Interview: ‘It’s Like We Are Serving Them, Not the Country’

“What they were telling us was in total contrast to what was happening on the ground,” says Capt. Aung Sin Phyo
Interview: ‘It’s Like We Are Serving Them, Not the Country’ A soldier looks at a banner attached to a military vehicle outside Myanmar's Central Bank during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021.

Capt. Aung Sin Phyo had been a loyal soldier in the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, stationed in Tarlay, a town in eastern Shan state near the borders with Laos and Thailand. When the military ousted the country’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1, Aung Sin Phyo saw it as a power grab by the Tatmadaw’s leaders. After seeing news reports of violent suppression of anti-coup protests, he decided he would defect. He made contact with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a shadow parliament group made up of ousted lawmakers, and together with his wife escaped to a confidential location in an area under the control of a rebel army. Washington, D.C.-based RFA Myanmar Service reporter Khin Maung Soe conducted a telephone interview with Aung Sin Phyo, who said he would continue to serve the country he was sworn to protect. The interview was edited for clarity.

RFA: Please identify yourself. 

Aung Sin Phyo: I’m Aung Sin Phyo. Serial number 64495, from the 55th graduating class of the Defense Services Academy.  I served in the 572nd Light Infantry Battalion based in Tarlay until I defected to the liberated area about a month ago. 

RFA: Why did you defect? 

Aung Sin Phyo: Since the military takeover on Feb. 1, I’ve been seeing on social media the junta’s inhumane killing of innocent people. I felt very upset and angry seeing these reports every day and that’s why I left the military. The junta are wicked and will do anything to stay in power. 

RFA:  How did you know where to defect?

Aung Sin Phyo: I contacted some civil servants in the CRPH. I did not tell anybody the day I left my unit, but I told them I had left only after reaching this side. 

RFA:  What will you do now that you have defected?

Aung Sin Phyo: I have joined the People’s Defense Force. I will fight injustice along with the people. 

RFA:  What do you think of the actions of the military leaders?

Aung Sin Phyo: Their actions are not in line with what they preach. They shut down social media and the internet in our cantonments and told everybody to watch (military-run) Myawaddy and MRTV only. Everybody had to watch the commander-in-chief giving speeches. Apart from that, there was a total news blackout. What they were telling us was in total contrast to what was happening on the ground. Officers and all other ranks were forced to buy shares from the military-controlled MEHL Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd. and the profits were only enjoyed by them, the leaders. We also heard about their unlawful dealings like drug and gem smuggling. They are using the name of Tatmadaw for the benefit of themselves and their relatives. It’s like we are serving them, not the country. 

RFA:  How many others in the military do you think want to defect? 

Aung Sin Phyo: A lot of people know what is actually happening because no one can hide anything in the internet era.  Some in the military are just foolhardy and others do not know how to get out. There are also those who dare not take the risk of leaving as they fear it might bring their families into harm’s way. 

RFA:  Why do you think the military leaders took over the country? 

Aung Sin Phyo: It is simple. The handful of leaders at the top wanted to take over state power for their own benefit. 

RFA: How do you think the present situation will pan out?

Aung Sin Phyo: Citizens and civil servants all over the country are united in resisting the coup and I believe they will be successful. 

RFA:  You also brought your wife with you when you defected. Can you speak about her?  

Aung Sin Phyo:  Yes, she was working Tarlay Civil Hospital and was part of the Civil Disobedience Movement. She is now with me and we are going to do our part to serve the country. 

Reported by Khin Maung Soe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong. 


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