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Walking with Myanmar's anti-junta fighters

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From AFP / BP

Members of Myanmar's Karenni People Defense Force take part in military training at their camp near Demoso in Kayah state.

Members of Myanmar's Karenni People Defense Force take part in military training at their camp near Demoso in Kayah state.

KAYAH STATE, Myanmar: In their camp hidden in the forested hills of Kayah state near the Thai border, Myanmar anti-junta volunteers practice firing their homemade weapons, do physical training, and play guitar in between skirmishes with the military.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government in February and launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

In some areas civilians have formed "defence forces" to combat the State Administration Council, as the junta dubs itself, often using hunting rifles or weapons manufactured at makeshift factories.

"I've been away from my family more than three months," one member of the defence force at the camp told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"I will return home after this revolution."

During that time the group of roughly 60 has fought around twenty skirmishes with the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, he said.

Communication is patchy in the country's eastern states, and AFP was unable to verify the number of clashes.

Since the coup, fighting between Myanmar's military and rebel groups in the east of the country has displaced an estimated 100,000 people, the UN said last month.

Locals in Kayah state have accused the military of using artillery shells that have landed in villages.

That has only hardened resolve to take up arms.

"We will never forget and forgive till the end of the world" reads a tattoo across the neck of one volunteer.

The wooden rifle of another has "Spring Revolution" carved into the butt and barrel in Burmese script.

In a mixture of combat camouflage and T-shirts, the volunteers go on patrol, navigating single track paths through the jagged hills.

They practice firing their motley assemblage of weapons at a makeshift firing range.

During downtime, one plays guitar on a bench while another resting inside a tent checks his weapon.

More than 890 people have been killed by the junta's security forces since February 1, according to a local monitoring group.

As well as the rise of local self-defence forces, analysts believe hundreds of anti-coup protesters from Myanmar's towns and cities have trekked into insurgent-held areas to receive military training.

The civilian fighters are often outnumbered and outgunned in clashes with Myanmar's military -- one of Southeast Asia's most battle-hardened and brutal.

But the volunteers are determined to fight on.

"If we all fight, we will win," one told AFP.

"I believe we can win."


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I hope these driven, fearless young people succeed. I am sure they know they are up against great odds. The world as a whole seems to be doing little to help them. China, on the other hand, seems to be doing quite a bit to foil them, in that it is one of the few countries not to condemn the coup and for years has provided arms and equipment to the military junta.

But China also has worries. It does not want instability on its doorstep. It also wants to protect its considerable investments in the country including oil and gas pipelines running through the country to the indian Ocean. Since Myanmar is a key part of Xi Jin-ping's Belt and Road initiative, the junta is obviously hoping that the Chinese will continue to back them financially and so presumably will do all it can to protect these pipelines and other Chinese businesses. If I were one of the rebel army, that's probably what I would try to attack first. Try to cut off the regime's funding. But the unknown question then will be: what will China do about that? Will it switch sides?

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From Thai Enquirer

Telecom surveillance orders just a part of growing digital authoritarianism in Myanmar

larming orders from Myanmar’s Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD) back in June warned that senior executives of major telecommunications firms in the country would not be allowed to leave the country without the permission of the military junta. In pursuit of the junta’s goals of creating a digital surveillance state, telecom companies were told that they had until July 5 to implement technology on their systems that would allow government authorities to spy on calls, messages, and web traffic, as well as to track the whereabouts of users. 

While these recent initiatives by the military junta come as the country faces growing instability due to widespread public protests, a growing armed opposition, and economic upheaval, the broader strategy of digital authoritarianism predates the February 1 coup d’état. The implications of this strategy are far-reaching.

Before February 1, the Tatmadaw not-so-covertly obtained technology that allows them to conduct surveillance on their own citizens through purchases that were sold under the guise of modernizing the country’s law enforcement agencies. With the former National League for Democracy (NLD) government out of the way and largely detained, the military government now has access to surveillance drones, electronic devices that can crack iPhones, and sophisticated software that can hack into computer systems and extract their data. In other words, the same technology that was designed to help modernize Myanmar during its democratization period is now being used to crackdown on civilians as well as gain control over some domestic and foreign corporations based in the country.


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5 hours ago, PeterRS said:

what will China do about that? Will it switch sides?

Both China and Russia seem to come down on the side of any undemocratic regime.   The one thing we're NOT going to hear from either country is a strong call for democracy in Myanmar.   

Of course, China will probably also say something about not interfering in other countries affairs, whilst supporting the government.   

I've not studied the situation in any detail, but it's fairly clear that the military government in Myanmar is only likely to be removed by force.   So after some kind of civil war.  Perhaps foreign governments should carefully consider the pros & cons of backing opponents of the government with military hardware.

Of all the countries I've visited in the region, Myanmar seems to have the worst government.   Useless, corrupt & incompetent. 

Example decisions that I either read about or observed include:

1  Building a huge paper mill, which then could not operate due to inadequate energy supply.

2  Switching from driving on the left to the right, which means all the passengers on the many old buses have to alight in the middle of the road which is dangerous.  

3  Banning motorcycles from Yangon.   Apparently because one of the generals was run over and killed by a motorcycle.


Oddly, despite being a former British colony, English seems to be much less widely spoken than in countries like Thailand or Cambodia.   I'm not writing this with a colonial perspective, but considering the reality that English is rather useful for international business.


Finally, I quite enjoyed aspects of my 2 previous visits to Myanmar.   I suspect I will not visit for some time now, as the safety and freedom of movement risks rule it out.   There is also an ethical issue, but whilst Myanmar clearly has a bad government, there are several other countries in the region with undemocratic and repressive regimes.   


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3 hours ago, z909 said:

Of course, China will probably also say something about not interfering in other countries affairs, whilst supporting the government.

I think that hits the nail very nicely on the head. "Interference in internal affairs" is a recurrent Chinese admonition.

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