Originally published on Mohinga Matters
On Sept. 7, the National Unity Government (NUG) declared a state of emergency across the nation and launched the people’s defensive war against the regime led by Min Aung Hlaing. The declaration of war ignited a number of skirmishes and clashes across the country. Two years into the armed resistance, the end of Myanmar’s ongoing crisis is not in sight. This month, we talked to Myat Mhan, an officer from a local resistance force in Bago Region to understand the landscape of the resistance movement.
MM: Please tell us about your organization and your role.
Myat: I am the second officer of the Aung Lan People’s Defense Force (Aung Lan-PDF) in Bago Region. We organized this group already in April 2021. Back then, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) under the NUG had not formed the PDF. We were known as the Local People’s Defense Force (LPDF), which is based in the township.
We selected the Bago Range as our base, where the communist party used to be located in the old days, which still gives us enough shade and camouflage. Initially, we envisioned organizing LPDFs township by township and coordinating with each other based on the Bago Range. In reality, it was quite difficult, primarily due to the lack of access to weapons. Unlike Chin and Magway regions where some people are familiar with Tumee guns (handmade weapons), people from our locations are not used to arms. It took us over a year to finally get our hands on proper ammunition.
MM: What is the difference between PDF and LPDF? And how many men do you have today?
Myat: Generally, the PDF is a pure military organization, that conducts armed missions. The LPDF operates both military and administrative tasks, similar to militias. The LPDF is made up of many departments, such as finance and healthcare, that aren’t directly involved in combat. Now, our LPDF has 11 major members. We have organized villages and trained one military unit and hundreds of PDF rangers. There are 200 villages in Aung Lan Township. If we can recruit 10 from each, you have yourself a great manpower. As the former MOD deputy minister used to say, “Where there is water, there is fish”. As long as there are people, PDF members are not rare.
MM: What is your affiliation with the MOD under the NUG? Have you also had any association with the Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs)?
Myat: Since our establishment, we have recruited and sent youths from our region to two ERO areas where they take commando and basic military training for either three weeks or six weeks. Once they complete this training, the youths continue learning the military strategic planning and the MOD various guidelines back in our area. Our PDF units are formed with those who have finished all these trainings, so although we do not operate under the command of EROs, everyone is coordinating in this. And EROs role is significant not just for the training they provide, our young men have been able to observe how their stations are built and guarded, how the soldiers are accommodated, etc.
MM: The people’s defensive war has turned two years old. What is your opinion on how much the anti-coup forces from various parts of the country have accomplished?
Myat: To give you a very rough answer, I am very satisfied with how far we have come. From the outside, it’s understandable that people are not totally happy. However, in reality, only people on the battlefield can relate to how difficult the task is at hand. A bit of context, previously, the Karen National Union (KNU) only had territory on the east of the Sittaung River, now it has come as far as the west side of the river; namely Kyauktada, Yetarshay townships where battles are frequent today.
These are accomplishments of the armed resistance of the southern forces led by the KNU. On the other hand, the northern forces under the leadership of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are no less noteworthy. Up until Magway’s Gantgaw area, Pakokku district, the resistance forces have been able to show their strength. All this did not happen overnight. In the early days of the armed resistance, a friend of mine told me we would be able to seize Aung Lan Township if we had 20 G3 rifles.
There was no follow-up question on what to do next, how to defend the township, etc. Back then, we had zero military knowledge, there was only willingness. In reality, it took more than reading a few Che Guevera books to keep the revolution going. We also came across youths who said they were in resistance and hence why they should be taking orders from someone. So, when we talk about accomplishments, we cannot just point out the casualties or the stations where we gained control, we have achieved quite a lot in terms of mentality, and mindset as well.
MM: On social media, people ask “When is all this going to end?” Do you have a realistic answer to this?
Myat: The question itself is not realistic. You cannot simply put a timeframe on a revolution. This is still a resistance war, we must be able to turn it into an offensive. In order to do that we need resources, such as funding, manpower, and time. As the resistance drags on, people get a little tired and the expenses get higher. We are working on balancing these.
We have started collecting taxes to fulfill funding in the areas we control. In terms of recruitment, we had to organize trips and talks to village by village in the early days. Nowadays, villages have started to contact us and say that they want to support us. As such, we are working on two major resources to keep our victory dreams alive. But time, it’s difficult to say when exactly although I personally don’t think it will be too far away.
MM: What are your main channels of funding?
Myat: The MOD supports us partially, and we also source our own funding through individual donors. The basic cost that covers accommodation, food, water, etc. is about K55,000 per head per month. If the donation amount is more than K300,000, we issue an acknowledgment letter with the MOD seal. If it’s less, we provide the township certificate. The donation money is used to purchase basic food items, manufacture weapons, and accommodate internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Two villages in our township were burned down by the regime’s soldiers recently because they found out the villagers were supporting us. Hence, the people from those villages become our responsibility. Considering all this, it’s essential to spend money wisely. We have also explored ideas to control lands without using guns and bullets to save up cash. There is a strategy we use; we don’t necessarily meet the enemies on the battlefield. We try to target more of the regime’s weapon manufacturing factories, its less-focused stations. The strategy has been working so far.
MM: We have readers from different parts of the world. Do you have any message to the international community?
Myat: World leaders tend to assist developing countries only when there is a potential benefit for them. I would like to request the international community to help Myanmar from a humanitarian perspective, not from a profit-oriented view. If they don’t wish to be involved with arms supply, they must help the IDP camps. When the regime’s forces conduct an offensive, they usually burn down villages in the process.
Such villages are one of our sources of food supply as they provide rice, oil, etc. which enables us to spend more money on producing weapons. When these villages get burned down and the villagers are deprived of their homes, they become our responsibility as I mentioned above. And we have to allocate money to accommodate the IDPs, instead of investing in military purposes. If the international community cooperates with the NUG in helping IDPs, it will strengthen our cause a lot.
*This story has been edited for brevity. To read the entire story go to Mohinga Matters, a platform where aspiring writers share their thoughts, ideas and opinions freely.