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Civilians In Myanmar Fight Back Against Authoritative Regime


The military that took power in a coup in Myanmar early this year has used force to keep that power. The military has killed more than 830 civilians and put thousands in detention, including the democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Resistance to the coup continues to grow, and social media images now show a military force training to defend the shadow civilian government. Reporter Michael Sullivan has been following the story and is on the line. Hey there, Michael.


INSKEEP: So I was looking at these images. They show people drilling in a clearing in the jungle somewhere. They don't have visible weapons, but they've got uniforms. They're marching in formation. What's going on?

SULLIVAN: We think that they are along the border with Thailand. And as you said, there were dozens of them, but they didn't have any weapons. And this group was formed by the shadow National Unity Government, made up mainly of those lawmakers sacked after the coup. Is this People's Defense Force for real, though? Is it gaining traction? I don't think so. Not yet, anyway. People don't seem all that impressed with the National Unity Government or its People's Defense Force, but that doesn't mean people aren't fighting back. They're just doing it on their own.

INSKEEP: Although...


SULLIVAN: In attacks like this one, by what are basically civilian militias, which have been occurring more and more often since the coup - this attack on a police station near the center of the country was a little over a week ago - the attackers captured or killed several members of the security forces and made off with guns and ammunition before melting away.

INSKEEP: I guess this is what caught my attention, because this begins to take on more a flavor of a civil war, if you have armaments on both sides. Are these attacks limited to a particular area?

SULLIVAN: No, they're all over the country now. In a little town in the west, near the border with India, locals have been fighting and killing soldiers for months. They even held the town for a while before being forced to withdraw into the jungle. So it's hit and run, hit and run, and they're getting better at it, says one expert who left Myanmar last month - University of Washington professor Mary Callahan. She's the author of "Making Enemies: War And State Building In Burma."

MARY CALLAHAN: Some of the members of these militias are going off and getting a couple weeks of trainings in simple explosives and strategy and tactics, and coming back and wreaking havoc wherever they are.

INSKEEP: So she mentions going off to get training. Who's doing that and where?

SULLIVAN: It's with the ethnic minority militias who've been battling Myanmar's military on the country's border for decades. And this is a win-win for them, Steve. They've been increasing their attacks against the military since the coup. They see an opportunity while the military is busy trying to crack down on dissent in the heartland. And these ethnic minority militias have also been taking in some of the democracy activists who fled the big cities, fearing arrest.

MAUNG KAUNG: (Non-English language spoken).

SULLIVAN: University student Maung Kaung (ph) fled to a camp in the east of the country near the border with Thailand to learn to fight, he says, and hopefully help remove the military once and for all. And it's this idea of getting rid of the military permanently that seems to be driving this resistance countrywide.

INSKEEP: And very briefly, is there still traditional protesting, civil disobedience, going on in the cities?

SULLIVAN: There is. Pop-up demonstrations are continuing. So are the general strikes. The economy is tanking. And the resistance is active in the cities, too. It's not just members of the security forces being targeted there. It's local officials too - people who are viewed as collaborators and are being dealt with accordingly.

INSKEEP: Michael Sullivan reporting from Thailand on Myanmar. Michael, thanks.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Steve.


Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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