Major Hein Thaw Oo from Myanmar Army’s 99th Light Infantry Division recently took AWOL from his military base in Meiktila, in the Mandalay region, to join anti-militaristic protesters in the northeastern state. Shan. He is the highest-ranked fugitive soldier who turned down the army amid bloody crackdowns on protesters and other civilians following the army’s coup on February 1, toppling the military. The democratic government of the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Hein Thaw Oo’s division is famous for joining the 33rd Light Infantry Division, in the brutal army-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state in 2017, causing thousands of people died and left 745,000 others leaving the country for Bangladesh. He said that some military officers and soldiers in his clothing wanted to participate in civil disobedience protests and movements against the military regime. But they cannot escape because they have been given financial incentives and other economic opportunities – both legal and illegal – to remain loyal to the military, and also because their families are subjected to high-ranking officers. tight management.
In an exclusive phone interview with Washington, RFA Myanmar correspondent Khin Maung Soe, DC-based Hein Thaw Oo, discussed why he turned down the military and what Protesters and shadow government need to do to eliminate authorities. Questions & Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: Why did you decide to leave the military without permission?
Hein Thaw Oo: The recently appointed officers are all quite corrupt. They oppress the staff below no matter how upright they are. If you are upright, you will never get a promotion. When you became a major in the army, you’ve been there long enough and you know them pretty well. They use all kinds of tactics to make sure such officers don’t quit their jobs. When you level up, they are quite worried that you might betray them, so they give you all kinds of chances, even though the low level soldiers are starving and barely surviving. In what other countries are soldiers forced to eat banana bark? They act against low-level military officers for accepting bribes 200,000 or 300,000 kyats (US $ 140-210). But they turn a blind eye to high-ranking officers who have raked in 300 million kyats ($ 203,400) or as much as a billion kyats ($ 678,000). The military guarantees that an officer can resign after 10 years of service, but [in reality] they do not allow anyone who wants to resign to leave. They cite the reason that an official is required to own a home in order to resign. It was impractical because the front waiters could not afford a house with their salary. All officers resort to corruption and accept bribes as they continue their jobs. I decided that I couldn’t continue this way anymore, so I left.
RFA: What do you think about the military coup?
Hein Thaw Oo: Last name [the military] there is always a conspiracy for coups. They are not new. Military leaders are afraid to lose their power.
RFA: Do you know about their plans for the recent military coup?
Hein Thaw Oo: That’s right.
RFA: When did you know the plan?
Hein Thaw Oo: I see it coming as early as 2015 before they hand over power to the National League for Democracy. I hear more disclosures in the past two years.
RFA: What kind of information?
Hein Thaw Oo: Before the election (November 8, 2020), the commanders of the Department of Defense Special Forces, who have rank of lieutenant general, toured military command offices. around the country. They preach to soldiers about the strengthening of military solidarity. That is a topic they often talk about before. They demanded that they ensure that no military units disintegrate no matter what pressure from external factors. As I think about some of the speeches they gave before the election, I know that a military coup is imminent.
RFA: What is needed to make the Spring Revolution, like the domestic protest movement, successful?
Hein Thaw Oo: There is a need for unity among ethnic armed groups. In their minds there is unity among the people, but it cannot be done on the ground. That’s because there are messengers and spies among the people. Solidarity of the people must be formalized. There is a common motto among world armies that a soldier needs to know about his enemy and himself. If you fight a battle without knowledge of these two, you lose. If the civil disobedience movement continues, it may not need outside aid. But if it fails, there will be a greater need for outside aid. If you are going to do something, you must plan and keep in mind the possible losses and profits. If not, more and more lives would be lost. You need to elect a good leader and follow the leader’s guidance. In a war, whoever survives the battle writes its history.
RFA: How do you rate the strength of the Myanmar military?
Hein Thaw Oo: Among the infantry soldiers, some were fighting on the front lines, while others were not on the front lines. There are many soldiers who are not used to the battle. They can shoot guns, but won’t hit the target. At the most, only about 200,000 soldiers can fire their guns properly. But, in the end, the deciding factor for winning a battle was not the gun. It is the artillery and the operations behind them.
RFA: If the plan to form a federal army goes ahead, what is the likelihood that Myanmar soldiers will flee and join the new force?
Hein Thaw Oo: If that is the case, then it depends on the level of security for themselves and their families. Most of the soldiers wanted to sided with the righteous organization, but they were locked in incentives. They are prevented from doing that by fear. They are also hindered by deeply rooted beliefs. They also worry about their families. They fear that their families may be punished for their actions. Some were given wealth, property, and status to live in. If the plans for a federal army are successful and the organization succeeds, it will erase their fears, and they will join it. If the opposing parties can establish a free territory or a base in a city, then we will see a split in the military.
RFA: Are there other military officers and soldiers planning to leave without permission?
Hein Thaw Oo: Yes, yes, and they are probably thinking about the route they will take.
RFA: Will you work with the newly established National Unification Government?
Hein Thaw Oo: It depends on what happens next. If they need me, I am ready to help them.
Khin Maung Soe’s Report for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.