War Against the Junta

Myanmar Resistance Mounts Daring Spy Mission in Magwe Region

By Hein Htoo Zan 22 February 2023

When Myanmar’s military regime formed and armed Pyu Saw Htee militias to combat the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), Magwe Region’s Pakokku District swiftly became a stronghold of the pro-regime groups.

Late last year, two young resistance fighters carried out a dangerous spying mission on a notorious Pyu Saw Htee group in Pakokku District, which is made up of eight townships.

In October 2022, PDF fighters Ko Khaing Zaw Win, 23, and Ko Phoe Chit, 19, decided to spy on the biggest Pyu Saw Htee militia in Pakokku District by signing up as new recruits.

Ko Khaing Zaw Win (left) and Ko Phoe Chit (second left) giving the weapons they seized from Myokhintha to Myaing PDF after their spy mission. (Photo: Supplied)

The militia, which is named Myokhintha, consisted of around 60 Pyu Saw Htee members. The two young men, who are childhood friends and Pakokku natives, witnessed the group terrorizing residents of villages targeted by the junta forces, stealing from or destroying properties, physically and verbally abusing women and girls, and extorting money.

Myokhintha is led by U San Thaw, a hardcore member of the Myanmar military’s proxy Union and Solidarity Development Party (USDP) who is in his late 40s. Usually, the militia works alongside the military’s infantry Battalions 254 and 259.

When Ko Khaing Zaw Win and Ko Phoe Chit joined the group they had to be extra careful not to call the group by the name ‘Pyu’, which is used by regime opponents. Instead, they had to refer to the militia as ‘Pyithu Sit’, or the people’s militia, the term used by regime supporters to make it sound like the militias are defending civilians.

“As we were already rebelling against the dictatorship, we were not afraid of them [the militia],” Ko Phoe Chit told The Irrawaddy.

Ko Phoe Chit had already spent several months fighting against junta troops on the border between Sagaing Region and Chin State.

Ko Khaing Zaw Win had also been involved in several operations against the Myanmar military, taking part in missions in Magwe to seize military and police outposts. He trained with the Kachin Independence Army, as well as training as a commando.

When they joined the Pyu Saw Htee, they assumed they would be given basic military training. But they discovered that most new pro-regime militia recruits don’t receive any training. After two weeks, they were provided with weapons.

As PDF members who wanted to spy on the group, the pair sought to avoid having to fight the resistance. However, they did have to accompany junta military columns on two occasions during their month-long stay with the Myokhintha group.

“We told them in advance that we are still not yet ready to join. When we said that, the Myokhintha leaders told us that when we raided a village, we could take whatever we wanted, especially from the houses of the Red [a term for members or supporters of the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD)],” said Ko Phoe Chit.

The men witnessed Pyu Saw Htee members and regime troops torturing detained PDF fighters and NLD supporters. In their one month with the group, Myokhintha detained at least eight PDF fighters.

They also saw Pyu Saw Htee members arresting civilians and accusing them of being PDF fighters, and extorting money from their families in return for their release.

Although the pair couldn’t release detainees, they were able to give them food and medicine secretly.

Above all, they were able to provide the resistance with operational details and plans of the junta forces and Pyu Saw Htee groups operating in the district.

While spying on Myokhintha, they learned of another Pyu Saw Htee militia in Pakokku, also led by a USDP member, whose members committed rapes and sexual violence against women and children, said Ko Khaing Zaw Win.

“The Tingat Pyu Saw Htee militia led by U Myint Kyi has been committing sexual violence. While we were spying on Myokhintha, a member of Tingat raped a 14-year-old girl from a family of garbage collectors right in front of her parents,” said Ko Khaing Zaw Win.

The case has not been reported in any media, as it was only known to the Pyu Saw Htee groups, he added.

In April 2022, a 52-year-old farmer and his 14-year-old daughter from Gangaw Township in Pakokku District were arrested by junta soldiers and Pyu Saw Htee militia. The daughter was raped, before she and her father were killed. Their bodies were burned, according to local media reports.

At least four villages in Pakokku District, including Kan Taw and its neighbors, were torched by regime troops and Pyu Saw Htee members while Ko Phoe Chit and Ko Khaing Zaw Win were with the Myokhintha group.

During operations, members of two or more Pyu Saw Htee groups normally accompanied columns of around 50 junta soldiers.

However, the Pyu Saw Htee members always had to march at the front of the column.

Seeing that, Ko Phoe Chit and Ko Khaing Zaw Win realized that the military was using the Pyu Saw Htee as human shields. Despite the fact that the militias are armed, most of their members have not received any proper military training.

Pyu Saw Htee groups use different methods to recruit people. Sometimes, USDP members or ordinary members are given incentives to join. Criminals freed in regime amnesties are also targeted. Sometimes, villagers are simply forced to join the militias.

Bo Letyar, leader of Myaing PDF in Pakokku District, said that there are many Pyu Saw Htee members who want to leave, but who are forced to stay or risk losing their lives.

Members of Myaing Underground Defense Force (MUGDF). (Photo: Supplied)

“I want to call on all Pyu Saw Htee members to leave and join hands with us and stand with the people bravely. I know that some of them have been forcibly recruited. However, we cannot avoid fighting them,” said Bo Letyar.

After a month with Myokhintha, Ko Phoe Chit and Ko Khaing Zaw Win decided to leave the group before their spying mission was discovered.

On November 22, while 15 Myokhintha members were in a camp on a hill between Kan Hla and Tin Gat villages along with a Myanmar military captain, sergeant and two other soldiers, the pair said that it was Ko Khaing Zaw Win’s birthday and that Ko Phoe Chit was treating them all to dinner in celebration.

A couple of days before, Ko Phoe Chit had bought 40 sleeping pills and had ground them up. He put the powder in fried rice and served it to the militia and soldiers.

The pair had planned to kill the soldiers and militia, but two of the junta forces didn’t fall asleep, so they changed their plan and slipped out of the camp at 10.30pm, taking two assault rifles, a carbine and ammunition with them.

Myaing PDF leader Bo Letyar said that resistance groups in Pakokku District had learned much from the two men’s spying mission.

“We learned their [junta forces] operational plans and movements, so we can avoid their columns if we don’t want to confront them, or launch better-prepared attacks,” he noted.

Ko Phoe Chit and Ko Khaing Zaw Win are now at the frontline in Yaw Region, which is part of Pakokku District, working on joint operations with the Yaw Defense Force and continuing to fight for the revolution.

Ko Khaing Zaw Win said that since the spying mission he is even more determined that the revolution succeeds, so that democracy and liberty can be restored to the people.

“As we spied on them we witnessed the atrocities committed by the junta upon the people, and it made me more determined to keep fighting to win the revolution,” he said.