Magway PDFs debunk junta defection claims

Magway PDFs debunk junta defection claims

Magway Region resistance groups have categorically denied that people portrayed as submitting to the military on state-run MRTV this Monday were members of an armed group. 

The military’s TV station had aired photos purportedly showing members of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) surrendering to the military in the war-torn region. The news report followed an announcement by the junta that it was to offer an amnesty to PDF members who laid down their arms and peacefully returned to civilian life.

MRTV and the junta’s Magway Region Administration Facebook page described the nine individuals shown in photos as members of PDFs that had finished training in Ngape township yet had not “committed any crimes”. The publications said that each had been rewarded with K100,000 (US$55) when handing themselves to military authorities, and “returned to their parents”. The news was soon repeated across other state media outlets. 

The military itself had recently made similar claims relating to five people who it alleged had completed paramilitary training with PDF groups in Kale, Sagaing Region, and similarly surrendered to the military to be returned to their parents, a case which has seemingly been debunked by independent news outlets.

The People’s Revolution Alliance (PRA) Magway called the announcement “another one of the junta’s schemes”.

“I am acquainted with some of the people in the photos the military released. They are people who actively participated in anti-military rallies in February and March in 2021. They later fled and hid at family members’ homes as the military had pursued them; I know the exact houses they hid in. They returned because they were afraid and later gave a confession to the military. They did not join any PDFs — everyone in our township knows that. Some of them even got married on February 4 and had asked the military’s own administrators for a marriage certificate. Would a PDF member do that?,” Hercules, an officer in charge of PRA Magway, told DVB.

Resistance groups allege that the photo op was staged by a military appointed administrator and information officer of the Magway chapter of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). 

Three other PDFs active in Ngape township — PRA Magway, Triangle 3 PDF, and West Division PDF — claimed those accused of deserting the resistance were not members of their groups.

PRA Magway told DVB that, in some of the photos shown, Aung Naing Lin, the information officer of the Magway regional chapter of the USDP, is seen sat in an administration office with one of those returned, posing as his father. The pair are, of course, not related.

Magway Division Army/Magway Division People’s Defense Force (MDA/MDPDF) also claimed that no PDF members had defected from the region.

The junta had, on June 11, announced that it would welcome members of any organization — including the PDF — who had taken up arms against the military to “return to civilian life… in accordance with its laws” and to “participate in the future work plans in the country”. The unusual call was similar to those extended to CDM civil servants and those who had gone into hiding after troops violently cracked down on protests in the months directly following the coup. However, it was the first time that the military had promised to accommodate those with links to pro-democracy groups — the NUG, CRPH, and PDF — which it refers to as “terrorist”. 

Previously, military officials had repeatedly declared that they would not negotiate with the groups, with junta head Min Aung Hlaing stating outright that he would “annihilate” his opponents.

In making this latest call, the junta — which continues the wholesale burning of towns and villages across Burma — has promoted the idea that an amnesty has been offered in the interests of the country’ development and stability, saying, somewhat paradoxically, that “democratic systems” had been harmed due to the competing visions of political and ethnic groups. 

In response, resistance groups throughout Burma have poured scorn on the junta’s call, which many believe is — similar to Min Aung Hlaing’s recent round of EAO “peace talks”  — targeted at hoodwinking the international community, giving the appearance that it is cooperating in the spirit of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus.

“We will fight until the system is changed… Even if they invite us to lay down arms, we have no plans to return to the status quo,” an official of the Thaton People’s Guerrilla Group told DVB. He also urged the military to apologize to the people by defecting.

A deputy spokesperson for an alliance of Mon State-based revolutionary forces told DVB that anti-military groups did not form to surrender their weapons, and that they would continue to work to eliminate the regime. 

“We consider this a joke because urban guerrillas and PDFs, including our groups, will not surrender weapons,” he said. 

The junta’s offer has been interpreted by others as a sign that the military has been weakened. 

“The military is now in hot water and cannot compete with PDFs and other resistance forces despite having better weapons. They will try to divide and conquer while they regain their strength; that is how they are trying to defeat resistance forces. This is a plot to defeat revolutionary groups, and it’s a farce. They will tightly control anyone who defects by putting them in jail and controlling their businesses, family, and social lives,” Captain Lin Htet Aung, a former military officer involved in the Civil Disobedience Movement, told Khit Thit Media.

As PDFs remain resolute, more than 10,000 soldiers and police officers have defected from the military since the coup, according to an announcement by People’s Soldiers, a group of activists that work to facilitate defections from the army. The spokesperson of the Arakan Army (AA) Khaing Thukha recently said at an online press conference on June 14 that “hundreds” of soldiers have defected to AA alone.

The spokesperson of the Arakan Liberation Army (ALP) General Khaing Soe Mra said in a recent interview with DVB that he believed that the military would likely engage in discussions with the NUG and PDFs after it had finished talks with sympathetic Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs).

The NUG’s Ministry of Defense recently claimed that there are more than 100,000 people serving in over 250 PDFs under the NUG’s command, with an additional 500 resistance groups loosely coordinating with the parallel government.