Interview: ‘I Don’t Think it is Right To Shoot at Civilians’

Lt. Chan Mya Thu says he left Myanmar’s military in revulsion against violence against citizens.
Interview: ‘I Don’t Think it is Right To Shoot at Civilians’ Myanmar soldiers from the 77th light infantry division walk along a street during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 28, 2021.

Soon after Myanmar’s military ousted the democratically elected government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and installed a general as the country’s leader, Lt. Chan Mya Thu started to become disillusioned with life as a soldier in the army, called the Tatmadaw in Burmese, because he saw the coup as illegitimate. Immediately after the military takeover, citizens took to the streets in protest, and the military deployed troops to quell opposition. Since the coup, the regime has killed more than 750 protesters, including 80 in the central city of Bago on a single day. News of the junta’s brutal crackdown on protests reached Chan Mya Thu’s 431st Light Infantry Battalion, stationed near the Thai border in Kawthaung on the country’s southern tip. It prompted him and another officer to leave the base on April 16 to join the pro-democracy movement. In an interview with Khin Maung Soe of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Chan Mya Thu talked about why he left his post and Myanmar’s prospects of restoring democratic rule. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: Why did you leave the military? 

Chan Mya Thu: One reason was because of the people’s overwhelming opposition to the coup. Another reason is that I am no longer happy in the military service because I don’t agree with the current situation. I don’t think that I should have to take part in such violence.

RFA:  Where were you stationed before the coup? 

Chan Mya Thu: I was at a border post in Kawthaung near the Thai border. We oversaw the security in that area, and we were getting all kinds of information about the protests. We heard all about the brutal crackdowns.

RFA: What are your personal thoughts on the military coup?

Chan Mya Thu:  It should not have happened. The military should be protecting the civilian population. I don’t think it is right to shoot at civilians. I told my friends in the military not to shoot if they could help it. A friend told me he didn’t want to shoot at the people, but soldiers were somehow coaxed or coerced into doing it. Their anger was stoked by the higher officers. He said he could not exactly tell me the details. It seems a type of psychological warfare has been launched. The military units and are not given the complete news.

RFA: What do you think about the daily atrocities committed by the military in various parts of the country?

Chan Mya Thu: Even though I am a soldier, I am a human being, and it was painful to hear about the deaths of young people and even children in some cases. What happened in Bago was unthinkable. Also, all the looting is horrible. These kinds of incidents shouldn’t happen at all. They are unacceptable.

RFA: How many do you think there are in the military who want to escape like you did?

Chan Mya Thu: I think maybe about 80 percent are not happy in the service right now. They want to leave but they cannot do so for many reasons. Some cannot leave because of their families. It is easier for us single people. Others do not know what they will do or where they will go after leaving. I think a lot of them would leave if they had assurances for their future.

RFA: What are your future plans? Will you join the Federal Army that is being planned?

Chan Mya Thu: I am now in the Civil Disobedience Movement.  I will do whatever I can to help the people. I will surely join the federal army if it comes into existence.

RFA: Do you have a message for the people of Myanmar?

Chan Mya Thu: It is important that we become united. If everybody strives in earnest, with a strong conviction, the goal of forming a true democracy that they want to see will not be too far ahead.

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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