Despite Sacrifices, a Twin Brother’s Anti-regime Mission Stays Alive in Myanmar

By Khin Nadi 21 January 2022

Six months after Ko Ko Aung Htet Naing’s twin brother was shot dead by junta forces while peacefully protesting, the 23-year-old found himself separated from his mother as well.

Regime troops came to arrest Ko Ko Aung Htet Naing at his home in Yangon on September 1 last year. When they couldn’t find him, they took his mother as a hostage, a notorious tactic increasingly used by the junta to try and get wanted activists to turn themselves in. She was only released after being held for ten days.

Ko Ko Aung Htet Naing said that he was on the junta’s wanted list because of the widespread domestic and international attention that followed the death of his younger twin, Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing. He believes that the interest and sympathy that people showed in him led to the military regime trying to arrest him, so that he didn’t become involved with the anti-regime movement.

But Ko Ko Aung Htet Naing escaped arrest and fled to a liberated area of Myanmar to continue taking part in the revolution against military rule in which his twin brother, who was known as Nyi Nyi, sacrificed his life.

The twins joined in a peaceful anti-coup protest against the junta in Yangon in February.

Before the Myanmar military’s coup shattered the life of Ko Ko Aung Htet Naing’s family, he and his brother had recently graduated from college, started working and were supporting their parents. Both brothers had ambitions to study abroad together, with Ko Ko Aung Htet Naing planning to be an architect and Nyi Nyi yet to decide what he wanted to specialize in.

After the junta’s February 1 coup last year, the twins took part in the peaceful anti-coup protests against the military takeover that overthrew the elected National League for Democracy government that they had both voted for. The 2020 election was the first that they had been old enough to vote in.

On February 28, 2021, the twins left home together to join an anti-coup demonstration at Hledan Junction, Yangon, a regular gathering point for protesters. Soon after the protest began, junta forces opened fire on the peaceful protesters and Nyi Nyi was one of those hit.

The 23-year-old network engineer was shot in the stomach and subsequently died, becoming one of the at least 1,488 people killed by the junta since the coup. Most of those who have died were young people.

Ko Ko Aung Htet Naing said that far from stopping him from taking part in the revolution against the regime, Nyi Nyi’s death instead drove him to devote his life to the ending of military rule.

“I didn’t become someone who takes up arms, but I try to be a supportive hand to the revolution,” said Ko Ko. He helps fund People’s Defense Force (PDF) resistance groups and the internally displaced people (IDP) who have fled the fighting with regime forces in their areas. In December alone, he raised over 17 million kyats for PDFs and IDPs.

In this interview with The Irrawaddy, the 23-year-old protester shares his views and hopes on the revolution.

Thousands of people mourned at Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing’s funeral, after he was shot dead while peacefully protesting.

What is your wish for 2022?

For 2022, I wish to see the victory of the revolution. I want to return home. Most young people who have had to leave their homes have the same wish. There are families waiting for us. Loved ones, friends and siblings have been separated for a long time. I hope that the time comes soon when families can reunite. To achieve that quickly, we require the help, strength and support of our people.

Are you happy that so many people are participating in the revolution?

I am pleased with the participation of people. It invigorates me. We are all walking the same path for the truth with the same determination that no matter what we will never accept military rule. But one thing we need to be cautious of are divisive words, incitement and misinformation intentionally spread to deviate us from our path of unity. I totally believe that we will win. And with that belief, l will be continuing on this path until the end. I would also like to urge people to continue to support the revolution through reliable sources.

Ko Ko and Nyi Nyi seen in undated photos.

How do you see the progress of the revolution? Have there been more successes than losses?

There have been sacrifices, but I also see that we have had success to a great extent. Nearly one year after the coup and the regime is unable to control the country thanks to the strength of the people. In every city, they can do nothing without their weapons. For those who have sacrificed their lives in the revolution, it is our responsibility to not let them die in vain and to continue to strive to reach our goal.

What would Nyi Nyi say about what you are doing?

I wish that he could be proud of his brother, if only he could know that I am still involved in the revolution. I am sure, if we two were still together, we would both be doing all we can for the revolution, like others are doing. I want Nyi lay [my brother] to know that his older brother won’t let his sacrifice be for nothing.

Nyi Nyi’s cat, Phyu Lay, pictured sleeping in front of his photo.

Why are young people like you and Nyi Nyi at the center of the protest movement?

The fact that most young people are involved in this revolution is because all of us have dreams. Just like we used to shout at the protests last year: “We are youths and we have a future”. We can never accept that our hopes and dreams have been ruined by the regime’s madness for power. We own our dreams and our lives. We will take back what we deserve and continue to stand for the truth. I believe young people are taking part in the revolution with that in mind.

Can you tell us about the cat which went viral after it was photographed sleeping in front of Nyi Nyi’s photo?

It is Nyi Nyi’s cat called Phyu Lay. Nyi Nyi always took the cat to his bed at night. There are other cats in the house. But he loved that white cat the most. When Nyi Nyi was gone, the cat slept in front of his photo. Many photos of the cat are still on his phone. The cat is still alive.

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