Greatly outgunned but determined to defend themselves, Kalay protesters manage to even the score 

On the evening of March 28, the remote town of Kalay in Sagaing region became the scene of a pitched battle between regime forces and a determined band of protesters opposed to the return of military rule.

It was, as elsewhere in the country, a David and Goliath struggle, with soldiers and police using sniper rifles, machine guns, and hand grenades against the protesters, none of whom had ever faced such a barrage of lethal fire in their lives.

Despite this, however, the protesters more than held their own. Four of them died that night, but so did an equal number of the enemy, including an officer or two. The protesters also managed to wound 17 of their heavily armed attackers.

This came as a real surprise to many. After two months of a one-sided war that has so far cost the lives of more than 550 civilians, it was the first time that regime forces had suffered significant losses. The reason for this is that in almost all cases, they alone had the capacity to kill. In Kalay, however, it was a different story.

While the Kalay protesters could not match the firepower of their adversaries, they were not unarmed. Many had what are known locally as “Tumi guns”—handmade rifles normally used for hunting.

“It’s true that our weapons can’t compare to theirs. We are just peaceful protesters standing up for what we believe. But if they come and attack us, we will fight back with what we have,” one of the town’s defenders told Myanmar Now. 

Last line of defence

Kalay’s main battleground on March 28 was the protest camp on Bogyoke road, in the town’s Tarhan ward. Although the camp was destroyed that night, it was rebuilt the following day. More than a week later, it still stands as a stronghold of the local protest movement. 

But the defence of Kalay has not been limited to the Tarhan camp. Residents of villages on the way to the town have also played a key role in protecting it from a junta bent on crushing all opposition to its will.

Before reaching Kalay, the regime’s forces have to pass through a gauntlet of villages along the main highway from central Myanmar. These include Hnan Khar, Hantharwady, Taung Khin Yan, and Myaunt Khin in Magway region, and Nat Chaung and Nat Myaung, near Kalay in Sagaing region. 

Local people set up barricades to slow the progress of regime forces on their way to Kalay (Supplied)

In each of these places, villagers armed only with the same primitive weapons as the protesters in Kalay have clashed with fully-equipped military forces.  

“These villages are doing what they can to prevent the military from attacking Kalay. Without them, the entire town would be dead by now,” one Kalay local said.

On March 30, two regime troops were killed near a bridge in Taung Khin Yan, a village about two hours’ drive south of Kalay. The following day, the military reported that locals with Tumi guns had wounded five more of its troops.

The military also claimed that it had been attacked by home-made mines and even firecrackers, which the villagers denied.

“They probably made those mines themselves just so they could accuse us. But we don’t even have enough gunpowder for our guns now, let alone any extra to make mines,” said one villager who spoke to Myanmar Now. 

‘Like toys to them’ 

April began with further engagements, this time resulting in casualties on the side of the protesters. According to reports by local media based in Chin state, five civilians were killed on April 1 in the villages of Nat Myaung, Nat Chaung, and Chaung Gwa after locals exchanged fire with the junta’s armed forces.

Not surprisingly, the situation in the area has become extremely tense. The military has threatened to raid homes in all of the villages that have resisted its control to search for and confiscate weapons. 

In most cases, however, they would likely find them empty. Thousands of local people, including young children and the elderly, have fled in anticipation of the army’s retaliation.

“There is nothing left in the village now, only dogs and chickens,” said a resident of one of the affected villages. “Everyone is hiding in the forest.”

For those who want to continue their armed resistance, the best hope now is to bring an established armed group into the conflict. However, the Chin National Front (CNF), the ethnic army operating nearest to Kalay, is not heavily militarised.

While the CNF has issued statements condemning the coup, more than 100 Chin youth have called on the armed group in two open letters to implement structural reforms to better represent and “stand for” all ethnic Chin people during this crisis, local media outlet Chin World reported. At the time of publishing, they were still reportedly awaiting a response.

For now, then, that leaves only local protesters with their Tumi guns, which are far from ideal as weapons of war.

“They’re just homemade guns. Every time you shoot one, you have to reload it,” a young protester explained. 

The entire process, which involves filling the barrel with gunpowder, takes about three minutes. The gun’s range is about 50 to 100 feet, he added.

“These guns belong in a museum. They’re like toys to them in the military, who will suppress us one way or another,” he said, vowing to continue fighting even if the army moves to shut down the protests with a massive show of force.

But what he really wants is to learn how to resist the military properly, with weapons and combat skills that will make a real difference.

“If there is a group that can give us military training as well as weapons, we will keep on fighting. We can’t tolerate this situation any longer. We need to follow our own path,” he said.


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