Captain who ‘took part’ in campaign against Rohingya among latest defectors from Myanmar’s military

A Myanmar army captain who took part in the military’s 2017 campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine State has defected to join the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), saying he did so because of last year’s coup. 

Captain Nay Myo Thet, who is in his 30s, signed up to the CDM in mid-December and left the army a month later to stay in a rebel-controlled area with his family. 

The man, who is also known as Pyae Kyaw, had been deployed in Rakhine as part of Infantry Battalion 233, based in Buthidaung Township, for the past seven years. With a large Rohingya population, Buthidaung was severely affected by the 2017 violence. 

“I was part of the Rohingya conflict that happened in Rakhine,” he told Myanmar Now last month. “I also took part in the battles with the Arakan Army in 2018 and 2019.” 

He declined to give further details about his involvement in the violence. 

The campaign against the Rohingya involved the mass murder of unarmed civilians, widespread gang rape of women and children, and systematic arson that erased hundreds of villages from the map. United Nations investigators have labelled it a genocide.    

Pyae Kyaw–whose army ID number was 53162–graduated from the 51st batch of the Defence Services Academy and served in Rakhine under the supervision of the Western Regional Military Command, which is based in Ann Township.

Before serving in Rakhine he took part in fighting in the Kachin State town of Hpakant, in northern Shan State’s Laukkai Township, and against the Karen National Union’s Brigade 5, he told Myanmar Now. 

While in service, he was obliged to recruit other soldiers, and was set a target of finding two new soldiers every four months, he said. He declined to elaborate. 

He told Myanmar Now that he fled the military with his family because he found the actions of military chief and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing intolerable.

“The election had finished and the winner had been decided, and they had already accepted it. Planning to recount the votes after all that just sounds very fraudulent. It’s a very pathetic and shameful excuse for a coup,” Pyae Kyaw said.

While travelling to the rebel-held area with his family, he witnessed junta personnel taking money from travellers for no reason, he added. 

Over two thousand soldiers and six thousand police officers defected in the ten months following last year’s February coup, according to the last figures released by People’s Embrace, a group helping the deserters.  

The military has also lost thousands of soldiers in fighting with both newly armed resistance groups and long-established rebel armies across the country. The junta has compensated for the loss of personnel by arming militias.  

Another two soldiers and four police officers defected in Chin State early this month, according to the Zoland People’s Defence Force (PDF).  

The defectors were police Lance Corporal Thain Baik Piang, police privates Kam Deih Pau, Thang Dim and Khup Sawm Mung, and soldiers Lal Thian Thang and Thang Cuan Mang, according to a Zoland PDF spokesperson, who did not give the soldiers’ ranks. 

The spokesperson, who goes by the name Johnny Khin, said his group gave one of the soldiers 5 million kyat (roughly $2,800) for surrendering his weapon. 

“One of them managed to bring his weapon along. It’s a G3. We gave him 50 lakhs as a reward,” he said. 

The soldiers and police were transferred from Falam Police Station to Rihkhawdar, a town in Falam district, in February, he added.  

Rihkhawdar hugs the border with India and is an important trade route. The junta sent large numbers of reinforcements there earlier this month after clashes broke out with local armed resistance groups, including the Zoland PDF.   

It was the fear of being killed in one of these attacks that pushed the six men to finally defect, Johnny Khin said: “They had been wanting to come to us for a while but they were afraid of their supervisors.” 

He added: “Our alliance forces attacked their base in the neighbourhood, which made them realise that we could ambush and kill them any time we wanted. That’s why they made the decision to surrender. They’re still afraid of their supervisors but they’re more afraid of getting killed in attacks by the PDF.” 

Ngun San Aung, the junta’s chief minister for Chin State, told Min Aung Hlaing during a meeting in Naypyitaw in early February that a local PDF group was collecting taxes just two miles from Rihkhawdar’s commercial hub, adding that this was making the junta look bad. 

The Chinland Defence Force has said it attacked junta bases in Rihkhawdar on March 5, March 7 and March 12, killing several junta soldiers. More clashes are expected in the area.

Nearly 2,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Rihkhawdar and fled across the border to Mizoram in India.

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