YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar authorities will appoint 40,000 ordinary citizens as "special election police" ahead of November's polls to boost security at polling stations, an official said Friday (Sept 18), amid concerns over the exact role they will play.
The move comes as countries including the United States and Japan have expressed alarm that rising religious tensions could spark conflict in the former junta-ruled nation as election campaigning enters full swing.
"We will appoint more than 40,000 people as special election police for one month starting from mid-October'," a senior Naypyidaw-based police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
They will be unarmed and wield fewer powers than official police, he added, without elaborating on the extent of their remit other than "reinforcing" security and providing "early warnings" of any troubles brewing during the November 8 polls.
The special police will also receive around two weeks of training in basic policing and election procedures, the officer said, as Myanmar braces for what are billed as the country's fairest elections in generations after decades of army rule.
In an August report the Carter Center, a US-based rights group, had raised concerns about "the role of auxiliary police in securing polling stations".
And on Friday Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which is contesting a general election for the first time in 25 years, said it knew little about the plan.
"We do not know why they are doing this... We hope it's well-intentioned," NLD spokesman Nyan Win told AFP.
Earlier this week nine countries including the US, Japan and Britain expressed concerns in a joint statement about the use of religion as "a tool of division and conflict" during the campaign as sectarian tensions spike in the Buddhist-majority country.
Myanmar has seen sporadic outbursts of often deadly religious unrest since 2012, with minority Muslims facing increasing political exclusion as the influence of nationalist monks grows.
The special election police have been chosen by police officers and senior residents in townships across the country and will be paid the same monthly salary of around $140 as regular officers, the Naypyidaw-based official said.