Interview: The Army Said ‘I Would be Committing Treason’ if I Didn’t Turn in My Brother

Myanmar’s army threatens the sister of the highest-ranking officer to defect to the junta opposition movement.
2021-05-07
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Interview: The Army Said ‘I Would be Committing Treason’ if I Didn’t Turn in My Brother Major Hein Thaw Oo, who defected from Myanmar's army last month, in an undated photo.
Hein Thaw Oo,

Htay Htay Tun, who lives and works in the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai, is the sister of Myanmar Army Major Hein Thaw Oo, who defected last month from the 99th Light Infantry Division in Meiktila, Mandalay region, to join anti-junta protesters in northeast Shan state. The highest-ranked known military defector to break with the army since the military coup on Feb. 1 that overthrew the democratic government of country leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Hein Thaw Oo gave an interview from in hiding with RFA’s Myanmar Service. He described major corruption in senior army ranks and expressed willingness to join hands with an anti-junta military force that was taking shape and has since been unveiled. Shortly after that interview was broadcasted on April 20, his sister received threatening phone calls from the military pressuring her to return from the United Arab Emirates and help find her brother or face sedition charges. She spoke by telephone to RFA’s Washington, D.C.-based editor Khin Maung Soe and discussed her intention to support the opposition to the junta, including the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, a shadow parliament.

RFA: Is it true that you have received threats after RFA broadcasted the interview with Major Hein Thaw Oo?

Htay Htay Tun: Yes. They called me around 4:00 p.m. on April 20. They asked if my brother officially defected from the service and if I have any connection with him. I told them I don’t have any connection with him. They said they knew I was lying. They said they knew I had told my mother that he has become a Buddhist monk. The next day they called me again. They asked my brother’s location and urged me to tell the truth, or they would issue a warrant for me. I told them I didn’t know where he is and that was the truth. But they didn’t believe me and they tried to persuade me with another tactic: They said they knew I would return to Myanmar soon and said they would arrange air tickets if I returned. They said I must return.  

RFA: How did you reply?

Htay Htay Tun: I told them I didn’t have any plan to return and that I don’t have any connection with my brother. They said if I don’t disclose his location I would be committing treason. An officer from my brother’s unit – a major, I think – said they would issue a warrant for me.

RFA: How many times did they contact you?

Htay Htay Tun: They contacted me three times.

Htay Htay Tun,.jpg
Htay Htay Tun, sister of Maj Hein Thaw Oo, in undated photo from her Facebook page.

RFA: So they haven’t contacted you again?

Htay Htay Tun: Yes. They haven’t contacted me again. But, later, my friends told me they are now inquiring about my mother and my younger brother, asking if I had returned to Myanmar.

RFA: How did you learn about Major Hein Thaw Oo’s defection to join the democratic forces?

Htay Htay Tun: After he left the military, he contacted me. He told me to tell my mother that he is in a safe place. I told my mother. But, I didn’t want my mom to worry about him, so I told her that he had become a monk and was doing meditation. My mom was worried about him. So my mom told them what I said to her. Since then, the military has tailed me. They have contacted me on Facebook messenger. I have repeatedly told them I don’t know his whereabouts. After his interview with RFA was published, they continuously contacted me by phone.

RFA: How do your family members view his defection?

Htay Htay Tun: We all think he did it for justice. I didn’t know the extent of impact caused by the military coup as it had just happened. But, later, I learned that the military had begun to act violently. I wanted to get involved in these movements myself. But, now my brother has done it, and I am proud of him. I admire him for doing something I cannot do. Our father is also a military serviceman. He is a man of righteousness and my brother is now following suit.

I am going to support the movement to liberate our country again, both the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.

RFA: How do you view the military’s shooting and arresting people and looting private property?

Htay Htay Tun: Mainly, they are acting under orders and they are also trying to derive benefit from the situation, which they see as an opportunity. The salary of an ordinary soldier is so low that they can barely afford a mobile phone. Despite the pay rises, they cannot catch up with rising prices as their families grow. Their small salary is the only benefit they get. That’s why they have been stealing phones and motorcycles. They have gotten an opportunity to possess property they never have had in their lives. The military has turned blind eye to these actions.  

Maj Hein Thaw Oo family photo 2.jpg
An undated photo of Hein Thaw Oo and his family. Credit: Hein Thaw Oo

Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. 
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