Commentary

Myanmar in Revolt as People Choose to Fight the Brutal Regime

By Aung Zaw 1 February 2022

When Kyaw Kyaw decided to go to the jungle to join the fight against the military regime, his wife in her late 20s encouraged him to do so. They were married before the coup in February last year and Kyaw Kyaw, who is in his early 30s, worked as a photographer and reporter.

Today, he is a fighter and part of a People’s Defense Force (PDF) based in southeast Myanmar’s Karen State.

Kyaw Kyaw trained as a soldier last year with the Karen National Liberation Army’s (KNLA) Brigade 6. He bought a used AK47 rifle with money his wife had saved.

His wish to take the fight to the Myanmar military was fulfilled when ethnic Karen forces and PDFs clashed with junta troops in Lay Kay Kaw in Karen State’s Myawaddy Township.

Regime troops sustained heavy losses in the battle. Many young PDF members took part and ethnic Karen officers led the operation. Kyaw Kyaw was excited that he could finally use his AK47 in action.

Kyaw Kyaw said that one day he will go back to being a photographer, but for now he is learning about guerilla warfare. To support himself and his colleagues, he has also raised money online.

Despite missing his reporting job, Kyaw Kyaw said that the coup and the brutalities he has witnessed have changed his life. This is a moment in history and he believes “We will win.”

Aung Lay (not his real name) is a soft-spoken businessman in his early 40s. He has a stable business collecting and running dozens of vintage cars and motorcycles. But when anti-coup protests took place in his city, he helped the thousands of protesters.

He saw young boys killed on the streets as the army opened fire, and watched troops storm and loot houses and beat residents. His heart was broken.

Sitting at home with his family, Aung Lay said he was restless. “I could not sleep and could not eat,” he remembered.

(left) Aung Lay in the jungle in upper Myanmar with his GM6 Lynx 50 BMG sniper rifle. (Right) Aung Lay and his PDF colleagues with US-made sniper rifle they ordered online.

He felt ashamed that he couldn’t better help the young protesters.

“I asked myself what to do and then I made an important decision in my life. I decided to take up arms,” Aung Lay said slowly.

He spoke first to his wife who had just given birth. She did not oppose the idea.

After that, he travelled to territory in northern Myanmar controlled by the Kachin Independence Army to undertake military training.

From there, he travelled south where he underwent sniper and commando training with the KNLA. After months in Karen State, Aung Lay went to Sagaing Region to set up PDFs and buy weapons.

He spent US$10,000 of his own money to buy a GM6 Lynx 50 BMG sniper rifle. His friends said that he could have bought many automatic rifles with the money. But Aung Lay said that the powerful sniper rifle would enable him to support his troops better.

Since then, Aung Lay and his troops have had dozens of clashes with military regime forces. While his sniper rifle has proved exceptional, most of his fighters have improvised and traditional hunting weapons and make their own explosives. They patrol and move around on motorbikes.

“We ambush them and run,” said Aung Lay. However, when over 1,000 PDF members surrounded a village where regime forces were stationed, most were armed with traditional Tumee rifles, but they proved effective. The junta troops did not fight and left the village, but only after torching houses.

In his area alone there are several dozen PDFs fighting. They often coordinate with each other to launch joint operations. But Aung Lay noted that the PDFs will need to think of both military and political strategy.

Last year, after seeing regime troops burning a village and killing eleven villagers in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region, Htun Zaw (not his real name) from central Myanmar sold several acres of his land and donated the money to PDFs in his area. Some of Htun Zaw’s relatives are PDF members.

Villagers found the badly burned bodies of the 11 victims in a pile, some with their hands tied, leading many to assume that they were burned alive. The regime committed the atrocity. Htun Zaw, who is his early 60s, said he will never forget the sight.

Zaw Min was a student activist in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Afterwards, he fled to the Thai-Myanmar border. But his dream to fight the then junta never materialized.

Instead, he moved to a western country where he continued his studies, worked and raised a family. After the coup, he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and PDFs. Many celebrities, professionals and Myanmar citizens living in the West and elsewhere in Asia have also regularly donated money to the resistance movement.

Zaw Min also communicates with his friends and relatives in his hometown, where many clashes between regime troops and PDFs have occurred since last year.

Via Zoom and Signal, he provides regular tactical counsel to his friends and relatives who are PDF members and who recently stormed some police stations.

These four accounts are just some of the stories from post-coup Myanmar.

Since the military takeover, Myanmar has seen the emergence of the CDM, Generation Z at the heart of protests and the rise of the PDFs.

The emergence of the PDFs is the biggest surprise of the post-coup era. There were no such resistance forces during and after the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

The establishment of PDFs has demonstrated that the Myanmar people have taken their destiny into their own hands, after witnessing the junta’s brutality against its own people during and after protests.

PDF members undergo military training somewhere on the border in 2021.

More importantly, to sustain the fight the Myanmar diaspora is actively involved in fundraising and online donations. This is probably the first time in Myanmar’s political history that the diaspora has played a significant role in political campaigns and fundraising.

Across Myanmar, PDFs and ethnic resistance organizations from Kachin, Karen, Kayah and Chin States are collaborating. Many PDFs are made up of Bamar people and they are operating nationwide, including in Yangon and Mandalay. This is unprecedented in the country’s history.

Now, the volunteer PDF fighters are arming themselves with modern automatic weapons. They are becoming more sophisticated at targeting regime forces and causing causalities. They have established their own administrations in Kayah and Chin State and Sagaing Region.

The military regime has been unable to consolidate control of the country. People continue to resist to make sure it cannot govern. The irony is that the coup has united the country against the military.

To contain the rising armed insurrection and uprising, the regime is employing extreme violence. To counter such brutality, many in Myanmar believe the only language the junta understands is force.

Myanmar’s armed rebellion is going to continue and will gain further momentum – sadly, instability and chaos will continue across the country. Already, Myanmar is seeing hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people fleeing the conflict zones.

No one knows how it is going to end. So far, no one is winning this fight. Instead, it seems inevitable that the confrontation will be a long and increasingly violent one.


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