Saw Yan Naing
Htar Htet Htet, 32, has swapped her gowns for guns, having joined the ranks of a growing number of young people in Myanmar who were initially part of the peaceful demonstrations against the military junta but have since taken up arms in protest.
Since the coup began on February 1, Myanmar has witnessed a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. More than 800 people have been killed and over 4,000 anti-coup protesters have been detained by the Tatmadaw or the military regime.
“[My choice] to fight back is not dependent on my emotions,” the former beauty queen tells .“We protested peacefully, and they brutally attacked us. That is the reason why we have to join the armed resistance.”
The protesters like Htar Htet Htet say that there is no way to stop their anti-junta movement. Too many of their friends and their loved ones have lost their lives for the movement. A compromise between the protesters and the brutal military seems impossible — and may lead to a new civil war that will take place in both the urban and rural areas.
An armed resistance
Yay Sae (not his real name), 37, a university student, blames the military for the civil war. “We lost our freedom, our voice, and our future because of the ‘military terrorists,’” he says. “They are the root cause of the civil war we see today.”
In Yangon, John (not his real name), a 23-year-old engineering student, was involved in clashes with the junta troops in Myanmar’s largest city. He says that he now has more sympathy for ethnic minorities and their suffering after witnessing the military’s brutal crackdown on activists. “We don’t ignore the suffering of the ethnic minorities,” he says. “We all are human beings.”
John believes that the anti-junta protesters and the CDM are united against the Burmese military dictatorship. “Our aim is to topple the dictatorship,” he says. “We will fight whoever exercises dictatorship, even the civilian government.”
Worse than the 8888 uprising
John thinks that the new civil war will be longer and worse than the 8888 uprising, a popular nationwide anti-junta demonstration in 1988. Hundreds of anti-junta protesters — including university students, politicians, physicians, and activists — joined ethnic armed groups and received military training in ethnic areas in the wake of the uprising.
The youth who joined ethnic armed resistance now share a common enemy: the military junta. After witnessing military attacks, airstrikes, and human rights abuses in ethnic regions, the youth from the cities said that they feel sorry for what the ethnic villagers have been suffering at the hands of Burmese military troops.
Htar Htet Htet has found her stay in the ethnic area eye-opening. “I have learned that the military has been sugarcoating its ugly and unlawful acts on ethnic groups in remote areas all over our country,” she says. These acts led the people to form the Ethnic Armed Organizations to resist the military.
Combat and medical training
Both Karen National Union (KNU) and Free Burma Rangers (FBR) train the young people who initially joined CDM.
KNU is one of the largest ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar. It has been fighting for autonomy and self-determination for more than 70 years. In February, the group welcomed civilians aged 17 to 24 years to their territories in the mountains.
The participating youth traveled by trucks, motorbikes, boats, and sometimes on foot to reach the remote areas and receive military training from KNU. In the jungles, the trainees undergo physical training and learn how to use firearms and give first aid.
FBR, on the other hand, is a humanitarian organization whose teams are made up mainly of members of the ethnic nationalities to whom the organization directs its aid efforts. FBR provides the young trainees with basic emergency medical training that is designed for people in remote areas or who are under threat of attack.
Yay Sae says the youth who went to receive military training in the ethnic regions “will come back, and we will fight together.” Some of them have already finished their training and returned to Yangon and other areas, namely, Pegu, Kayah State, and Kayin State.
Fearful but resolute
Yay Sae admits that he and his friends are afraid of being arrested, tortured, jailed, or killed by the Burmese military. Nevertheless, he and his friends are committed to fight because they want to put an end to the military dictatorship.
He says, “What we are afraid of more is losing our education, job, freedom, democracy, and our future. We have nothing to lose. That’s why we will keep fighting.
We won’t just cut the tree; we will uproot it,” he says. “We will end military rule because we don’t want to experience it [ever again]. We won’t back down no matter what,” Yay Sae says.
“He adds, “There are different kinds of anti-coup movements in the cities, even in Yangon city. The movement will go on with armed resistance.”
Amid the unrelenting military attacks against the protesters, Christine Schraner Burgener, the United Nations special envoy on Myanmar, has warned of a bloodbath in the country if the coup continues.
As the violence worsens, the ultimate goal of the Burmese people goes beyond calling for the release of political prisoners. They are fighting to eliminate the military administration, says Yay Sae.
He adds that the youth won’t accept any compromise between the democratically elected National League for Democracy and the junta to end the crisis. “There should be no compromise with the dictator,” he says. “Even if the NLD negotiates [with the junta], we want to eliminate the military rule.” ●
Saw Yan Naing is a freelance journalist based in Myanmar. He has written for The Irrawaddy, Bangkok Post, Asia Times Online, BBC Burmese, Global Investigative Journalism Network, and other publications.