INTERVIEW: ‘They plan to rule with fear, but the people are no longer afraid'

The acting president of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government calls for unity against the military junta.
By Khin Maung Soe for RFA Burmese
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INTERVIEW: ‘They plan to rule  with fear, but the people are no longer afraid' Duwa Lashi La, acting President of Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government.
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Duwa Lashi La is the acting president of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, or NUG, made up of democratically elected lawmakers who were ousted when the military staged a coup in February 2021.

Though the junta claims to be the legitimate government of the people of Myanmar, the NUG claims that more than half of the country is not under military control. Instead, it is held by a combination of armed ethnic groups and people’s defense forces, militias formed by citizens opposed to the junta.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia’s Khin Maung Soe, Duwa Lashi La said the key to removing the junta from power will be a stronger unity between these groups, and the NUG is working toward that goal.

After the military junta’s rule ends, the NUG advocates the formation of a transitional government that would prepare Myanmar to become a democratic nation.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: The National Unity Government has been waging a resistance war against the military junta for more than a year. How do you assess the current situation of the revolution?

Duwa Lashi La: Our revolution has been going on just a little over a year but we have done a lot. We have been very successful because of the people’s will to cooperate with, and take part in, this resistance. For example, with the people’s help, our people’s defense forces have retained 60 percent of the territory in the country. That’s a success for us all. 

Next, we have had a lot of success in cooperating with our allies. Our allied EROs [ethnic revolutionary organizations, another term for ethnic armed organizations, or EAOs] helped us organize and train all our PDF forces. That’s why we thank them a lot. 

Many other actions are really encouraging. The people of Myanmar have been supporting us financially, a big help, indeed. 

Our success is mainly due to the willingness and participation of the people of Myanmar both in the country as well as in various countries around the world. Though we have had much success, there are still many challenging tasks. We are still unable to ensure the flow of orders to all our troops and there should be one chain of command that everyone follows. We must continue to strive for such unity. We must also train and teach morality for our soldiers to ensure a high level of military discipline. I hope that only after fulfilling such needs, we will have a real military that protects our people. 

Another issue is that the NUG has not been able to equip the growing number of People’s Defense Forces with adequate supplies of weapons and ammunition. I would like to appeal to the people of Myanmar to continue to support us and to the international community to continue to sympathize with the situation in  our country, as we alone cannot fulfill our needs of food, shelter, medicine, healthcare and other necessities.

RFA: We are now in the second year of this resistance. What does the NUG have planned to advance the cause?

Duwa Lashi La: Learning from the experience we gained in the first year, we have laid down some more goals for this year. Some of them are to forcefully urge the international community to recognize us and strengthen the unity of our people even more. 

In addition to these crucial tasks, we have also planned some other strategic goals. We are working on total transparency to let the people and the international community clearly understand what we are fighting for. We are working really hard to present a transitional constitution which we are calling the "TC.” Once we present that, our roadmap is going to be clearly understood by the people and the international community and we will gain more momentum. 

Another important thing to know is that the military junta is already wavering. They have nothing more up their sleeve but to hold a sham election and they have already announced one. It is very important for our people and the international community to oppose and disapprove their sham election in 2023, knowing that it is merely a set up.  We are also working on a project to address this issue. 

One more thing is that the NUG is trying to work together in a more united and strategic way with the resistance forces. 

If these efforts are successful, I have hope that the NUG will achieve these goals over the next year.

RFA: What is the NUG’s situation in cooperating with the ethnic armed organizations?

Duwa Lashi La: The cooperation between the NUG and the ethnic armed organizations is of prime importance. We have codified this fact in our charter. Political parties, Civil Society Organizations and ethnic armed organizations are the backbone of our nation. That’s why, to work in conformity with the EAOs [ethnic armed organizations] and to network with them is a major strength of our revolution. So, we will always engage with them and work together. 

I would like to let everyone know that there are strong armed groups that have been active since the start of the revolution and some followed not long after and a large percentage of them are working in connection with the NUG in fighting against the military junta. 

However, there are some EROs [ethnic revolutionary organizations] that are not working with us yet but we are trying to connect with them. Our beliefs are based on all-inclusiveness and that is why we are always trying to connect with all the EAOs in this revolution. In doing so, we publicly connect with some of them and privately others for discussion. 

Thanks to the EAOs, we were able to form the people’s defense forces and receive military training. On behalf of the NUG, I would like to express my gratitude to the EROs for their great help. There are still many challenges ahead. I would like to say that we need to engage and work with the EROs that have not yet been strongly involved, to continue rebuilding our country.

