The Myanmar military is facing a significant challenge as it experiences a wave of defections within its ranks and encounters difficulties in recruiting new soldiers. Recently, in interviews, former military personnel who have defected revealed that the junta, which took control of the country through a coup two years ago, is grappling with the formidable task of quelling the armed pro-democracy uprising.
According to the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG), over 13,000 soldiers and police officers have defected since the military coup took place in February 2021. In an effort to encourage further defections, the NUG is providing cash incentives and comprehensive support to those who choose to switch sides.
Maung Sein, at the age of 19, stands as the youngest individual within the safehouse. At a remarkably young age of 15, he made the decision to join the military, driven by his deep admiration for the armed forces and a strong desire to bring pride to his family. However, the military’s forceful suppression of the nationwide movement advocating for democracy has significantly altered the perception of those wearing uniforms.
“I felt deeply saddened when I saw derogatory comments online referring to us as ‘military dogs,'” he reveals. In Myanmar, using animal terms as insults carries significant weight. “It filled me with remorse and despair.” Maung Sein explains that soldiers like him, serving on the ground, were unable to defy “orders from higher ranks” to “harm innocent civilians and destroy villages.”
However, another reason for his departure was his belief that the military currently finds itself in a vulnerable position. says Capt Zay Thu Aung.
In a surprising turn of events, ethnic armed organizations operating in the border regions, alongside a formidable network of civilian militia groups known as the People’s Defence Forces (PDF), have emerged as a significantly more potent force than anticipated. As a consequence, the Myanmar military finds itself relinquishing control over extensive swaths of the country.
In the regions of Magway Division and Sagaing Division, which have historically been significant sources of military recruits, a notable shift is occurring as young individuals are now opting to join the civilian militia instead.
Maung Sein’s unit, before successfully defecting, received orders to launch an assault on a training camp belonging to the PDF. However, the operation did not unfold as planned, resulting in the tragic loss of seven of his comrades before a retreat was ordered. Sein emphasizes the formidable strength of the PDF, attributing it to their superior strategic approach. The PDF enjoys extensive public backing, with villagers actively supplying intelligence on the military’s activities and providing refuge to the brave young militia members.
“The Plight of Captain Zay Thu Aung: A Defector’s Perspective on Myanmar’s Military Crisis”
Captain Zay Thu Aung, a former air force member who served for 18 years, made a significant decision to defect one year after the February 2022 coup in Myanmar. Reflecting on the dire situation faced by the country’s army, he expressed that they are being incessantly attacked nationwide and lack sufficient manpower to retaliate effectively. Consequently, he highlighted the escalating reliance of the military on the air force to counter these challenges.
When he was selected as an air force cadet, just like other defectors, his entire family took immense pride in his achievement. At that time, being a part of Myanmar’s military was considered a prestigious honor. However, he laments that the coup drastically changed everything, plunging them into an abyss of despair. “The transformation has been astounding,” he remarks. “Most of my comrades in the air force were genuinely good individuals, but ever since the coup, their behavior has taken on monstrous proportions.” Despite this, he stands alone in his unit as the sole defector, as most of his friends continue to “fight against my own people,” he sadly reveals.