In the armed revolution that followed the 2021 military coup, resistance groups emerged with many collectively known as the People’s Defense Force (PDF). They have won the trust and respect of the people and armed themselves with public support.
Resistance groups under the command of the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) are committing violence against civilians in some areas, drawing criticism.
Deputy secretary of the NUG’s Ministry of Defense, U Maung Maung Swe, recently talked to The Irrawaddy about how the ministry is handling those incidents.
We heard the defense ministry has formed a complaint committee to investigate and administer justice regarding violence and war crimes during the revolution. How many complaints has it received?
We have received over 140 complaints. We have dealt with 10 cases and they have been closed. We have recorded 12 cases because we have lost contact with either the complainants or the accused or the complainants have withdrawn the complaint.
Lately, civilians complain that they are afraid of the PDFs too. There have been some reported cases of PDFs bullying civilians. What are the most complaints about?
Some of the complaints relate to disputes between Pa Ka Pha (people’s defense teams linked to the NUG) and people’s administration units. Some complaints are about personnel from people’s administrations overstepping their authority.
While we are staging a revolution, we are also working to run the parallel administrations systematically. Most of the complaints are filed by the people, which shows they trust us and our administrative system enables them to file complaints without fear.
We make sure people have the right to speak freely and they have spoken out in meetings with us.
There have been reports of Pa Ka Pha groups committing crimes against civilians in war zones. A village Pa La Pha [police] group killed seven young people in Chaung-U Township, Sagaing Region, and eight Pa La Pha members raped a woman in Saw Township, Magwe Region. What action has the ministry taken?
There are several revolutionary organizations on the ground, including PDF battalions, Pa Ka Pha [defense teams], Pa La Pha [police] and people’s administrations. But when something bad happens, people usually jump on the Pa Ka Pha. I am sorry to see that. But again, whether it is Pa Kha Pha or Pa La Pha, it is part of our administration and we have a responsibility to address complaints about them.
As there are many organizations on the ground, we are preparing to provide uniforms and badges to the Pa Ka Pha so people will not confuse them with other organizations.
Doing so will help organize the administrative mechanism. So if something happens, people will know which organization is responsible.
The complaints committee is not the decision-making body. We handle complaints by examining evidence and questioning people. If the accused is working at an organization overseen by our ministry, we submit a report to the ministry first.
The ministry makes the initial punishment by suspending the suspect from duty or dismissing or arresting them.
Action was carried out against a person lately and is pending for another accused. After that, we form tribunals to administer punishment whether the accused belongs to a PDF or Pa Ka Pha.
Some people staged a protest against the chairman of a district Pa Ka Pha in Gangaw Township, Magwe Region, earlier this month. Some revolutionary organizations have urged the NUG to visit and listen to the people. What is your response?
We have been implementing that suggestion. Either the NUG or defense ministry is set up on the participation and input of each individual.
This is why the revolution has reached this stage. Our main strength is the people. We continuously engage with the people and seek their advice.
But the situation makes it difficult to listen to each individual, either in person or online.
All the ministry’s personnel are on the ground. However, the fighting creates many restrictions on meeting the people.
There are levels of township, district and regional organizations. We are designing plans to work in collaboration with them.
Regarding the Gangaw case, we don’t accept the principle about one person taking three roles in the administration. We are working to fix it.
We heard that in some regions, revolutionary groups seized villagers’ possessions. What actions are being taken to stop this?
Armed groups must follow our code of conduct. We have taught them about the rules of engagement and how to engage with the public during military training. They must also follow the chain of command.
As there are various organizations, some do not properly follow the rules, which sometimes results in misunderstanding.
Lately, we are systematically regulating the resistance groups to make sure they follow the code of conduct. We are planning to give them close supervision on a wider scale.
At the same time, we are taking harsh action against violators. Our minister has told resistance fighters to give top priority to protecting the people.
It is complicated by the conflict.
There are cases in which resistance groups wrongly seize property. We investigate complaints immediately and try to address concerns.
Sometimes regime informants and sympathizers are the victims. And they complain, pretending to be normal civilians.
During a revolution, decisive action must be taken when confronting the enemy.
We have instructed resistance forces to give precedence to the people and make sure they are not harmed.