(NEWS10) — Four individuals from Myanmar currently living in New York sat down to discuss the political strife in their home country and talk in-depth about what has transpired since the military coup in 2021 and how the people of Myanmar have been fighting for their freedom. One has been granted political asylum, and the others are close to ground forces fighting against the military.
For their protection, the identity of these individuals and the regions of Myanmar they are from will be kept anonymous. Instead, the letter N will represent the asylee, S will represent their spouse, and W and E will be assigned to the two others for the general areas of the country to which they are linked.
Q: The military coup occurred on February 1, 2021. The then-recently elected democratic leader Ang San Suu Kyi was arrested and sentenced to at least 26 years in prison on trumped-up corruption and other charges. What did the people do when the military coup began?
E: “Right after the military carried out the coup, everyone had to stay at home for 72 hours and wait. Once the 72 hours passed, people were allowed to come out to the streets.”
N: “We wait 72 hours because it is in the constitution. Because of this, all the political leaders also had to wait 72 hours. For our people, even if we don’t support the military coup and are against it, we have to patiently wait. The idea is we patiently wait to see if the military retreats and goes back to their barracks, which they did not do this time. The military wrote the constitution in 2008, so it is always biased toward them. After 72 hours, nearly the whole country demonstrated in the streets and everything broke down since there were no longer government regulations.”
Q: Following the coup, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the military took control. Hlaing and his group of military personnel known as the junta, quickly detained political leaders and activists. Why did the general take these actions?
N: “All of the money in the country, all of the funds, this man wants to hold for himself. This is the key point. He and his family, other generals and their cronies own all of the major enterprises, it is just like a dynasty and they are trying to own the whole country. They are just trying to make money for their own sake. There is no other reason. He is trying to imitate dictatorships like in Russia and China and even internationally announced that Vladimir Putin is a great leader. I have known this man for many years and he is being so selfish. By the constitution, given his age, he could not stay in his position as commander-in-chief so he orchestrated the coup because he wants to hold power for many years. What he did is against the constitution but he did not care.
“He says they are going to hold elections in August 2023 but they are fake. Nobody will want to vote, and the junta has murdered or displaced thousands of people. Despite all of this, they will announce that everyone voted. There are no people to vote, and there are no people in the cities or in the town but they will set up these lies and announce that they have won the elections. Due to this, we try and reach out to the international communities to tell them don’t believe this. We try and send emails and open letters to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) about this. ASEAN has agreed to talk with the coup leaders but we try and tell them not to believe whatever they say. In talks, the military forces will say yes, we agree with the five-point plan that ASEAN has created but once they get back, the Russian news agency declared they do not actually believe in the plan. That means we cannot negotiate with the junta.”
Q: Since the coup, how have you been able to get in touch with your families and friends back home?
S: “For the first six months after the coup, it was hard to contact anyone and we could not get information. there was a total loss of contact for one week. Last year we did not know how to contact each other and sometimes we totally lost contact. Now it has been two years, we know how to circumvent it and information is flowing 24 hours.”
E: “I lost contact with my brother for about 6 months. After the coup, maybe a month, my mom was able to call me and told me my brother was gone and asked if I knew where he went. I didn’t know, but after 6 months, he contacted me online, showed me that he was holding a gun, and said we are fighting now. I told him I am very proud of him.
“Now I communicate with my relatives almost every day. I just called my younger brother just to say hi and check in with him. They can access phone lines and the internet through neighboring countries. The Burmese do not feel safe if they use the local phone lines because they are worried that someone could listen in on the calls.”
Q: Your brother was able to get a gun, but how were the Burmese people able to arm themselves to fight back against the military?
W: “There is a lot of hunting in my region so after the coup, the people used a lot of very old guns that they had for hunting rifles. Every family has one but it is no match for the military. They were at least able to start the revolution in their region. They have tried to collect information and funding from other states as there is a very big diaspora around the globe. People have tried to get guns and ammunition to them but it takes a long time, and there has been a lot of blockage from the military.”
E: “It is very similar in my region. When I contacted my brother, they have 20,000 people but only 5,000 guns so they have to rotate them. There are black markets on some of the borders but the prices for guns are extremely high. My brother asked me for money so that he can buy his own gun so I asked how much. It was very expensive, I cannot afford it. I still have my family here, and I also have to provide support and food to survive for my family there. I told him I cannot afford to help him buy a gun.”
S: “A lot of the younger generations through the internet have come up with many ideas. Many young fighters are trying to make their own guns and landmines at home, but that can be dangerous and also lead to casualties.”
Q: With the military cutting off supplies and food, how have the Burmese people been able to survive?
E: “My hometown has a population of 50,000, but no one is in the town right now because of the war. They fled into the jungle, they live on the ground, and they live in caves and under trees. Right now, it is the rainy season so a lot are getting sick and can’t sleep but if there’s no rain, there’s nothing to drink. They don’t have medicine. Most of the fighting groups depend on villagers for food but all villagers have fled their homes because of things like air strikes so I don’t even know how they survive sometimes.”
W: “All the provisions for food and medicine have been cut off by the military. All of the displaced people try and help each other but there is not enough to live on or survive. There is a shortage of food and medicine. Even in a peaceful time, my region is hard to reach and water and food are very difficult to carry there.”
S: “All of the groups that are fighting the military are sharing food. They mostly only eat rice. Sometimes there might be a dash of chili, but that’s it. The food is ok for adults but it does not provide enough nutrients for the elderly and kids. A lot of people have a nutritional deficiency.
“In some other areas like the middle part of our country, even during peaceful times, there were food shortages. So now, in the jungle, sometimes they tell us they’ll go four days without food and have to survive. Sometimes they have to drink stream water and that is it. We are also seeing people catch tuberculosis and have other health problems but we cannot control it. All medicine imported from places like China or Thailand is cut off by the military.”
E: “In addition to rice, they eat instant noodles from abroad. They have some carriers that go out and buy and carry it. This is the rainy season so every day, they can get a bamboo shoot but once the rainy season ends and the weather dries out, there won’t be those resources. They never eat meat like chicken or pork so I asked can you buy it if I send money? But sending money cannot be done directly because it is too dangerous for my family. They won’t catch only me or just my family but the many relatives and villagers. “
Q: How are you able to send support to your families abroad?
S: “Those of us who left and are living in the U.S. are in a safe situation so we can do a lot for our friends and family. All of us support each and every community in a variety of ways from fundraising, communications, and advice on how to fight back against the military. We try and help in any way that we can. But still, we need a lot of support so that is why we talk about this. We do not have a lot of international support. For each and every one of our people here, we lose things like sleep and even work, but our situation here cannot be compared to the hardship people are experiencing back in our homeland.”
N: “Our leader Ang San Suu Kyi’s sons made a wooden art and thought he could sell it for about $4,000. After the auctions, they raised $2 million just for a simple piece of woodwork. That means some foreigners are trying to help with humanitarian aid. We are not rich ourselves, but we try and support however we can.”
S: “We are not rich. As for me, I have my earrings and my sister has some jewelry. We donated them to one of the fundraiser groups and they sold tickets for the fundraising. We make some money, which we then use to support our homeland.
“We regularly send emails and spread what is happening through word of mouth but we need more voices to speak out. We have one seat in the United Nations but even then, the Myanmar military tried to kill our ambassador in New York.”
Q: How does the Burmese community feel about the future and the circumstances in their home country?
W: I feel very strongly because one of my siblings already died in the fighting and two more siblings are in jail. Thousands of people are fighting. They cannot survive anymore and they will fight to the last man so that they are no longer under the rule of the military. Right now, the only thing they can do for the future is to fight.
N: So many lives have been lost. The whole country is fighting against the military. We are fighting throughout the whole country but the military is making fake news, especially through Chinese and Russian channels saying they can control the country but they cannot control even their own cities. All of our fighting forces are made up of people so whenever we fight back, we try not to harm the people. But the military never does this. They conduct air raids and indiscriminate killings. They always get the upper hand with better weapons, more ammunition, and air power. We suffer a lot but still, we are fighting them.
E: “We can fight back or run away to other countries. Everyone is getting tired but they have hope, so every day, they cannot stop. Even here, we have our own jobs, and our families, but if we stop today, something terrible may happen tomorrow.”
S: All of the people believe this is the endgame. If we don’t fight back, we will be under dictatorship for a long time. It is a fight for human rights. There are no human rights anymore in our home country. I feel guilty just for being here in the U.S. and having rights. But for them, where’s the equity? Where’s the equality? There is unrest in the whole country, but we survive with hope and we don’t want to lose our hope for democracy.”