been embroiled in numerous scandals due to its links to the military, including having receiving preferential treatment by the government and launching nationalistic disinformation campaigns over social media.

Following the military coup d’état against the government in February 2021, Mytel has been boycotted by Burmese consumers, with the resulting campaign reportedly resulting in a loss of around $25 million in profits and two million subscribers in the two months following the overthrow.

Since then, the company has seen hundreds of its mobile towers sabotaged by resistance groups, with its leadership even being targeted for assassination. In November last year, Thein Aung, Mytel’s chief financial officer and a former navy officer, was shot dead outside his home in the capital of Yangon. It is currently unclear who was responsible for the attack.


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