Merdeka.com – At a secret jungle camp in Myanmar’s eastern state of Karen, a fitness trainer and other civilians train with ethnic armed insurgents to fight back against the military, which toppled the civilian government on February 1.
Huddled under makeshift tents in remote hills near the Thai border, these new recruits learn how to load rifles and attach detonators to homemade bombs as they prepare to battle the army.
Reuters has rare footage of young men and women saying they quit their jobs in the city to become guerrilla fighters, replacing their branded and colorful shirts with army uniforms.
Pictures and videos were taken in September.
A spokesman for Myanmar’s military government did not respond to requests for comment about the group and other civil defense forces across the country.
Some of the new recruits said they took up arms because mass demonstrations after the coup failed to remove the new ruler, who responded to the demonstrations with violence, leaving thousands dead.
“Take up arms is the only option for us,” said a 34-year-old former fitness coach who did not want to be named.
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The tattoos covering his back read “Freedom to Lead” and the face of Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi was arrested during the coup and convicted on charges of sedition and violating coronavirus restrictions.
The military ruler has drawn international criticism. The junta said Suu Kyi’s sentence showed no one was above the law and the justice system was “impartial”.
The training of civilians is part of the agenda of the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the country’s largest armed ethnic groups, which has expressed solidarity with the protesters and allowed thousands of people to seek refuge on their territory.
However KNU did not respond to a request for comment.
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Hundreds of the same defense groups have sprung up across the country, a coalition of armed anti-coup rebels calling themselves the People’s Defense Forces (PDF).
One of the organizers of the training, a former student activist, said there were more than 100 young civilians in his group’s training for war, with new recruits arriving regularly. Reuters could not independently confirm this.
In the evening, these would-be warriors sit around a bonfire playing guitar and violin – reminiscing about remnants of past lives.
The former fitness trainer said he was afraid of fighting a 300,000-strong military.
But, he continued, fighting was the only way.
“I want to be proud of my death for protecting my people,” he concluded. [pan]
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