RFA: We have seen the NUG working with some of the ethnic armed organizations but not with others. Is the NUG working covertly with some, and if not, will the NUG pursue relationships with those other organizations?

Duwa Lashi La: As I said earlier, we are working for the inclusion of all people in Myanmar. It’s also in accordance with our charter. So when we are connecting and cooperating to make sure that everyone is included, we publicly connect with some and privately network with some other groups. What I can earnestly say is that the NUG is engaged with all the EAOs. We believe that they will decisively participate in our cause and work together with us. In doing so, the NUG has since the beginning formed a committee to network with our allies, as we believe that all will come together and we are working on that. That is why, I would like to say that we are now in a position to be able to form military regions and carry out our projects successfully.

Smoke and flames rise from Thantlang, in Chin state, where more than 160 buildings were destroyed by Myanmar junta, according to local media. “It is well known that the military junta has always terrorized the people for maintaining its power throughout its history,” Duwa Lashi La says. Credit: AFP

RFA: The military junta is torturing people and burning down villages. How do you assess these issues?

Duwa Lashi La: It is well known that the military junta [and previous juntas] have always terrorized the people to maintain their power throughout history. They tortured people in 1962 and 1988 in similar fashion. They still use the same methods now in the era since the 2021 coup. Although the people of Myanmar protested peacefully in the streets to demonstrate that the coup was not in accordance with their will, and that they wanted to live in a democratic way, the junta did not care and has continued to persecute–and even kill them–to this very day. 

More than 2,500 innocent people have been killed so far, as we all know. More than 13,000 people have been detained and imprisoned. The junta even killed some of them by giving them death sentences. What is even worse is that the junta bombed, torched and destroyed more than 30,000 homes across in the whole country especially in the Sagaing and Magway regions. 

This is their method. They plan to rule with fear, but the people are no longer afraid. The people know that they will die under military rule with or without fear, especially the young generation, the ones we call Generation Z. They are leading our revolution with the mindset that what should not be feared should not be feared and that is particularly why our revolution is very forceful and strong. 

We are doing our best to encourage all of the people of Myanmar to participate in the revolution. This is a revolution for the entire country and we will definitely win. That’s why we have announced that it is a revolution that includes all people from all walks of life, from every corner of the country.

RFA: What do you think is the most important factor in the success of this revolution?

Duwa Lashi La: What is essential is the role of leadership to unite the whole country. To work toward that end, it will take a strong leadership to unite the NUG, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the National Unity Consultative Council and all the EAOs to come together and work together with a mutual understanding towards a common goal. 

People are participating in unity now. They even risk their lives for the cause. But like I said earlier, since it is a revolution, we need to arm ourselves, something we haven’t been able to do sufficiently. 

Again, I have to say that our resistance soldiers in large numbers do not have enough food, shelter, medicine and healthcare and technologies. Therefore, I would like to urge the people of Myanmar and the countries with humanitarian sense to help us fulfill our needs. 

We now know that, according to the United Nations, 1.4 million Myanmar people have fled their homes due to the brutality of the military junta. To help that many people with food, we need assistance. Our revolution would see faster success, if we get that kind of help.

RFA: Once the last battle is fought and the junta is removed from power, what then? How will the country be governed immediately after? How will Myanmar be returned to democratic rule?

Duwa Lashi La: After removing the military junta from the position of power, a transitional authority will be established. During that transitional period, a constitution in accordance with the charter will have to be drafted together in order to form a new democratic nation. 

A public conference involving all ethnic groups will be convened to  discuss the new constitution and create a roadmap for the future of Myanmar. In the transition period, we will have to make sure that each state and region draft their own constitution and agree on what they want, which way they want to go and what is important for them. 

In the transitional period, we will have to discuss and agree on the issue of responsible authority as our ethnic people have been subject to injustice and unlawful treatments for many years. We will have to make sure that we have a responsible authority in the future where we will all be in a position to self-govern our regions with our own suitable laws. Only then can we build a new peaceful and prosperous nation that we aim to achieve. I do believe that it is possible. We can really do that.

RFA: What do you want to say to the people of Myanmar?

Duwa Lashi La: The mindset that we will no longer let the military dictatorship continue needs to be very strong. It is very important for us to fight against the junta together in unity, regardless of our differences such as ethnicity, religion, gender and financial status. The people’s financial support and the use of technology play a crucial role in our revolution. There is some possibility that these supporters become unmotivated  

But a revolution cannot be unmotivated. I would like to say to the people of Myanmar that we have to work together, with a strong sense of resistance and in total unity. Only then can we successfully remove the military junta. 

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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