Interview: ‘Forces Who Believe in Justice and Righteousness Are Now Shaping The Destiny of This Country’

Myanmar democracy activist Min Ko Naing discusses the shadow government’s new militia and the Civil Disobedience Movement.
2021-05-06
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Interview: ‘Forces Who Believe in Justice and Righteousness Are Now Shaping The Destiny of This Country’ Min Ko Naing flashes a three-finger salute of defiance against the military regime as he announces the formation of the National Unity Government, at an undisclosed location in Myanmar, April 16, 2021.
AFP/CRPH video screenshot

Myanmar’s shadow government of ousted former lawmakers created a People’s Defense Force (PDF) on Wednesday to prevent killings and other violent acts against the people by the military junta that seized power from the elected government on Feb. 1. The National Unity Government (NUG), as the parallel body is known, said the PDF is a precursor to a Federal Union Army that would comprise a majority ethnic Bamar militia and the country’s ethnic armed groups to fight the powerful national military.

Min Ko Naing, a Myanmar pro-democracy activist and former 88 Generation Students Group leader, is a member of shadow government’s advisory council on the PDF. He has been a vocal critic of the military regime, calling it “bloodthirsty” for its killing of hundreds of peaceful protesters and other civilians. In an exclusive interview with reporter Khin Maung Soe of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Min Ko Naing discusses the new militia, the status of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), and the junta’s push to reopen schools. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: What can you tell us about the newly formed People’s Defense Force?

A: The NUG’s Ministry of Defense announced it. It has been widely known among the people as a Federal Army, [but] we cannot get to that level overnight. We will have a federal army only when we consolidate forces from all ethnic armed groups. We have repeatedly mentioned that these forces are for the protection of the people and for the security of the people. The NUG has also stated that clearly. Now, some people have completed their military training, while others new trainees have started their programs. In the “free territories” there are many groups undergoing military training. This is also an indication that NUG has fulfilled one of the requirements as a sovereign government. By international standards, we can say we have a government. We have a controlled territory and borders. We have a population that resides in that territory. Finally, we have security forces who protect that population. Many young people are traveling to join the training. They are traveling to the free territories under the control of ethnic armed groups where they will have everything they need.

For all of the people’s government, the main advantage is the support that comes from the populace. All in all, victory depends on the faith and the psyche of the people. All forces who believe in justice and righteousness are now shaping the destiny of this country, swiftly and effectively.

RFA: It’s been three months since the military coup took place. How do you assess the resistance of the people and the response of the military government?

Min Ko Naing: With regard to the resistance movements, after 90 days, they have turned into guerilla protests. This is the reality. It’s because of the violent crackdowns, arrests, torture and murders committed by the regime. But, the advantage we’ve got is that people have to understand how to keep the revolution going. Now, the people’s movement is clearly divorced from the military council. We all now understand clearly that we can never be reconciled. The guerilla protests could grow into a full-blown revolution at any time. We could fill the streets with protestors again any time. We have shown that in the past weeks.

With regards to CDM, we have repeatedly stressed that the CDM is not just about employees who stop going to work. It also means not paying taxes, not buying lottery tickets, and boycotting products made by military-controlled firms. It means boycotting any activities that could contribute to their revenue. The CDM participants also need to change the kinds of activities they are participating in because the number of persecutions of CDM participants has grown. On the other hand, we have seen police and soldiers defecting and becoming part of the CDM. The movement has become stronger. For example, in Chin state, as many as 15,000 employees from the health and education sectors have participated in the CDM. About 250 of them are police officers and soldiers who left their units. Around 200 of them are high-level staff from the General Administrative Office.

With regard to the international support, we have formed the NUG out of the sacrifices and resistance of the people. It just didn’t fall out of the sky. In addition, we have secured agreements and have cooperated with the ethnic armed groups. We’ve got many works in the pipeline to be done. One success has been in the financial sector with bank employees joining the CDM. Even if banks reopen now, it won’t reverse the damage that has been done. If the junta reopens banks, the people will come to withdraw their money en masse. The authorities recently made an announcement urging people to open new accounts at the banks — an indication that the junta now is experiencing a severe cash deficit.

[Another point is that] during the recent ASEAN meeting [on the crisis in Myanmar], Myanmar’s military leader was not riding in a vehicle displaying the national flag. He was referred to as the military commander-in- chief, not as the head of state. The junta has been trying to use the ASEAN meeting as victory.

RFA: What can you say about efforts to support CDM participants?

Min Ko Naing: We have detailed records about it. Since the establishment of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CPRH) [a group of legislators who won seats in the November 2020 elections and who are aligned with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi], we have records of government employees signing up to join the movement. The CRPH’s website has records of all of these activities. For example, in Kayah state, hundreds of members of the police force have joined the CDM. The records from a group called Firm Hands say that they have sent as much as 500 million kyats (U.S.$ 317,000) during the last three months. There are many other groups who are contributing to the movement. We have had ongoing discussions on how to support employees who participate in the CDM. There are efforts to intimidate and arrest employees involved in the CDM. Some workers have considered quitting their jobs. Under the law, authorities cannot arrest workers for quitting their jobs. I think we should issue guarantees for those who do quit. Once the new civilian government has been installed, their services and labor will be reclaimed. The people’s government has guaranteed that.

RFA: In which ways is the junta feeling the pinch of actions of opposition by ordinary people?

Min Ko Naing: For example, why do so many people want to withdraw their money from the banks like the military-owned Myawaddy bank? Why are there long lines in front of the banks? This is because of people’s lack of trust in the banks. People know about the shortcomings of the financial sector, so I think they are withdrawing their cash as a strategy to defeat the regime. Those who always believe in luck have stopped buying lottery tickets because they don’t want to contribute to the junta’s revenue. The very actions that people have taken also are counted as a form of participation in the CDM.

RFA: Some colleges have started the semester, and the military government is also starting a new school year for high schools. What do you suggest that students, parents, and teachers should do regarding the commencement of the school year?

Min Ko Naing: They should think about authorities’ real intentions behind this action. Do they really mean to give education to young people or do they intend to trick to the world with a scheme showing photos of people going back to their normal routines? Everybody knows what they intend to do, but they don’t seem to be thinking much about the consequences of reopening schools just to have photos of people returning to their routines. Schools could become hot spots for beginning of new waves of protests. I can imagine the birth of school-based boycotts and the rise of peacock flags on the school walls. This tactic of showing images of people engaged in their normal routines as a sign of the regime’s victory is obsolete. Which students would have peace of mind when there are military trucks parked at campuses and monitoring the students around the clock?

We have seen that the role of student unions is critical. These students have capacity and creativity. Some students have launched online education programs to continue their regular learning. All in all, students and parents should think how safe they feel about returning to the schools when there are soldiers pointing their guns at them in school compounds. In an environment where the military has been persecuting the people, they should ask if they should cooperate with them to fulfill their goals. I believe I don’t need to tell them what to do. These students have both passion and intelligence. On the scales of both, I know they will make the right decision. I know they will make the best use of this opportunity of the authorities restarting the new school year to achieve the revolution.

Reported by Khin Maung Soe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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