Nearly 2,500 soldiers and police in Myanmar have broken with the military junta to join the resistance movement since the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected government, defector groups said on Thursday.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow government made of former lawmakers ousted in the coup, as well as several armed ethnic groups, last month issued calls on members of the military and police to switch sides.
The security forces that have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that sprang up to resist the coup with protests and widespread work stoppages are represented by two groups. The CDM Myanmar Police Channel says 1,000 police have joined the movement, while People’s Embrace says about 1,500 members of the military have switched sides, and both groups say their numbers are growing.
To date, the highest-ranked defector has been an army colonel, the groups said on Facebook.
The NUG’s defense minister, Ye Mon, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the appeal to the military is part of the shadow government’s plan to overthrow the military dictatorship.
"We understand that there are intelligent people among the military and the police. Especially those who know what is right or wrong, what is justice and what is injustice,” said Ye Mon.
“We believe there are many people who know which side they should choose. We expect this directive to have a major impact on most members of the police force and military personnel, except for the handful of the junta’s leaders and minions who have committed a series of war crimes," he said.
Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government on Feb. 1, claiming the party had stolen the country’s November 2020 ballot through voter fraud. The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing at least 1,043 people and arresting 6,132 others, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Ye Mon said the skills and expertise of security forces who defect would be extremely useful in helping the people regain control of the country. In addition, he said the NUG would provide for the safety and well-being of their families.
Captain Lin Htet Aung, who recently joined the CDM, told RFA that the NUG’s outreach had been effective and many soldiers and police officers still serving the junta have contacted his group to learn more about how they can defect.
“One of the reasons that people are not leaving the army is because they are thinking about their current rank and position, as well as their own security,” said Lin Htet Aung.
“The NUG is giving guarantees for that. Many in the armed forces are aware of this statement and have contacted us,” he said.
Current members of the military can be divided into three groups: those who support the junta, those who do not trust the junta, and a neutral group, Lin Htet Aung said. The defection of the latter two groups would spell doom for the junta, he added.
The NUG’s defense ministry last week urged police and soldiers to stop obeying junta orders and to stop arresting, torturing and killing civilians and destroying public property.
The ministry also called on them to stop attacking the people’s defense forces (PDF), the hundreds of militia groups formed by citizens opposed to the coup, some of which are receiving training and support from armed ethnic groups that have been fighting with the military for decades.
The NUG also told security forces how to contact the NUG if they wish to join the resistance.
A former police officer from Myingyan, in the country’s central region, told RFA that the messages from the NUG are encouraging to other police officers because there are many who want to leave but do not know how.
“There were people who wanted to leave their posts from the very beginning. It is encouraging for them to see such a statement that welcomes them,” Thet Naing Oo said.
“It was not only that they didn’t approve of the coup. They were unhappy that most of the higher positions in the police force were given to former army officers instead of those among them who had loyally served as officers for years. It was a slap in the face,” he said.
The Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF) and the Chin Regional Defense Force (CDF), two of the armed ethnic groups that control territory in the country and have been fighting the military for years, told RFA they are trying to encourage members of the security forces to switch sides.
"The military coup was an unjust and coercive process. Only an insane person would say the actions of the junta are fair,” a KNDF spokesman told RFA.
He said it was common in Myanmar’s history for power hungry generals to exploit lower ranking soldiers for their own benefit, so these soldiers should stop serving the junta as soon as possible.
“There is still time for those in the army and police force as well as those who are working in support of the junta to engage with the people,” he said.
The KNDF said on Aug. 20 that it would work with the people to uproot the military dictatorship and would welcome those who join the movement with special security guarantees as well as monetary support from public donations.
The CDF, which launched the first civilian armed uprising after the coup, announced on Aug. 10 that it would pay each member of the military who joins the opposition force 5 million kyat (U.S. $3,037) and guarantee their safety.
CDF officials would not disclose to RFA where the money was coming from, but a spokesman for the group said that they expected the announcement to entice soldiers to defect.
"Wouldn’t it be better if there is one less gun pointing at ordinary people?” he said.
“We released the statement as an incentive for police and soldiers who are confused, those who do not want to die for nothing in the jungle and those who dislike the military council," said the spokesman.
The stepped up defection enticement effort came as branches of the PDF militias from a dozen regions in Myanmar announced an alliance to collectively take on the country’s junta. The groups are mostly based in embattled Sagaing region and Chin state, but are also located in of Mandalay and Magway regions, as well as Kachin and other ethnic states.
The junta said last week that the NUG and other groups are trying to disrupt government business and are carrying out terror attacks daily to intimidate the public. The military also offered rewards to whistleblowers and informants who help make arrests of people associated with anti-junta groups.
The military has not yet commented on soldier or police defection to the CDM or other resistance groups.
Local media outlets have quoted military sources as saying that the number of soldiers and officers leaving their posts to join the CDM is rising daily, prompting the junta to consider releasing the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and holding national elections.
According to the CIA’s World Factbook, there are about 400,000 soldiers in Myanmar’s military, making it one of the largest in Southeast Asia.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.