What started as a largely bloodless attempt by the Tatmadaw (military) to take the reins of power in the nation, on its “correct” path, due to alleged voting fraud committed by the winning National League for Democracy (NLD), quickly erupted into a bloodbath over the span of just five months.
In the early days, people who were on the streets to show opposition to the coup were hopeful, until the killing began.
There will be many unaccounted for
The non-governmental organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has documented and compiled data,to the best of their abilities and, as of June 20th, 872 people have been confirmed killed by security forces. There are a total of 5,033 who remain detained, out of the 6,219 total arrests. 1,950 more people are on the run with warrants issued for their arrests.
“This is only to the extent that we can confirm. Same as past uprisings in Myanmar’s history, many deaths will go unaccounted for. Rural places, like Demaso for example, are seeing many reports of unidentifiable bodies of people who had been tied up and executed, mutilated beyond recognition and incinerated. It will be some time before everyone can be accounted for, but the actual number may well be higher,” said a person related to the AAPP.
Young men go to war
As the Tatmadaw ramped up its campaign of oppression across the country, many groups emerged in defiance.
Groups, such as the People’s Defence Force, a temporary,holdover armed organization, set up by the National Unity Government (NUG), had taken up arms, alongside existing ethnic armed forces, who had either stopped, resumed or escalated battles against the military.
Protests and anti-coup movements remain, but are now a shell of their former selves as they were several months ago, when mass protest rallies were commonplace.
“I remember the early days, during February and March. It was afeeling of trepidation, but there was also hope. People were wishful that the international community would do something. People were hopeful that, at the very least, the coup would be carried out without much bloodshed, but then the killings began,” recounted Mr. “A”, at a roadside cafe on the highway leading out of Yangon.
“After a while, my friends and I knew that we had to prepare to fight. I cannot say for sure how many of us left to seek training or to join the various ethnic freedom fighter groups but, for our group, it was around 200 people. Some didn’t want to fight, but knew that, if they stayed, they would eventually be arrested,” said “A”, surrounded by four other young men.
Despite the risk, he claims he has returned to Yangon at least twice now and security gets stricter every time.
“I had some personal business that needed to be taken care of, so I came back despite the risk… I did what I came back to do and brought back brothers, who I have trusted and relied on since before all this.”
When pressed for more details, Mr. “A” divulged information that is sensitive in nature. For now, he and the group will be trekking to the Bago Mountain range. According to Mr. “A”, however, the routes leading there are being watched, so they need to use more time-consuming routes, with which only local ethnic minorities are familiar. It will take them days to get there.
He entered Yangon, under the guise of a business trip, and the four new recruits, including himself, were employees of a logistics company, which actually exists, but their other documents have been forged.
“It will be tough, but it is nothing compared to what our comrades are facing in other places. Some of us had left to reinforce those areas, but many seniors stayed behind to train the new recruits… Maybe, if you want to risk it, you could follow us and document our fight for freedom. For now, you should turn back though,” said “A”.
June 17 – Local media in Mandalay reported that the Voice of Myanmar’s chief editor Nay Myo Lin and reporter Shine Aung have been released from Mandalay’s Ohbo Prison. They are in good health and are now with their families. (Round-up of the latest events in Myanmar by Thai PBS World correspondent David Tun.)
Out of the group of four, two were friends of Mr. “A”, their trusted connection to the armed rebellion and who will be trained by a group of ethnic armed forces.
Ever since the violence escalated and a shadow government was formed, several ethnic armed groups have provided both direct and indirect support to the newly-minted militants, by providing some weapons and well as military training, especially on how to conduct guerilla operations.
When pressed on whether his return to Yangon had any connection to the recent wave of assassinations and explosions, he says “I’m not at liberty to discuss any of it. It is for the better that you don’t know but, just so you are aware, the military will not bat an eye sacrificing a few of their soldiers, so that they can spin narratives to obfuscate the truth. They are very good at that. They have been doing that for decades, to divide and conquer the people.”
The doctor and the artist
One of the group is Mr. “B”, who had just graduated with a medical degree before “the chaos” in the country erupted. As in many countries around the world, medical personnel are on the front line in the fight against COVID-19.
“Those of us from the healthcare sector worked tirelessly to ensure that the already failing system did not collapse. I’d like to think we did the best we could. Now, however, everything that we sacrificed so much for is out of the window. My seniors and my mentors have been arrested, jailed or are on the run for peacefully opposing the coup. The military imprisoned, tortured and killed academics, professionals and many other innocent civilians.”
Dr. “B” said that people are no longer afraid of COVID-19, “It took monumental effort to maintain cooperation from the public,to observe COVID-19 guidelines and rules but now, it is being used as a tool by the junta.”
Citing his colleagues in the public healthcare sector, “B” said that, in some areas, the number of new cases are being distorted.
“The junta wants to appear as if they have it under control in major cities, because they want the economy to start running again. While, in rural areas, where there is strong opposition tothem, the junta wants the pandemic to appear more severe than it actually is. Such acts are not only morally corrupt, but will be more devastating in the long run,” said “B”.
When asked why he is willing to undergo training to be a militant, he says he will be a combat medic, “as a doctor, I never thought of having to undertake military training to continue practicing medicine, but I believe have made the right decision”.
Deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday thanked her supporters for defying the junta to celebrate her 76th birthday with flower protests, as her trial on a raft of criminal charges resumed. A mass uprising in Myanmar against a February military putsch has been met with a brutal crackdown that has killed more than 870 civilians, according to a local monitoring group.
The other 3 are an artist, a digital designer and a corporate sales person. All of them have lost friends and relatives, either during mass rallies or they were arrested and killed.
Before they continue their journey, Mr. “A” said that it could very well be the last time they are able to return to Yangon.
“All these stories. Not all of them get the attention they deserve,because there simply are too many horrible acts committed by the junta, but it is even more horrifying to just realize that the ethnic minorities have been suffering from this for decades. Only when it happens to us, to communities in urban areas and to the majority Bamar ethnicity, do we sympathize with them. It is not just about the NLD or the NUG anymore. Even if they are gone, the fight will go on for freedom and truth.”