‘When they began using violence on protesters, I had to leave’: Former junta officer

Lt. Col. Banyar Kyaw discusses why he left to join the CDM and the state of Myanmar’s army.
By Khin Maung Soe
2022.03.22
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‘When they began using violence on protesters, I had to leave’: Former junta officer Lt. Col. Banyar Kyaw in an undated photo.
Banyar Kyaw

Lt. Col. Banyar Kyaw recently left his unit at the Myanmar military’s Science and Technology Department for the country’s anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), making him one of the highest-ranking officers to do so since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup. In an interview with RFA’s Myanmar Service, he discussed how morale has suffered in the military since the takeover, how the junta “brainwashes” its soldiers, and the state of the military regime’s ties with Russia, China, and the West.

  

RFA: Can you tell me about yourself?  When did you leave your unit?  What were your duties?

Banyar Kyaw: I left … in early February [2022] to join the CDM. My unit is based in Pyin-Oo-Lwin. Our department carried out research work, just like in civilian research groups, and I held a lecturer post. We were not involved in combat duties and mainly focused on research work. I completed Training Batch No. 46 of the Defence Services Academy in 2003.

RFA: What was the main reason that you left the military?

Banyar Kyaw: Even though I am a member of the Armed Forces, I have all along been a person who loves the company of others regardless of their status ... When the military began using violence on protesters, when they started destroying people’s homes and property, I realized I couldn’t be in this organization any longer. All the acts of the military were in total contrast with my convictions and beliefs. That’s why I decided to leave them and join hands with the people in the CDM movement.

RFA: What were your sentiments on the day of the coup?

Banyar Kyaw: On Feb. 1, when the coup was staged, all our phone lines were dead, and we didn’t know anything at all. When we heard later in the afternoon about the coup, I knew what a big mistake they had made, and that the country’s future would be seriously disrupted.

RFA: Did you know about the coup in advance, or did you have any hints about it?

Banyar Kyaw: No, of course not. No knowledge about it in advance, nor any indications.

RFA: When people want to know why you didn’t leave then or in the months that followed what do you say?

Banyar Kyaw: I had a family with a young baby at that time and I had to think very hard about the CDM. It was impossible to join the CDM then and that’s why I had to wait for the right moment.

RFA: So far, you are one of the highest-ranking officers who has left the Armed Forces. Do you think there are some higher-ranking officers in the military who might want to join the CDM?

Banyar Kyaw: That will depend on how they look at the current situation, how much they care about the people and how much sacrifices they can make for a defection. Once a person has reached a very high position, there will be a lot of complications from which he wouldn’t be able to free himself.

RFA: You have been to Russia for training. What did you study there? 

Banyar Kyaw: I finished university as a physics major student and so I was sent to Russia to study Laser Holography. I was among the group including technology and medical officers.

Lt. Col. Banyar Kyaw in an undated photo. Credit: Banyar Kyaw
Lt. Col. Banyar Kyaw in an undated photo. Credit: Banyar Kyaw
State of the military

RFA: What is the current strength of the Myanmar military. Some people say it must be about half a million.

Banyar Kyaw: No, I don’t think there are that many, based on what we have gathered. Especially now after the coup, with very few people joining the military and desertions and several casualties on the battlefields, I think the total strength could only be somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000.

RFA: We’ve heard there were a lot of deserters among the lower ranks and many divisions and battalions have tried to cover it up and were using their salaries and rations for their own benefit.

Banyar Kyaw: That is possible because the actual number of desertions cannot be reported to the higher levels.

RFA: How is morale among the rank-and-file?

Banyar Kyaw: Most of the soldiers are unavoidably carrying out the orders they receive because they cannot refuse the high pressure from above. Nowadays, while the military has no support from the people, there are several casualties on the battlefields and the number of the deserters is rising. Families of arm forces personnel do not dare to go out in public and show their faces. Some of them do not even dare to go visit their parents back home. And I think there are a lot among the rank and file hoping to see somebody who could bring out reforms.

RFA: What are your views on the military playing politics in the country?

The military leaders used beautiful rhetoric to suggest they saved the country from the brink of disaster and protected race and religion but in reality, they were working to hold on to power. If they had been really sincere, our country would not be in a situation as at present. 

RFA: What percentage of military officers believe what the leaders were saying?

Banyar Kyaw: I think there must be about 80 percent or so among the officers who believe that the [junta] is protecting race and religion and that the country cannot survive without it. Most of us who attended the Defence Services Academy are young people who are very easy to be brainwashed. Just ‘One Voice, One Command’, as we say. We would blindly believe in and carry out the commands that came from above. 

RFA: People say that the military is trying to throw a wedge among the opposition forces. What do You think of that?

Banyar Kyaw: Of course, they will do that. They have done it in the past and they will do so in the future. They will try to cause doubts and disagreements among the people and dissent among the opposition forces.

RFA:  How would you compare the strengths and weaknesses of the military and the opposition?

Banyar Kyaw: The military has been built for many years to become a powerful entity and they have all the modern weaponry. However, the leaders have ignored the sentiments of the lower ranks and have worked largely for their own benefit – something many have realized and find unacceptable. Many units have been engaged in fighting for many years and are beginning to show signs of fatigue. That’s their weakness. Worst of all, the entire people are showing hatred for the military. On the other hand, the democratic forces have a very high morale even though they do not have the weapons they need.

RFA: What do you think of the armed resistance?

Banyar Kyaw: I think it is borne out of the desire of the people to oppose a military dictatorship. It has now been more than a year and people are still giving unwavering support and they should do so in the same manner for the future. Victory will not be so far away if they can maintain a strong chain of command and carry on with the revolution steadfastly and in unity. 

RFA: What do you think of the relations between the Russian and Myanmar military?

Banyar Kyaw: They are very close ties which can be seen in the many purchases of Russian jet fighters, helicopters, and tanks by the Myanmar military.

RFA: What would you like to tell the world?

Banyar Kyaw: I’d like to call on the international community to provide for the people of Myanmar who are suffering at the hands of the military dictatorship and losing all their rights with necessary assistance, just like the strong support and assistance given to the people of Ukraine. The West should also play it right to counterbalance the influence of Russia and our big neighbor China and reduce the reliance on them.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane.

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