As a teenager, Aung, 27, wanted to enlist in the Myanmar military until his family explained the horrors of the institution. Now, you’ve seen them firsthand.
“I hate them,” he says from an underground location in Yangon, where volunteer doctors practice getting gunshot wound victims out of harm’s way.
Days after the military seized power from an elected government on February 1, peaceful protesters gathered across the country in anticipation of a bloody slaughter at the hands of troops. Their fears came true, with police officers dancing as they killed unarmed civilians while their superiors in the military unleashed terror in the suburbs.
Security forces had killed at least 217 people as of Wednesday, according to the local monitoring group Association of Assistance for Political Prisoners (AAPP), including last week a middle-aged man who was killed on the street while picking up trash, and a 16-year-old boy. Elderly woman at a friend’s house who was shot by a sniper, according to local media.
Protesters say their calls for serious international intervention have fallen on deaf ears and warn that the fight for democracy has entered a darker phase. Black flags fly over makeshift barricades, signaling the protesters’ willingness to strike back, and calls are growing for a “people’s army” to protect civilians from Myanmar’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw.
Younger protesters are using YouTube to learn how to prepare and fire weapons, according to Aung.
“Yangon looks like a war zone, except only one side has weapons,” he says. “That is why we need an army. We will have to train and fight at the same time; we don’t have time. “
Hlaing, 30, has been encouraged by the Representation Committee of Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), Myanmar’s parallel civilian government, which has called the regime a “terrorist”, has called on civilians to defend themselves against the forces of security and has met with various ethnic armed groups in the country. On Thursday, a CRPH representative said the body was exploring ways to hold the military to account, including at the International Criminal Court.
At least two armed ethnic groups in Myanmar’s border areas are known to host striking politicians, activists, journalists and civil servants who have fled the regime.
“I would support the CRPH if it decided to form an army,” he says. “I would force my husband and my brother to join, but I have to take care of my son.”
Calls for a federal army are not limited to protesters in Yangon. A nationwide mobile internet shutdown has made communication difficult, but many of the people across the country who can access Wi-Fi speak on Facebook about the need to incorporate ethnic rebel groups into the broader movement against the Tatmadaw. Concealing their real names and profile photos, they urged the ousted elected officials to build an army that would ultimately end the army, which, dominated by the Bamar ethnic group, is often cited as the source of the country’s main problems.
A shield-shaped seal for the proposed federal army has circulated on social media, with 14 stars representing the states and regions of Myanmar and seven red lines symbolizing principles, including political fairness, ethics, and service to a government. civil.
Last Sunday, Hlaing watched from home as protesters fell under bullets from the junta from yards away.
“We couldn’t do anything about it,” he says. “Then at night they kidnap people. We no longer need this army or the police, but there will be a civil war to get rid of them ”.
Defeating the Tatmadaw would not be an easy feat: it is estimated to have 406,000 soldiers and outshines any of the country’s ethnic rebel groups it has fought with for decades.
But Zaw, a salesman whose only combat experience comes from weeks of dodging violent crackdowns on protests, says there is no choice but to fight for democracy “otherwise they will never give it to us.”
“We have lost hope that the UN or any kind of army will come to help us,” says the 29-year-old. “We should have a federal army that includes all ethnic people in our country. We are more and the soldiers would surrender. The people’s army will become the new Tatmadaw. “
David Mathieson, an independent analyst who specializes in Myanmar, said he had heard reports of people fleeing to border areas plagued by armed groups, leading to speculation that some were receiving weapons or training.
“It’s very difficult to get numbers and a lot of people are hiding, it’s a mix of people who fear arrest or who have been arrested, released and have decided not to stay,” he said.
“But [the militias] they are also overwhelmed by a military occupation, so they do not necessarily have the resources to arm, house or feed the growing number of people who flock there. “
Successful armed resistance would likely require the desertion of military or police units that brought their weapons, he added.
Ethnic minority groups had launched formidable insurgencies in the country over the past decades, but in this case, Mathieson said, “I think it’s too early to tell.”
Dr. Zaw Wai Soe, a CRPH member who heads three ministries, posted on Twitter Thursday that “a federal union will emerge alongside a federal army.”
After the brutal repression of the pro-democracy uprisings of 1988, many students fled to the jungles to receive training from ethnic rebels, but their hopes of overthrowing the Tatmadaw were crushed by betrayals, disease, and a shortage of supplies and equipment.
Protesters guarding a protest sit-in with homemade shields in a Yangon neighborhood were ready to attempt organized armed resistance once again. One protester said that all they had were Molotov cocktails and fireworks to defend themselves.
Moving awkwardly while wearing plastic armor while helping to build a wall of sandbags before the soldiers’ next attack, he said: “If the CRPH formed an army, I would join it.”
Some names have been changed
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism