Twelve soldiers serving in the Myanmar military have deserted and turned themselves over to the Karen National Union (KNU) in a show of solidarity with anti-coup protesters, the ethnic armed group has reported.
The soldiers, from Light Infantry Battalions 402 and 403, based in Dawei, defected to KNU Brigade 5 in the town of Hpapun in Kayin state, according to KNU spokesperson Padoh Saw Mahn Mahn.
“They contacted local villagers about joining us first. We welcomed them, as this is the first instance of soldiers joining the civil disobedience movement against the regime,” he said.
“Some of these soldiers were armed while some were not. They are siding with the truth,” he added.
It was unclear when the defections took place, but it was believed to be since a crackdown on Sunday that left three protesters in Dawei dead.
No details about the names or ranks of the soldiers were available.
The KNU is one of the major ethnic armed groups fighting for greater autonomy in Myanmar. Although it signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the military in 2015, it has been outspoken in its support of the ongoing nationwide uprising against last month’s military coup.
“We have officially announced that the KNU supports not only members of the public protesting against the military regime but also the civil servants involved in the civil disobedience movement,” the KNU spokesperson said.
Since the February 1 coup, dozens of low-ranking police personnel have joined the movement calling for a return to civilian rule.
On Sunday, the deadliest day of protests so far, Myanmar Now reported that Tin Min Tun, an acting major in the Yangon region police force’s Special Branch, had become the first senior officer to join the movement.
Two more police officers in Mandalay followed suit on Monday, saying they have no desire to serve the military junta.