Across Myanmar, police set their fears aside to show solidarity with fellow citizens

The crowds are chanting as police take up position along a wide road near Yangon’s City Hall: “The people’s police! The people’s police!” Instead of hurling insults at the police or picking fights with them, the protesters keep up this steady mantra of praise.

Traffic police deployed along the routes that the protesters follow as they march through the city get the same treatment.

“The people’s police! The people’s police!” the protesters shout as they pass the rows of police that form the first line of defense against those calling for the overthrow of the newly installed regime.

As per their orders, the assembled officers don’t utter a single word. Unless their superiors tell them otherwise, they are not to respond in any way.

The protesters, who mostly belong to a generation with little or no direct experience of past crackdowns, convey a simple earnestness in their greetings to the security forces arrayed against them.

“The people’s police! The people’s police!” they chant at the impassive wall of faces in front of them.

But while most show no sign of emotion, a handful of officers have broken ranks and joined the protesters. Although they see the dangers that lie ahead, they have defied their own fears because they could no longer resist the people’s calls for solidarity.

Ready to make any sacrifice

On February 9, as thousands of people protested against the coup near the Thabyay Gone roundabout in Naypyitaw, a uniformed police officer came forward to join the crowd. Addressing the protesters, he promised he would fight to bring down the dictatorship and achieve true democracy.

The officer was Khun Aung Ko Ko, a graduate of batch 62 of the police academy’s inspector course. Through a microphone that he brought with him, he recited his pledge to be faithful to the will of the people.

Although he knows his decision could cost him his life or land him in prison for many years, the sacrifice would be worth it if it did some good for the country’s more than 50 million people, he said, reading from a prepared speech that included an eight-point pledge.

“I pledge to fight in the battle for democracy until this dictatorship falls, not prioritizing my life,” he proclaimed, adding that he could even endure the loss of his beloved daughter for the sake of future generations.

His pledge, which also vows that “there shall be no dictatorship at all in the future” and that “the military, the police, the people, and the armed ethnic groups will all comply with democracy,” was part of a five-page speech that envisioned an end to dictatorship and the establishment of true democracy.

He also said the police had no right to crack down on non-violent protesters and urged his audience to continue fighting peacefully.

When police told the protesters to turn Khun Aung Ko Ko over to them, they refused. A while later, the police used force to disperse the crowd that had formed around the first police officer to actively join the nationwide uprising against military rule.

Inspector Khun Aung Ko Ko and his twin brother Khun Aung Bo Bo both went to the police academy at the same time, according to another officer who graduated with them. The brothers are ethnic nationals, he added.

The police are in a difficult position, the officer continued, noting that many officers feared they were misunderstood by the public.

A frustrated force

A video shot in Magwe, in central Myanmar, on February 9 shows three police officers using their bodies to shield protesters after fellow officers turned a water canon on them.

Again, the crowd cheered and chanted: “The people’s police! The people’s police!”

The next day, another police officer joined protesters in Myeik, in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region. Htun Aung Lin, from the city’s central police station, announced to a crowd of about 140,000 people that he would be standing with the people. He has since been detained, according to reports on social media.

Also on Wednesday, at least 40 other officers joined protests in Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state. Elsewhere, there has also been footage of local people trying to help officers flee from police after they decided to side with the protesters.

The latest to throw in his lot with the country’s growing civil disobedience movement is a sub-inspector from Kyaik Mayaw in Mon state, who told protesters in Mawlamyine this morning that he was ready to give up everything for the cause.

According to a former police officer who was in the force for 15 years, many police are fed up with their jobs because of ill-treatment from officers who transferred from the military.

“Even before the coup, some officers were not allowed to quit even after sending in their resignations. They won’t let them go, citing various reasons,” the former officer said.

“A lot of them are frustrated,” he added.

Not everyone is eager to leave the force, and those who want to stay will not cooperate with the people under any circumstances, he said; but there are many others who are likely to join the resistance if they have a chance to do so.

“At the Pyay police station in Bago, a military general and his little minions beat up the chief of police after the coup. He and other officers on duty were beaten with batons for not taking down photos of President Win Myint,” the former officer said.

“So of course there are many police who are not happy right now,” he added.


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