It has been seven months since he went into the jungle in a border area to undergo military training and take up arms against the junta, leaving his comfortable life in his favorite city, Yangon, behind.
In his former life in the city, 26-year-old Soe Win Naing, who worked as a seaman, was a fun guy with a good income, an outgoing person dressed in high-end brands and sporting the latest high-tech gadgets. He was also a rising micro-influencer with thousands of followers on his Facebook account enjoying his regular fun posts and prank vlogs.
“Sometimes, I really miss my home and my bed. I miss sleeping peacefully like in the old days,” he said.
However, he said he has no regrets about the path he has chosen.
In the days following the coup, his anti-regime activities were limited to taking part in street protests, banging on pots and donating free meals to protesters. But after the military started cracking down on the peaceful demonstrations in mid-February, he was among those members of the defense teams who stood at the front of the columns to defend their fellow protesters in Yangon. They built barricades to protect protesters and neighborhoods from military incursions, and threw smoke bombs and Molotov cocktails when the protesters needed to escape.
As the junta’s crackdowns on unarmed civilians turned worse day by day, and with arrests of protesters escalating, he decided to take up arms.
“I decided to join an armed force as I can’t let them get me. I still want to fight back against them,” he said.
Many young people have joined the armed struggle to overthrow the military junta after peaceful protest columns were hit by live bullets and grenades and many of their comrades were shot dead. As of Thursday, at least 1,466 people including children, students, politician, protesters and bystanders had been killed by regime forces and more than 11,500 people arrested.
Now abroad, Soe Win Naing’s family at first worried about him joining the armed struggle but didn’t try to stop him, as they knew they couldn’t. Soe Win Naing’s father is himself a former political prisoner, having been jailed for his activities opposing the former military regime. His mom has already passed away.
At first, when he joined the armed force, there were some who didn’t believe him or challenged his commitment, saying he was joining the group to get attention. He received comments to the effect that a rich young man such as him wouldn’t survive in the jungle, Soe Win Naing said.
“They’re right about me. I’m a guy who loved to hang out with friends and went to fancy restaurants, bars, wearing brandnames and focused on making more money. But they could never have guessed that I could have fun in military boots—not in a million years,” he said.
When such comments got him down, he got through it by focusing more on his training, he said.
The training days in the jungle were hard and rough without good meals or proper shelter. Sometimes he needed to move between the mountains and slept under the trees on rainy nights out in the open.
But now as a member of the People’s Defense Force he said he has adapted to the jungle life. His group is currently among those engaged in intense fighting with junta forces together with the Karen National Union, one of the ethnic armed groups that have provided military training to youth resisting the regime.
Due to his experience and influence on social media, he was tasked with fundraising for the groups, as their budget is very limited. Within a month, he raised 140 million kyats (nearly US$80,000) for his own camp. Later, he shared it with other PDF camps nearby.
Currently, his duty is to support the front-line members who are engaged in fighting.
“We have to prepare and deliver food and bullets and collect arms and ammunition from the enemy. And we have to bring back the dead bodies of our soldiers who get shot during the firefights. Those are my duties now,” he said.
The revolution against the junta remains strong, from persistent street protests to armed resistance, posing the biggest challenge to the regime, which has yet to fully control the country nearly a year after its takeover.
“We only need more weapons. I hope the NUG [the parallel National Unity Government] can supply more weapons to every PDF, because we’re all waiting for them. If we can get enough weapons, we will prevail. I don’t know when exactly, but we are almost there,” said Soe Win Naing.
He asked the public to do anything they can for the revolution and support the resistance groups until the end.
“Most of the people from cities, some travel, some are going out and having fun; that’s OK but please continue to support the revolution too. It’s important. We all need to do our part, so that we can win this battle in the very near future,” he urged.
For his part, he said, “I will never quit. Alive or dead, I will fight till the end to win the battle.”
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