“Our only option.” Myanmar civilians take up arms for democracy | Conflict news

In the weeks following the February 1 military coup, Andrew joined millions across Myanmar in a peaceful demonstration to restore civilian power.

Less than two months later, the 27-year-old was preparing to kill soldiers with a wooden shotgun in the jungles of his home state of Kayah on Myanmar’s border with Thailand.

“Before the coup, I could not even kill an animal,” said Andrew, who generally preferred to remain anonymous with other resistance fighters interviewed by Al Resistance Azira. “When I saw the military killing civilians, I was really sad … I thought I was fighting for the evil military dictators of the people.”

Andrew is one of a growing number of civilians across the country, many of them young men who took up arms to bring down the military who killed more than 860 people, mostly in counter-coup protests, arresting more than 6,000, using tactics including torture and enforced disappearances. as he seized power in the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Members of the Chinese Defense Forces (CDF) militant group check weapons on Myanmar army vehicle after they set up a column in the western Chinese province of Myanmar [File: Chin World via AFP]

Some fighters have joined ethnic militant groups in the country’s border areas, where ethnic minorities have fought for decades for Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadawa, for self-determination. Others, like Andrew, joined one of several dozen civil defense forces that began in cities and towns in late March.

But while ethnic militias have had years of resources and capabilities to develop capabilities, the Civil Defense Forces are largely armed with one-shot shotguns and other homemade weapons, and many fighters have only been trained for weeks.

Faced with a militant with more than $ 2 billion in weapons and 70 years of experience in cracking down on civilians, the new revolutionaries told Al Azira Azira that they were ready to try, because they believed that armed resistance was the only way to fail. mode:

“We have held nationwide protests to launch a civil disobedience movement against the military in the hope of restoring civilian democracy, but these methods alone have not worked,” said Neyno, a former university professor who now leads the civil resistance political movement. The group is based in the Saghai prefecture in China. “We have done everything, taking up arms remains to win it,” he added.

Salai Wakok, 23, a community development worker who also became a resistance fighter in China, also started collecting shotguns in his hometown of Mindat. In mid-February, Tatmadav began firing on protesters.

“We hoped that people outside the country would fight for us, but it never happened,” he said.

“I never thought I would carry a weapon in my life, but I quickly changed my mind about learning about the killing of unarmed, innocent civilians all over the country, especially in the lowlands. I could not keep silent. In order to take revenge on the fallen heroes, to show my solidarity, I decided to take up arms. “

Tatmadav responded to the armed resistance relentless air and ground attacks Assisting the civilian population with food, supplies, and supplies due to the patterns of violence he has long practiced in ethnic areas. Almost 230,000 people have fled their homes since the coup. many are hiding in the jungle.

In Qayah, Shan province, where civilian militants joined local ethnic groups in a 10-day resistance in late May, during which they claimed to have killed more than 120 regime forces, Tatmadaw shot dead a humanitarian aid worker. He shot the volunteers in the displaced cities, who were returning to the city to get rice. On May 24, regime forces opened fire on a Catholic church where more than 300 people were taking refuge, killing four of them.

On June 9, a The UN expert warned In “Kayah” about “mass deaths from starvation, disease and impact” after Tatmadaw cut off access to food, water and medicine for more than 100,000 displaced civilians.

The town of Mindat in Salah Wakok also faces a growing humanitarian emergency after Tatmadaw responded to civilian resistance in mid-May by launching attacks on settlements, blocking food and water supplies to displaced people. It is accused of arresting civilians and using them as human shields to deter resistance fighters.

Civilian resistance fighters clash with horrific militants accused of “crimes against humanity” during the brutal attacks on Rohingya in 2017 [File: Stringer/EPA]

He said the attacks had strengthened his resolve to continue fighting, but he was unable to do so because he could not do so after being wounded by artillery fire in last month’s offensive. “Once I recovered, I resolutely decided to continue the fight, no matter what, until the regime falls,” he told Al Jazeera.

Guerrilla tactics

Urban resistance also seems to be growing, mainly as a result of young people joining underground networks after attending short training camps with ethnic armed groups in the jungle. Upon their return to the cities, they adopt guerrilla tactics, including bombings, arsons, and targeted killings, including those suspected of being informants or members of the military.

Frontier Myanmar reports that there are at least 10 insurgent cells in Myanmar’s main cities, while Free Asia has counted more than 300 bombings since the coup, mostly targeting police’s administrative offices.

«[The Tatmadaw] They oppress us with weapons. Shall we come or should we counterattack? “If we resist with just a three-finger salute, we will never get what we want,” said Gu Gu, a 29-year-old medical doctor and member of the Yangon Underground Resistance. “We are not armed with elections. “It’s because we could not get what we wanted by asking peacefully.”

But he said he lived in constant fear of the informants. “We have to live in secret in urban areas, otherwise we can be killed … we can not sleep peacefully,” Gu Gu said.

Another concern of the resistance fighters is their families. At least 76 people have been detained since the coup when security forces were unable to find the man they wanted to arrest, according to the Human Rights Documentation Group.

“I told my parents that if the military were looking for me, they would try to persuade me not to take up arms, but I would not listen,” said Salai Wakok. He cut ties with his family after joining the resistance, but heard that they were thousands of people displaced by Maidan clashes and now hiding in the jungle.

During the April protests, protesters in Mandalay were armed with homemade weapons. More protesters join rebel forces as they see it as the only way to restore democracy [File: Stringer/EPA]

The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) Electoral Committee, which was ousted as a result of the coup, announced its support for civil rights on March 14 and the CRPH-appointed National Unity Government (NUG) on May 5. announced the establishment National-level Defense People’s Defense Forces, the predecessor of the Federal Army, which will unite the country’s ethnic armed groups և civil defense forces under central command. At the moment, however, most groups operate on their own or in smaller alliances.

NUG Deputy Interior Minister Hu Te Bun told Al Jazeera he expected the fighting to worsen across the country in the coming weeks and months, but feared that the civil defense forces were out of action and lacked training. to win.

“They use hand-made weapons, but they can not protect the people against the military, who have been trained for so many years,” he said.

On May 26, NUG announced a code of conduct. Addressing all armed resistance groups, it said that fighters should avoid harming civilians and minimize collateral damage.

Xu Te Bo says he hopes resistance groups can unite against common enemy; to settle prisoners. of war

Some protesters underwent initial training with ethnic militant groups years later in the fight against Tatmadawa. [File: Kantarawaddy Times via AFP]

«[Resistance groups] “It simply cannot violate international rules because the military does not follow them,” he said. “They have to respond systematically to the enemies to protect human rights.”

With a shortage of weapons and resources, civilian fighters say they hope the NUG can provide both human and material support in the near future. “If they really want to help us, they can send fighter jets or provide us with modern weapons, or at least they can support us with food and goods,” said Salai Wakok.

As violence continues, deaths and deportations rise, resistance fighters also hope Myanmar will not fade from the world’s attention.

“Myanmar is like a slaughterhouse now. “People are being killed like animals every day,” he said.

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