Defections From Myanmar Military Mounts Sharply

SH-1 self-propelled artillery systems of Myanmar Army
SH-1 self-propelled artillery systems of Myanmar Army

Defections From Myanmar Military Mounts Sharply 

By Subir Bhaumik

Champhai ( Mizoram) 

More than 2,000 soldiers and policemen have joined the country’s Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a nationwide boycott initiative by Myanmarese civil servants to oppose the Feb 1 military takeover in the country.

A CDM  spokesman now hiding near this Mizoram frontier town told INS that ‘many more defections’ from the Tatmadaw ( Burmese army) and police will happen soon.

The revolting bureaucrat who did not wish to be identified fearing implications on his family claimed ” fissures were evident even in the top echelons of the Tatmadaw.”

” Some pragmatic generals feel the military junta supremo Senior General Min Aung Hlaing have dragged the army into a difficult corner only to fulfil his personal ambition. They are against Hlaing helming the army anymore,” the CDM spokesperson said.
No military hierarchy wants a general who does not retire and allow others to reach the top. Pakistan’s Pervez Musharaff and Myanmar’s Than Shwe  faced the angst of generals serving below them and finally met their Waterloo.

” A growing number of Burmese generals fear economic ruin due to Hlaing’s coup . They know he wanted to be President and ordered the takeover when he was refused by NLD supremo Aung Saan Suu Kyi. They want a honorable settlement, a democratic restoration but with the army’s position unharmed. They think Hlaing is the elephant in the room,” another CDM bureaucrat with Defence Ministry background said.

He claimed Hlaing was surviving due to ‘unstinted Chinese backing’ because Beijing was using him to clear mega projects crucial to the China- Myanmar Economic Corridor.

” General Hlaing is a Chinese stooge,” the bureacrat said , also unwilling to be named. ” I don’t rule out a split at the top of the military’s chain of command.” 

CDM functionaries claimed 2000 defectors may not look like a big number from a 300,000 strong army but such defections are unprecendented in Burmese military history.

” The obvious disaffection  at the bottom of the military ladder could severely impact on morale and operational capability of an over-stretched army which has to fight multiple ethnic rebellions, a powerful civil disobedience marked by street protests and growing urban insurgency among majority Bamars,” said Maj-Gen Gaganjit Singh, a former deputy DG of India’s  Defense Intelligence Agency after years of service in Northeast bordering Myanmar.
” Chinese support cannot boost morale and prevent growing disaffection.”

“[Under the regime] people are ashamed to be soldiers, to attend the Defense Services Academy or to join the military. This is a very sad thing for the future of the military” said Captain Nyi Thuta told ‘Irrawaddy’ magazine.
After graduating in 2010 from the 52th Intake of the Defence Services Academy, he served at his base in Naypyitaw until the coup. 
When he learned about the takeover, he felt Myanmar was heading into a dark age. When the junta escalated its nationwide deadly crackdowns on peaceful protesters who were against their rule in March, the captain left his unit. 
“You can’t kill people who express their views,” he told ‘Irrawaddy’.
The Tatmadaw has killed more than 1,000 peaceful protestors since February , arrested 8000 more and shocked the world with its  brutality.
More than 100 people were killed in a single day in March. 
The  Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which is compiling the deaths and arrests since Feb. 1 coup, has confirmed 1019 deaths so far.
Another defector, Captain Lin Htet Aung, said what his fellow soldiers did during the crackdowns were totally contradictory to the codes of conduct they were supposed to follow.
“They have changed into thugs with guns,” he told ‘ Irrawaddy’.
Sergeant Yin Lei Lei Tun used to be proud of being a soldier. But her faith in the armed forces she joined in 2016 was lost with the coup when she saw the junta’s atrocities against peaceful anti-regime protesters. So she joined the CDM in April after defecting from her military base in Yangon Region.
“After the coup, I feel insecure about being a soldier, as people hate the military. Our military is also doing the wrong thing” Sergeant Tun told ‘Irrawaddy’.
5-10  soldiers were defecting from the military on an average daily, according to the People’s Soldier group, a Facebook page co-founded by Captain Nyi Thuta to provide assistance to striking soldiers and to persuade more military personnel to leave their barracks to join the CDM.
Most of the soldiers who have joined the CDM are privates and sergeants. But officers , ranking  lieutenants to majors, also account for around 100.
The Tatmadaw is notorious for brutalities not just on ethnic minorities but also on its majority Bamar community during previous uprisings like 1988 and 2007.
But never before have defections happened from its ranks, except some odd case. 
A Burmese Internet expert says social media has played a huge role in fomenting the unrest in the military alongside the general population.
” A huge percentage of Burmese people are on Facebook. The extensive messaging by the democracy movement is impacting on the army’s rank and file,” the expert said, but again preferring to stay anonymous.

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