Over two dozen enquiries about defecting from the Myanmar military were made within a week of Myanmar’s shadow government offering huge cash incentives to the regime’s troops to defect with a military plane, navy vessel, tank or armored personnel carrier.
The civilian National Unity Government (NUG) said that between 20 to 30 enquiries were made to People’s Embrace, a Facebook page set up to help the junta’s soldiers and police to defect. However, the NUG didn’t specify whether the enquiries came from pilots, sailors or army personnel.
“That’s the number [of people] who have just contacted People’s Embrace. There are also others who have directly contacted some NUG ministers and others close to the NUG,” said U Nay Phone Lat, a member of the shadow government‘s media team, on Saturday during a press conference held on the first anniversary of the NUG’s formation.
When asked if the NUG has prepared airfields for pilots fleeing with planes, he said the NUG could not reveal that sort of information.
People’s Embrace declined to confirm whether those who contacted them were pilots or other personnel due to possible repercussions for those planning to defect.
“We are thoroughly reviewing the requests to see if they are genuine or not. It’s likely that there will be some defections soon,” he added.
On April 7, in an unprecedented move to encourage more defections as well as to protect civilians from junta airstrikes, the NUG offered huge cash incentives of up to half a million United States dollars to military regime pilots and sailors who have been fighting their compatriots since last year’s coup.
The NUG said it will pay US$500,000 to airmen or sailors who defect from their units with a military airplane or navy vessel.
A US$300,000 per vehicle reward will go to anyone who causes serious damage to a parked jet fighter, military helicopter, logistics plane or warship, or to anyone who is able to destroy one while it is being used in a military mission.
Among the other incentives is a US$100,000 reward for anyone who can sabotage a jet fuel storage tank, blow up a regime armor or weapons factory, or defect with a tank or armored personnel carrier.
The Myanmar military has responded to popular resistance against its rule with airstrikes and artillery and tank attacks in many part of the country. Since its coup against the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government in February 2021, the junta has faced ever-growing resistance across the country.
Elected lawmakers from the NLD and their ethnic allies set up the NUG in April 2021 to challenge the military regime’s legitimacy. Many Myanmar people regard the NUG as their legitimate government and many Western countries have shown support for it, although they have stopped short of offering official recognition.
The NUG’s monetary offer comes at a time when the regime is struggling with a growing number of defectors, as soldiers face popular hatred for their brutal suppression of the anti-regime movement.
Nearly 3,000 soldiers have defected from the Myanmar military since the coup including some battalion commanders, the highest rank among those to defect so far. Making matter worse for the military, Australia has agreed to accept army defectors.
Since last year, the NUG has been trying to build trust with Myanmar’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to fight together against the junta. Established EAOs such as the Kachin Independence Army and the Karen National Liberation Army have openly engaged with the NUG by fighting alongside the NUG’s armed wing, the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), against junta troops. Other EAOs support the NUG unofficially, said the NUG’s media team.
During Saturday’s press conference, the NUG, which is largely reliant on donations from the public, said that they have spent more than half their funding on the PDFs and have been able to arm them to some extent, “but they are still in need.”
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