Conflicts & War

‘No peaceful protests anymore:’ Myanmar youth bear arms to fight junta

By Mratt Kyaw Thu

Kayin, Myanmar, Apr 23 (EFE).- Dozens of Myanmar youth who saw no results following peaceful protests against the military junta, have in recent months joined military training with ethnic rebel groups that have been fighting the state for decades.

“Actually I’m supposed to be chilling with my friends,” 22-year-old Ko Chin Paung told EFE, puffing on a local cigar in a forest close to the Thai border, where dozens of young people have been receiving arms training for weeks.

After Gen. Min Aung Hlaing led the Feb. 1 coup and arrested the main civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, thousands of Myanmar citizens – most of them young men and women – came out on the streets to challenge the junta.

However, within months, the junta has killed more than 700 protesters through violent repression and an increasing number of youngsters have sought alternatives to the protests.

“I strongly believe that we have to fight them with weapons, no peaceful protest anymore, that’s why I’m here,” said Paung, who used to attend protests in Yangon – the country’s most populated city. He said he faced tear gas and stun grenades used by the security forces every day while living there.

Protesters have for weeks sought international intervention against the military, which has justified the coup citing alleged fraud in the November elections, won by Suu Kyi’s party and deemed free and fair by international observers.

However, international action has been limited to economic sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, and a military intervention seems unlikely, one of the reasons why Paung and his friends said they have taken up arms.

“I thought there had been enough of fucking peaceful protests while we’re enduring live rounds and seeing our friends die in front of us,” he said.

However, he said making the jump was not easy: it took him three days to travel from Yangon to the territory controlled by ethnic rebels and find a contact who would help him enlist for military training. There, he and about 20 others have learned to make improvised explosive devices among other weapons.

Paung is woken up at 5am by a whistle and has just half a minute to get ready and reach the training camp – situated at an undisclosed location – with his comrades, who joined from all major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay.

Apart from the difficult training – which includes sniper training and command practice – he also has to pass through forest areas patrolled by the Myanmar army.

Back home, Paung’s mother said she has found it hard to be separated from her only son, and continues to be worried about his future, but his father decided to let him choose his own path.

“We have only him. You can’t imagine how worried his mother is (…). We’ve been quarreling almost everyday about letting my son go to the training camp. But I have to let him do this, let him win this battle because we, in 1988, couldn’t end this dictatorship. His mum will understand some day, I hope,” Paung’s father told EFE.

He was referring to the August 1988 rebellion, when the military fired on and brutally crushed massive protests demanding a democratic system after over two decades of military rule.

“I hope my mum will understand what I’m doing for the country. I pray every day for my mum here in this forest and I will do everything for my mum after we end Min Aung Hlaing’s dictatorship,” he said. EFE


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