People’s Defense Force members are seen at an undisclosed location near Thai-Myanmar border.

Fighting for a better future

Many young people in Myanmar have joined the armed struggle to overthrow the military junta following its brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters. After the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) formed the People's Defense Force (PDF), many came to free border areas for military training and to take up arms.

In the wake of the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government, protests erupted around the country, demanding the release of political prisoners and the return of civilian governance.

The crackdown by the military, known as the Tatmadaw, was quick and violent, aimed at terrorizing protesters. At one point, the state-run MRTV News broadcast that protesters must learn that they “can be in danger of getting shot in the head and back.”

To fight back, thousands of civilians from cities and rural areas joined the PDF since its formation on May 5. After enlisting, they receive military training in remote areas of the country and take part in attacks on the Tatmadaw. In some regions, PDF units have joined forces with armed ethnic militias.


PDF members stand by to move to another location near Thai-Myanmar border.


Among the many tasks new PDF members learn is how to clean and lubricate their weapons.


Naturally, the training also includes marksmanship.

On May 8, Myanmar’s military retaliated by designating the People’s Defense Force a terrorist organization, effectively giving authorities the power to detain and sometimes kill anyone they believe to be associated with the PDF.

But the attacks by PDF fighters have continued, and the NUG said in September that the PDF had killed more than 1,320 soldiers in the previous two months, though the number could not be confirmed.


A PDF member takes a photo of his comrade.


PDF members train in the jungle near Thai-Myanmar border.


Members take a break during operations.


PDF members make their way across a stream during training.


PDF members take a break during jungle training.

On Sept. 7, the NUG proclaimed D-Day against the military regime and scores of telecommunication towers owned by a military-linked company were destroyed.

Other high-profile strikes have included a grenade attack on an army convoy in Yangon, the targeted killings of government officials and suspected informers and a landmine attack on a convoy in Gangaw Township, Magway.

The NUG has called the PDF a model for a new federal army in Myanmar that would not be immune from civilian authority.


A PDF member writes an entry in his diary during some downtime.


Many miles from the nearest barber shop, members help each other out with haircuts.


A pair of musicians entertain fellow members of this PDF unit with their violin and ukelele.


PDF members rest and enjoy some leisure time after training.

Photos: Myanmar Pressphoto Agency (MPA)
Research and writing: Nawar Nemeh
Editing: H. Léo Kim, Paul Nelson
Web page produced by: Minh-Ha Le
Reported and produced by Radio Free Asia
© 2021 RFA All Rights Reserved.
Facebook - Youtube - Twitter