Asia-Pacific

Four months ago Way Nah Mu worked on a cruise ship. Today he’s preparing to fight the Myanmar military

Way Nah Mu in an undisclosed training camp in Myanmar Source: Supplied

Way Nah Mu joined the Karen National Defence Organisation after witnessing the military regime fire live rounds into crowds of protestors.

Four months ago Way Nah Mu worked as a crew member on a cruise ship in Myanmar’s burgeoning tourism industry.

Now, he’s training in the remote mountains of Karen State to take on Myanmar's brutal military regime.

“We are fighting for our freedom and we are fighting for democracy,” he told SBS News from an undisclosed location where he, and scores of other volunteers, have been getting combat training.

The 31-year-old left his job when a military coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi in February, joining the pro-democracy Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).

Witnessing the military regime fire live rounds into crowds of protestors spurred him to join the Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO).

Way Nah Mu has joined the Karen National Defence Organisation
Way Nah Mu has joined the Karen National Defence Organisation
Supplied

“We already learned so much and we still have to learn how to use heavy weapons and we have to learn how to shoot sniper rifles, we still have a lot of training left,” he said.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks the military’s crackdown on protestors, at least 857 civilians have been killed since the coup. Thousands more have been detained. 

For Way Nah Mu, seeing the military fire indiscriminately into houses in major cities, including Yangon, turned him from a peaceful protestor to an armed rebel.

“If we have enough guns or enough weapons of course why we cannot shoot them back? If they shoot us of course we must protect ourselves. So we have to fight back.”

Way Nah Mu is one of thousands of volunteers from the CDM movement who have put down the placards and are picking up guns to resist Myanmar’s military regime.

It's estimated that thousands are being trained in Karen State alone.

Way Nah Mu before the military coup.
Way Nah Mu before the military coup.
Supplied

He left his family in a major city - which SBS has decided not to publish in order to protect them from reprisals, and had been regularly joining mass protests.

“I am worried for my family, for me it’s okay as I am already here but I worry about them because they are living in the city,” he said.

Last month, units from the Karen National Liberation Army, a group that incorporates the KNDO, captured a Myanmar military base after heavy fighting.

As many as 200 government soldiers have been killed in fighting in Karen State.

But the Myanmar Military is fighting back, conducting 13 airstrikes in Karen State alone since the coup and killing at least 18 people according to the independent watchdog the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG).

Tens of thousands of civilians – by some estimates as many as 70,000, have been forced to flee fighting in Karen territory.

Major General Nerdah Bo Mya leads the KNDO.

He told SBS that ethnic armed groups opposed to the military wanted to work alongside Myanmar’s CDM movement to resist the regime and bring the country’s democratically-elected government back into power.

Major General Nerdah Bo Mya said more than 500 Civil Disobedience Movement protestors had volunteered so far.
Major General Nerdah Bo Mya said more than 500 Civil Disobedience Movement protestors had volunteered so far.
SBS News

“After the military coup in Burma many students and many young people fled for their lives and they reached our areas. So we are doing our best to protect them and they want basic training so they can defend themselves and go back and defend their people,” he said.

The general said more than 500 CDM volunteers were being trained directly under his command, and would be sent back to major cities to act as protection for protestors.

“The main objective is to unify all our strength together and fight together to get rid of the military regime as soon as possible,” he said.

“The CDM volunteers told us they cannot stay in their homes anymore, people are dying, relatives are dying, and at night time the military search their houses and there’s no safety for people,” he said.

“So we give them basic combat knowledge so they can go back and will know how to protect themselves when they get weapons from the enemy.”

The volunteers are being trained in firearms as well as general combat training.
The volunteers are being trained in firearms as well as general combat training.
Supplied

International ‘failure’ leading to growing armed resistance

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said a lack of targeted action by the international community was pushing Myanmar further into violent chaos.

“The military has told its forces on the streets that it can shoot to kill, and they don’t hesitate to do so, authority has been granted to treat protestors on the streets as enemy combatants,” he told SBS.

“The Myanmar shoots to kill protestors on the streets, it’s like a nightmare that many people had believed was banished from modern Myanmar, has returned with a vengeance.”

Mr Robertson said the National Unity Government was clearly moving towards forming its own armed resistance forces in the face of the military regime’s violent crackdowns.

Fighting in Myanmar's Karen State has intensified in recent weeks.
Fighting in Myanmar's Karen State has intensified in recent weeks.
Supplied

“It is quite clear the National Unity Government has endorsed a principle of self defence and this [armed training] has come about because of a failure by the international community to intervene in Myanmar, under the right to protect principle.

“This is sliding towards increased use of militias and a situation where human rights abuses will significantly escalate across the country.”

For Wah Nay Mu, and a growing number of the country’s pro-democracy youth, the time for peaceful resistance is over.

“We want to destroy the military dictatorship, we don’t want to see any more military dictatorship in the future anymore. We are ready.”

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