Myanmar navy deserters speak out against military regime

Two sailors from Ayeyarwady Naval Region Command. Photo from The Irrawaddy, used with permission.

This article was originally published on The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar, and is edited and republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Two sailors from Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Naval Region Command recently contacted the People’s Defense Force (PDF) in Yangon’s Twante Township asking to join the civil disobedience movement (CDM) resisting the February 1 military coup. The township PDF members have taken the two men to a safe place.

The two sailors talked to The Irrawaddy about their motives for joining the CDM and their views on the current situation.

Why did you join the CDM?

We have seen the military bullying the people. For example, when something happens they arrest all the people nearby and then beat them if they can’t confirm who did it. We feel very sorry to see people beaten like that. We didn’t take part in torture. We didn’t beat people. But when we are in uniform, people look at us with disgust. We can no longer stand that. That’s why we have joined the CDM.

What are your views on the coup?

We were told about the takeover only after 8 a.m. on the morning of the coup. They told us the takeover was not a coup and we took that for granted. But we have witnessed how they beat and torture the people who express their opposition to the coup. We don’t think that is fair and it has pushed us to join the CDM.

What do you say about the revolution?

Citizens have human rights. They have the right to express their views. But the soldiers don’t exercise any restraint, they torture them. And they don’t just torture, they shoot the people dead. That is not just.

How is the situation in the military?

As far as I can see there are soldiers who oppose [the killings]. But they have their family members living inside the barracks. So there is no way out for them. They are trapped due to the risk of something bad happening to their families. They know [what the military is doing] is not fair. But they can’t walk away. They are unwilling, but they can’t refuse to obey orders. They have families and children. They are threatened by being told that their families and children will get into trouble if they do something.

So there are pressures and intimidation. Are there any incentives given to them?

No, there are no incentives. I don’t know if there are incentives for higher-ups, but for lower-level personnel, there are only orders. They know it is not fair. Officers are mostly educated. They know it is not fair. But they can’t relinquish their positions.

We heard that stricter rules have been imposed in the military. Is that true? If it is, what are they?

They still give us our salaries. Sentry duty has been increased from two to four hours. And military personnel are not allowed to leave the barracks without permission.

What do you say about the ongoing fighting?

In a revolution you can’t fight alone. In the case of Mindat, the people fought alone and the uprising was quashed. If a revolt is to be staged, it would be better if all people rise up together on an appointed date so that the military can’t use all of its force on a particular town. If one town alone is resisting stiffly, the military will just use a larger force to suppress it. Only when it can quash the town, will it be able to silence the rest of the country. It would be better if a date is chosen and the whole country rises up together on that date. If only a few places are resisting here and there, the military will crush them and people will suffer. It is not effective and only leads to people suffering.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the people fighting the military?

The military has weapons and they are trained soldiers. As for the people, the whole country, young and old, has the will. But they have never received any military training. So even if they have weapons and fight the military, they aren’t very effective.

What do you want to say to the military council?

What is happening is that the lower-level military personnel drink and use drugs. The higher-ups can’t handle those cases. If a civilian is arrested for drug abuse, he will be given long-term imprisonment. But in the military, soldiers are only locked up for two weeks for using drugs. The senior officers can’t even handle cases of drug abuse, so there is no way they can manage a country.

Why did you choose to be a soldier?

The soldiers we saw when we were young were loved by the people. But what they are doing now is just the opposite of what I believe and what I want to be. We can’t stand that. So we have decided to join the CDM and stand by the people.

What would you like to say to your colleagues who want to join the CDM, but can’t because of their families?

I’d like to ask them always to stand by the people without fear. If we remain under the regime’s thumb because of fear, nothing will change. The responsibility of the military is to defend the country. It can’t defend and rule the country at the same time.

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