Cracks Appear in the Myanmar Military

By The Irrawaddy 26 March 2022

Evil exists in Myanmar. The country’s generals have committed war crimes against their own citizens and are now preparing to hold an elaborate parade on Sunday for Armed Forces Day.

Thousands of soldiers will march in the parade in the capital Naypyitaw, and the military regime has spent the past weeks repeatedly asking the people of Myanmar to join in the ‘celebration’.

But most Myanmar citizens will watch the parade and curse the military for the atrocities it continues to commit across the country and the scorched earth tactics it employs, including indiscriminate killings, burning down villages and looting property.

If General Aung San, who founded the Myanmar military in the 1940s, was still alive what would he say about the institution he envisioned as an organization which would steer away from self-interest and politics?

He asked his young officers to be respectful and disciplined to gain support from the people. He told his officers once that they should ask permission if they wished to enter a home. So people loved the military and gave soldiers food. That was 77 years ago.

Today, the military enjoys the lowest-ever level of support from the people. And now it is increasingly suffering from internal splits and cracks are beginning to appear in what was once a rock-solid wall of green uniforms.

The irony is that as some soldiers prepare to march in Naypyitaw on Armed Forces Day, other officers and men have decided to march away and defect from the frontline in Karen State.

Since last year’s coup, thousands of officers and soldiers have left the military for various reasons. The recent defection of Lieutenant Colonel Myo Min Tun, a battalion commander, was a huge blow for the junta, as he is the highest-ranking officer to defect since the military takeover.

Lt-Col. Myo Min Tun left his troops on the frontline in Karen State in February. Other battalion commanders have also defected. Many more will follow if the opposition can offer incentives and sanctuary or asylum in other countries.

The number of military defectors continues to grow. Myanmar’s parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG) says almost 3,000 officers and men have defected since the coup.

They call themselves ‘watermelon’ soldiers, because they wear green army uniforms but their attachment to democracy and the red flag of the ousted National League for Democracy government means that they are red on the inside.

Now they are becoming people’s soldiers. There are an increasing number of watermelon soldiers who want to leave the once glorified armed forces. They are the ones who can provide an insight into the military and the business cronies who are the allies of the generals.

Faced with public anger and hatred, morale in the army is low. The soldiers also see the unfair treatment some of their comrades receive and are shocked by the corruption and scandals of the generals and their families. They also face social punishment and pressure from their families to leave.

Many defectors say they feel insecure staying in the military and are no longer proud to walk in public in uniform. They know that the military is at war with its own people.

Therefore, they decide to join the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in protest at the regime. At the same time, several watermelon officers and soldiers have set up online organizations to appeal to their comrades to join the CDM.

The news that Australia’s government is granting protection to military defectors has elicited interest even among senior officers, especially those who oppose military rule. In response, the junta has tightened its control over troops as it struggles to hold onto its men.

The NUG is also in the process of trying to persuade other governments to offer asylum to defectors. If there are suitable incentives such as guaranteeing security and lifelong insurance for defectors and their families, several more mid-ranking officers will leave the military.

But the NUG, as well as ethnic armed organizations, international aid organizations and western governments committed to assisting Myanmar to return to democracy, should consider more innovative policies to encourage soldiers to leave the armed forces.

Myanmar needs a military to safeguard the nation and protect the people, but it needs to be a different army to the one the country currently has.

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