Welcome To The Jungle: Myanmar Rebels Teach Coup Protesters To Make War

Nervous laughter breaks out in Myanmar’s eastern jungle as a young man training to overthrow the junta is knocked backwards by the kick of a rifle he has just fired at a target painted on a tree.

Waiting behind him for their turn with the weapon are others who have fled the cities and reappeared in rebel-held jungle territory, now training for combat against the military regime.

“We had never heard the sound of gunshots,” Min — not his real name — told AFP at the training camp hidden in the thickly-forested hills of Karen state along the border with Thailand.

An anti-coup activist in Myanmar aims a weapon while undergoing basic military training at a camp of the Karen National Union
An anti-coup activist in Myanmar aims a weapon while undergoing basic military training at a camp of the Karen National UnionSTR

But four months after the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent that has killed hundreds, the 23-year-old is now “very used” to their sound.

He has also been convinced of their power.

It is gunshots — not protests — that “will end the military dictatorship in our country,” he said.

Reliable estimates are hard to come by but analysts suspect hundreds of people have trekked into insurgent-held areas to receive crash courses in combat
Reliable estimates are hard to come by but analysts suspect hundreds of people have trekked into insurgent-held areas to receive crash courses in combatSTR

Many anti-coup protesters share Min’s anger and resolve.

Reliable estimates are hard to come by but analysts suspect hundreds of people have trekked into insurgent-held areas to receive crash courses in combat.

Last month, celebrity beauty queen Htar Htar Htet posted a photo to Facebook showing her dressed in black combat fatigues and carrying an assault rifle.

“The time has come to fight back,” wrote the gymnastics instructor, who represented Myanmar in the first Miss Grand International beauty pageant in Thailand.

But the odds are stacked against them in any confrontation with one of Southeast Asia’s most battle-hardened and brutal militaries.

Myanmar’s armed forces have waged almost constant war against insurgent groups since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.

An open fight is likely to end in a “bloodbath,” said David Mathieson, an analyst formerly based in the country.

A day in the Karen boot camp starts before dawn.

Volunteers are trained in jungle tactics — crossing muddy streams by shimmying along a rope, taking cover in the undergrowth and carrying injured comrades to safety.

Hundreds have been killed since the February coup that overthrew Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Hundreds have been killed since the February coup that overthrew Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu KyiSTR

In their downtime they rest on wooden beds and gaze at their smartphones.

Their instructors are members of the Karen National Union, one of more than 20 ethnic rebel groups across Myanmar that have an often fractious relationship with each other.

Some groups have condemned the coup and offered shelter to dissidents after the junta’s lethal crackdown on early mass protests in the cities.

Myanmar's armed forces have waged almost constant war against insurgent groups since the country's independence from Britain in 1948
Myanmar’s armed forces have waged almost constant war against insurgent groups since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948STR

The KNU has hosted boot camps in its stronghold along the Thai border, although a spokesperson declined to comment when asked by AFP how many protesters it had trained.

“All the sessions are very difficult but we are learning hard,” Min said.

Target practice takes place on a makeshift range, with enemy soldiers represented by a square of white paint.

AFP – Agence France Presse

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