‘Our biggest hurdle is the low level of public collaboration’

When members of the Bago People’s Defence Force (PDF) killed two military intelligence officers on the Yangon-Mandalay highway, just 40 miles south of Naypyitaw, on January 22, it highlighted not only the vulnerability of the regime, but also that of its opponents. The two officers targeted—Maj Than Htut and Sgt Myint Aung—were both involved in operations to infiltrate urban guerrilla (UG) groups in Yangon. They, and two others who were with them, were responsible for many arrests made by the regime since late last year.

However, the fact that it was the Yangon UG Association (YUA)—a coalition of urban guerrilla groups based in the former capital—that tipped off the Bago PDF about the location of the two junta officers also demonstrated the success of anti-regime groups in detecting the junta’s undercover operations.

Myanmar Now spoke recently to a spokesperson for the YUA who goes by the name of Sayar Kyaung about the current situation facing UG groups in Yangon. 

Myanmar Now: It was the YUA that informed the Bago PDF about the trip of the two military intelligence officers who were killed on January 22. Please tell us about how the junta uses agents posing as urban guerrillas to collect information about groups opposed to its rule.

Sayar Kyaung: We know that there are some undercover officers among us. We intentionally accept them because we want to get information from them. Once we get it, we take action. In other words, we use their people the same way they use ours.

MN: What can you tell us about the man and woman who were with Maj Than Htut when he was assassinated, and who were also killed?

SK: I won’t identify them by name out of respect for their dignity. I will just say that they were resistance fighters who had been arrested by the regime and were under their control. Many others were also arrested because of them. That’s why they were taken away for interrogation. But when they fought back and tried to escape, they were shot and killed. I feel very bad about this.

[The Bago PDF released a statement a day after the assassination stating that the two who were brought in for questioning also attempted to grab their weapons. The pair were also mentioned in a leaked military report about 36 arrests made late last year. However, Myanmar Now has been unable to independently verify the authenticity of the report.]

MN: What do you think about the leaked military report that has been circulating in the media, which mentions groups infiltrated by undercover military intelligence agents?

SK: It was a mix of both true and false information. It had many effects on the urban guerilla forces, but on the other hand, we have learned how to deal with the twists and turns of the revolution, so the effects won’t be too detrimental.

MN: The urban guerillas operate differently from PDF members in the jungle. Many have also been arrested. Is this mainly because of the junta’s undercover operations?

SK: The difference between urban guerillas and PDF members is that the PDF members in the jungle can carry weapons without needing to conceal them. Another thing is that they can fight head-to-head. It is different in urban areas, where strategic actions are needed. Urban guerillas need to be secretive and make sure every action has a large impact. They have to make sure to cover their tracks as well. That’s the biggest challenge. 

It’s true to some extent that urban guerillas are getting arrested, even as more people join our forces. But around half of those arrested were just suspected of being urban guerrillas, and only half of them actually were. We wouldn’t still be carrying out operations if we were losing more members than we are recruiting.

They [undercover agents] try to make us trust them so they can infiltrate our ranks from all sides and capture us. But we have become experienced in revolution now, so they can’t do undercover arrests like before. But some of our members are arrested because of [former] inside people who are now on the enemy’s side. None of us would be arrested if not for those informants, because we now have good, systematic protections in place.

MN: The junta has announced many arrests in recent months. Are their reports accurate? And how many of these arrests were due to undercover operations?

SK: Some were true, and some weren’t. Some were cases of cats getting caught in rabbit traps. That is, the ones they caught were not the ones they were trying to catch. Some groups had weak security, so they got raided. But the numbers are not as big as they claim. 

Even a relative newcomer like me can spot the undercover officers, and we have many within our ranks who are far more experienced. It’s not that easy [to infiltrate UG groups]. It’s true that there have been some undercover arrests, but I would say that it has been about 25% at most.

MN: How do the undercover military officers enter the resistance forces?

SK: I attended a training on this when I was in the jungle. They will say they know so-and-so, or so-and-so vouches for them. Or they will approach someone and make connections via that person. Or they will say they know someone who has already been arrested. They will use that person’s name to verify their own identity. 

But their tactics are of no use now, because we are doing three stages of vetting. We missed some, but we caught some as well. We accepted them if we wanted some information. If we don’t need any information, we treat them agreeably and keep them in our sight. We can’t let the enemy out of our sight. We carefully vet all people who contact us.

MN: Do you think there are any undercover officers in the YUA now? How can you tell who is a real resistance fighter and who isn’t?

SK: I can say for sure that there are none in our ranks now, because we have verified several times. For example, if someone whose background we don’t know comes up to us claiming to belong to a resistance force, we will ask him where he received his training. Then we will ask for his serial number and contact his camp to find at least two people who can vouch for him.

We can tell when someone in our ranks is really an undercover officer. They are very obvious sometimes. For example, when they carry out bomb attacks, they never hurt their own people or do any real damage. True resistance fighters will never make useless attacks. They will make sure every attack is impactful. Another thing is the military’s undercover agents talk a lot to our people to win our trust. A true fighter doesn’t talk much, but focuses on his mission.

MN: Do you think the urban revolution is losing steam?

SK: No, it is not slowing down. But it is different now that every mission is strategically planned and has a large impact. Previously, we did a series of bomb attacks. It was loud but only some attacks were effective. There may be fewer attacks now, but we have better results. So I would say the revolution is picking up speed, based on these results.

MN: What is the greatest difficulty the urban guerilla forces are facing?

SK: Our biggest problem is the low level of public collaboration. We want more than we are currently getting. I want to ask the public to help our urban guerrillas and try to get involved in any way possible. That way the revolution will be successful in no time. We have the right intention and take the right action. The right side will always win. That’s why we will win. I just want to say please don’t give up and give us some time.

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