Interview: ‘Our Strength is in the People’

A young Myanmar resistance fighter talks about joining the Bago People’s Defense Army to fight the military junta.

Militia members attend a training led by Karen National Union (KNU), in Karen State, Myanmar April 9, 2021 in this still image obtained by Reuters from a video on April 26, 2021. Reuters

After seeing how Myanmar’s military used deadly force to crack down on peaceful protests against the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected government, a young man from the country’s central Bago region answered a call for volunteers to join a newly forming local militia. He went into the Bago Yoma mountain range with other like-minded citizens, many of whom were youth like himself, and began training for armed combat.

RFA Myanmar Service reporter Aye Aye Mon conducted a telephone interview with the young man, who identified himself as Yoma Tiger. He said that he and others in the Bago People’s Defense Army have had enough of the military dictatorship and are waiting for the right moment to fight back.

The militia has made contact with the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) made up of lawmakers deposed by the coup, and they hope to one day fight alongside other regional militias and ethnic insurgent groups as part of the NUG’s People’s Defense Force (PDF). Even though the military is better equipped and trained and outnumbers the resistance, Yoma Tiger believes that the junta cannot win because the people of Myanmar do not support it. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: Please tell us why you decided to take up arms against the junta.

Yoma Tiger: We were holding peaceful protests and government employees staged their Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) but the military used deadly force to crush unarmed civilians. They used violence in the past, and they are still using violence in 2021. That's why we decided to risk our lives with this armed movement.

RFA: You were living comfortably with your family and now everything is different in your mountain hideout. What are some of the difficulties you encounter out here?

Yoma Tiger: We never had dreams of holding guns or fighting in combat. Young people like us have never had military training before and didn’t know how to use guns or grenades. After we got here for military training, we encountered so many difficulties. Living conditions were rough and the food was not good. But after a month or so when we heard about how the people support us, we found the situation tolerable.

RFA: Malaria is the biggest problem in the Yoma region. Have any among your group fallen ill?

Yoma Tiger: We have seen cases of dysentery and diarrhea. And insect bites are also a problem.

RFA: Some people are saying that you cannot win because the other side is a strong, well-armed military. What do you think of that?

Yoma Tiger: Well, they said they have a 500,000-strong army. But we found out from recent defectors that a lot of the soldiers in the military are only there only because it is their job. We do not need 100 or even 50 people to launch an attack on a police station of about 20 policemen. Except for the one or two officers in charge, the rest will not hesitate to raise a white flag once under an attack. That’s why we believe we can win.

RFA: What do you expect from the people?

Yoma Tiger: People all over the country have been actively opposing the military regime and I think this is the time to take a stand and put an end to the military dictatorship. Our strength is in the people. Even if they don’t take up arms and join the CDM that’s still a strength for us.

But among our ranks there is even a 50-year-old man taking his military training seriously. We will soon be getting modern arms from the NUG and information from the people. Information and intelligence are very important. Even if people are not themselves taking up arms, they are sending us food supplies. This is also very encouraging, and I want to urge them to continue to give us support.

RFA: You and your comrades have formed the Bago Yoma Defense Force but the NUG has formed what it hopes is a national-level People's Defense Force. Have you had contact with them?

Yoma Tiger: We formed the Bago Division of the PDF on May 15, and we pledged to work under the NUG banner. We now have contact with them. Of the 28 townships in Bago region we have contact with about 20 of them.

RFA: Revolutions call for a lot of sacrifice. You said you are even ready to give up your life. What would be the ultimate sacrifice to you and your colleagues?

Yoma Tiger: Our elders may think our ideas are extreme but we, the young people, believe this is the time to put a stop to the military dictator. This is the time for the final showdown. We are trying not to make mistakes. We now have the support of the ethnic minority groups and other organizations, and our main strength is the people. That is why we believe we are going to succeed.

RFA: Some say that you should not reveal to the media what you are going to do because they are worried it could be used as evidence against you later. What do you want to tell them?

Yoma Tiger: We really appreciate their concern. We live in the era of mass media, and we must use the might of the media. The military is broadcasting a lot of psywar programs on various media platforms. They have taken down all the satellite dishes in Bago region because the media can be as strong as a bullet. We are not putting our faces out on the media just to show off. The media is one of the main components of our Spring Revolution.

RFA: What else do you want to tell people in the rest of the country?

Yoma Tiger: We have established contact with the NUG. We will be armed very soon, and we are now having discussions with the armed ethnic groups. Before we can launch an offensive in unison, we will still be launching attacks, guerilla-style. We understand the frustration of the people, and I would like to tell them to give us a little more time. We are running through six-month training courses in just a couple of months. I also want to urge those in the CDM to hold on, and those in the armed forces to join the CDM.

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

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