Many of those who fled to the jungles are members of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) – which has seen thousands of white and blue collar workers, including doctors and teachers, as well as engineers and laborers, quit their jobs. . to disrupt the economy resisting the coup.
So they went to the border regions of the county, to areas controlled by ethnic armed groups who fought against the army, the central government and against each other for more rights and autonomy, time in time for 70 years, to learn how to shoot a gun.
Major General Nerdah Bo Mya is Chief of Staff of the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), one of the two armed wings of the Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest rebel group in Myanmar. which claims to protect the Karen ethnic minority and its territory. in southeastern Karen State.
He runs a free basic training program. “It is a responsibility to protect life,” he said. “If we don’t train them, who is going to help them?” Increasingly violent tactics used against protesters and passers-by have resulted in more than 760 dead, according to advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), though they say the actual death toll is likely much higher. Student.
Major General Nerdah Bo Mya said none of the 200 anti-coup protesters he had trained had ever held a gun and many were still in college. “They are quite young, their age is around 24, 25 – and some are nurses and also doctors and medical staff,” he said.
In addition to learning to wield weapons, they are prepared for the physical challenges of combat, demonstrated first aid techniques and taught the basics of marksmanship.
The KNDO is not the only armed ethnic group offering training to members of the MDP. Images from a number of ethnic areas show recruits chanting slogans, such as “for the people”, “for our freedom” and “for our independence”.
The military junta did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the camps. On May 4, however, military leaders published a statement in the New Light of Myanmar, a state-run company, calling on those who had traveled to ethnic areas or abroad to return home.
Basic training for anti-coup protesters
Once they have received the training, the idea is for men and women to return to their towns and pass their knowledge on to other protesters.
An 18-year-old, who manned a roadblock in the town of Bago last month when dozens of people were killed by the military, said several of his comrades had traveled to ethnic areas to seek lead. He had stayed behind.
Asking to remain anonymous for his safety, the teenager said: “We have two groups, one to protect the neighborhood and another has gone for training and they will come back to teach us what they have learned.”
Major General Nerbah Bo Mya acknowledges that this is a very one-sided battle in the streets of Myanmar.
“We told them that they had to be wise and that we had to fight with our heads and not with our hearts,” he said, acknowledging that the Tatmadaw is a highly trained fighting force. He ruled Myanmar for more than half a century through brutality and fear, making the country a poverty-stricken pariah nation.
Major General Nerbah Bo Mya said MDP members needed weapons to stand a chance against the Tatmadaw, but would not say if his group provided any – or if bomb-making was part of the course.
He criticized China and Russia for allowing military leadership, saying the rest of the world must support the CDM movement, and single in the USA. China and Russia are Myanmar’s largest and second-largest arms suppliers. Both accepted United Nations resolutions condemning violence against peaceful protesters but not specifically condemning the coup and resisted a United Nations arms embargo on the country.
Major General Nerbah Bo Mya said anti-coup protesters fear the international community will forget them, saying: “They all admire the US government for democracy and freedom and whether the Chinese and Russian governments can help the brutal and corrupt military regime, why can’t the US government help these people who are fighting for freedom and democracy in Burma. ”
So far, US President Joe Biden has condemned the violence used against protesters and imposed sanctions on military leaders and some military-run companies.
Historic fight between military and ethnic minorities
The ongoing conflict between the Burmese military and ethnic minorities has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and rights groups have long linked soldiers to atrocities and human rights violations in ethnic areas, including massacres, rapes and other forms of sexual violence, torture and forced labor.
In 2016 and 2017, the military launched a brutal campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State, committing atrocities that led more than 740,000 Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 alone, which led to a genocide case before the International Court of Justice. .
Amnesty International reported in 2017 that ethnic minorities in Kachin and northern Shan State also suffered abuses by armed ethnic organizations, including forced recruitment.
In Karen State, Gen. Nerdah Bo Mya said armed ethnic organizations feel they have an obligation to work with anti-coup protesters to rid the country of military dictatorship. “We have a heart for these kinds of people, because we’ve been through this ourselves and we know what kind of pain, what kind of suffering … what kind of atrocities they go through so that we can put ourselves in their shoes. . “
Violence by the military in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay has forced some residents of Bamar to consider their past – some first acknowledge and even apologize for not recognizing or defending ethnic struggles, which are far from above.
Fighting intensified in mountainous border regions in the north and southeast of the country following the coup.
The army carried out airstrikes and mortar bombings on KNLA bases and villages. Last week, the KNLA seized a military outpost in a jungle area near the border with Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province.
There is no doubt that three or four weeks of basic training does not allow these doctors and students to fight against a well-armed army. But the general says they will return to the cities better equipped mentally, at least.
“It is not necessary to fight with the Burmese army in the streets, but they can do something else, they can do something more defensive and more productive,” he said. He hasn’t developed what it could be.
The fact that students are looking for ethnic armies to teach them how to shoot a gun, organize an ambush and undergo endurance training shows how seriously the security situation in Myanmar has deteriorated in just three months. .
For those trained to save lives in a hospital, learning now to defend lives in the urban battle raises fears that the days and weeks to come will become more violent.
CNN’s Helen Regan also contributed to this report from Hong Kong.