Anti-junta guerrillas draw outrage for killing respected democracy activist 

Myint San was a poet known for dedicating his life to helping his neighbours. The 65-year-old built a library with his own money in his Sagaing Region village of Ma Le Thar, and even “bribed” children with cash for every book they finished. 

After the military seized power in February last year, he became an avid anti-coup activist, his family said. In December, he went into hiding in the neighbouring village of Pa Dat Taing to avoid being arrested, or possibly worse, by the junta’s forces. 

On February 3, three gunmen shot Myint San in the head in front of his son and daughter outside the safehouse where he was staying. 

But the killers were not members of the junta’s forces. They were from an anti-junta guerrilla group that has accused Myint San of being a military informant.  

Friends, family members, and fellow activists say there is no evidence for this accusation, and are demanding an explanation from the Zero Guerrilla Force, which is based in Mandalay Region’s Myingyan Township. 

“What I can really guarantee is that Myint San actively participated in the revolution,” said Ba Oo, an officer of the Ayadaw Revolutionary Force, another local guerrilla group. “There is no reason he would be on the enemy’s side. He was a well-known figure in revolutionary communities.” 

He and others have called on the killers to hand over any evidence they have against Myint San, and say they should apologise and agree to submit themselves to a fair trial under a democratic regime in the event that the revolution is successful. 

In a recent statement, sixteen Sagaing-based civil society groups said Myint San was actively involved in charity and community development projects and participated in pro-democracy groups even before the coup. 

Every individual involved in the killing must demonstrate how they decided Myint San was a military informant and apologise to his family if he was killed by mistake, the statement said. 

They must also sign a pledge promising to stand trial when the country is back in the hands of the people, it added. 

The 16 organisations include the National League for Democracy township executive team, the local general strike committee, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (Ayadaw), the People’s Strike Committee of Yinmarbin-Salingyi Villages and Save Monywa.

The statement references a post about the killing by the Hta Naung Myay Facebook page, which frequently reports news updates from upper Myanmar. 

The post said that the Zero Guerrilla Force killed Myint San because he was a Pyu Saw Htee leader and he led junta forces to Ma Le Thar for a raid on February 2 during which soldiers terrorised and robbed civilians. 

The Hta Naung Myay post did not detail any sources for the charge that Myint San was a Pyu Saw Htee leader, and the page deleted the post after Facebook users said the claim was untrue. 

Zero Guerrilla Force, founded in April, was among the first armed resistance groups to form after the military began murdering peaceful anti-coup protesters last year. 

In October its leader, Thet Gyi, told Myanmar Now the group had killed at least 40 junta soldiers as well as military informants and collaborators. It had also attacked phone towers owned by Mytel, which is part-owned by the military, he added. 

Thet Gyi insists that Myint San was a traitor, and his group said in a February 4 Facebook post that it collaborated with a local defence force for the killing. 

Wunna, who was elected in 2020 as an MP representing Ayadaw Township and goes by one name, described Myint San as a dependable person. 

“He always made very good arguments. He would criticise us openly if we were wrong. We are thankful for that because he usually made very good points,” said the MP. 

Myint San wrote poems under the name Myint San (Ma Le Thar) and was also involved in tree-planting, environmental conservation, litter collecting, and Covid-19 prevention efforts, the MP said. 

Ba Oo, the Ayadaw Revolutionary Force officer, said that he messaged Zero Guerrilla Group’s Facebook page about the killing but has not received a response. 

“Mistakes are inevitable in a revolution. However we are dealing with human lives. This will be very detrimental for his family and our township,” he said. “If they know that they have made a mistake, they must apologise to the family and other revolutionary forces.”

Impulsive actions 

Ohnmar Win, the Tamu Township officer for the Committee of Civil Society Peace Forum (Sagaing), said her group, of which Myint San was a member, would be reporting the killing to the National Unity Government (NUG).

“I’m just very angry that he was killed by mistake,” she said. “They can’t be that impulsive in a revolution. Even if he was actually on the enemy’s side, they should have made thorough investigations and reported it to the NUG before taking someone’s life.” 

“He founded a library with his own money,” she added. “His village became trash free because of him. I’ve been to his village before and there wasn’t a single piece of trash on the roads. He also bribed the children with money for every book they read so that the younger generation would be more interested in reading.” 

She added that the killing risked tarnishing the reputation of the People’s Defence Force (PDF), which includes numerous self-organising armed groups with limited official ties to the NUG, despite recent efforts to establish a unifying chain of command. 

“I want the PDF to be a model organisation so that the military can’t tell the international community that they are a terrorist organisation. Impulsive actions such as these make all the resistance groups look ugly,” Ohnmar Win said.

Zero Guerrilla Force said on its Facebook page the day after the killing that it would cooperate with local communities for an investigation with “full accountability.”

But Thet Gyi insisted Myint San was guilty when contacted by Myanmar Now. 

He said the activist was killed because “he was betraying the revolution.” He did not offer further evidence, but said a “local defence force” leader in Me Le Thar known as Thurein reported Myint San as a military informant.

When Myanmar Now contacted Thurein, he claimed to have enough evidence that Myint San was a traitor.   

The military raided Ma Le Thar village on February 2 after Myint San discussed anti-coup activities with a local woman, Thurein said. The woman was detained during the raid but Myint San was not, because he was away from the village. 

He said he could not disclose further details for his own security, but that he tried to contact Myint San about the military raid, and decided he should be killed when it became clear that Myint San was avoiding him. 

‘We want the truth’ 

Ba Oo said that he did not know anyone named Thurein. “We need to know which ‘local defence force’ they were talking about. I want to know why anyone would frame someone like him,” he said. 

Myint San leaves behind five sons and two daughters. One of the sons, who asked not be named, said his father did not receive any threats or warnings before he was killed. 

Myint San and his family members were unarmed and would have posed no threat had the group decided to question him about their suspicions, he added.

The NUG should provide an explanation for his father’s death, he said. “We want the truth. It’s not safe for us anymore.” 

Wunna, the ousted MP, said that before killing an alleged military informant, a group must notify local revolutionary forces, provide solid evidence that the target is legitimate, and must never harm the informant’s family.

“​​Policies are already in place for all organisations in the township. Zero Guerrilla Force needs to clearly explain why they killed him,” he said. “This is ridiculous.”

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