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A First-hand witness on what is happening in Burma

Last month, I was arrested, detained at gun-point by 12 heavily armed soldiers, in Yangon.

The trauma experienced by people in Myanmar since the coup, 4 months ago, is pretty hard to put into words.

Nothing happened in the first week, I think people were too shocked to respond. Then came the mass protests all over the country – millions, if not tens of millions of people lining the streets in defiance. The atmosphere was like a giant festival; everybody was so united, so together.

Then things got very dark. The military government responded to the protests by releasing 20,000 prisoners in Yangon, allegedly giving explicit instructions to disturb the peace. The people, in turn, formed night watches, taking turns to stay up all night to protect their neighbourhoods from the criminals and the security forces (not sure there’s much distinction here). People began to get abducted in the middle of the night, their bodies later returned with their faces disfigured from beatings and their organs missing. The security forces starting shooting protesters. Professionally trained solders and policemen armed with automatic weapons firing into crowds of people who tried to protect themselves with handmade riot shields. One thing that I’ve noticed about the use of Facebook in Myanmar is how unfiltered it is. These murders were not abstract, distant, they were real.

The footage was live streamed, reposted, and shared. I’ve seen blown open heads, bloodstained streets, children lose their lives. Brutal stories of torture, rape, people literally being burnt alive. Videos of mothers screaming, wailing because their teenage son who was going to be a doctor got shot in the head. To be honest, I lost count of how many people I’ve seen die. It was a premeditated campaign of psychological terror perpetrated by state security forces on their own people. Absolute state terrorism – no other way to describe it. (If this seems melodramatic, it’s because it’s hard to write about without being so).

That day, I played football in the morning. Afterwards, I had a pretty intense discussion with a couple of people who have lived here for a number of years about how messed up the situation situation is, about how much suffering there had been, and, most definitely, how much more there would be to come. I very very reluctantly realised I had to leave – I have lived here for 6 years, I spent 6 years learning a squiggly language; my entire life is here – “not my country, but my home” etc etc. I had to leave because my head and the situation was just too messed up. I should have left months ago, but I stayed as an act of solidarity, defiance, feeling like leaving was a sign of defeat.

I drove home. I passed military trucks, checkpoints, places where peaceful protestors had been murdered. The entire journey I was thinking about my friends who had been killed, who had killed themselves, friends who had been arrested, or were in hiding. Even those who weren’t, had had their lives irrevocably messed up. Why? I mean the answer is pretty obvious – sheer greed, but I mean how can such a small group of people act, purportedly for the interests of the people and democracy, while blatantly disregarding said people and not realise their own hypocrisy? And why are do people follow their orders? How are they able to get away with murdering people? Why isn’t anyone doing anything?

Yeah so I was angry. Just before I turned into my road, I saw another military truck coming down the road towards us. I don’t think I was really thinking, it was just one of those things I did almost automatically. Three fingers to a truck of armed thugs. Jennifer Lawrence eat your heart out. It felt very good.

Parked. Went up to my house. There was a knock at the door, it was the security guard. He told me that there were some soldiers downstairs who wanted to talk to me. I went downstairs. The security guard wasn’t lying – there were 12 men with guns waiting – half soldiers and half police. The leader of the group, a soldier, was pretty pissed. He poked me with his gun and accused me of doing CDM – (which stands for the Civil Disobedience Movement which is where government workers refuse to work under the new military regime). I’ve thought about this a lot – at first I thought he was a bit thick – there’s no way I could possibly be a Burmese civil servant. But the more I think about it, the more I think that he, probably all of the men in that group really know what CDM really meant – they’d probably been brainwashed into thinking that CDM was some sort of anti-burmese terrorist group hell-bent on destroying the country.

I remember how unprofessional they seemed – all their guns were rusted, with the serial numbers written on with tip-ex. And they all appeared to be different guns – there was no standard issue. I decided not the let them know I spoke Burmese. There were no radios, they were communicating via mobile phones. They swore a lot, including at me. The police seemed to be following the orders of the soldiers.

I don’t really remember much of what happened next, it was a bit of blur. They put me in truck and took me to the police station. It was kind of surreal. They wanted to check my photos, but luckily my phone had died and they didn’t know how to charge an iPhone. I was at the police station for an hour or so, before a senior policeman came and said to leave. The soldiers seemed pretty annoyed. No names written down or anything. I remember being very calm, which is strange because I was sure I was going to end up in prison, I was very lucky.

Now I’m in Bangkok, with its sky trains and 24 hour electricity. Yangon should have these things too. The reason is that this is not a new coup, the people behind this coup are the same group that staged a coup in 1962, and oversaw 6 decades of pitiful development and economic growth while defence spending rocketed and a very small elite got very rich. This is what is at stake here – another military regime would devastate the country and ruin countless lives for decades to come. Young people are leaving their homes to go get trained in the jungle so they can take up arms against the regime, such is their determination to resist.

I wrote this because I want people to know about what is happening in Myanmar. Aside from the violence and the trauma, the economy is on the edge of collapse – it will shrink by anywhere between 10-20%. INGOs are planning for humanitarian interventions probably widespread famine. It’s already increasingly difficult to get vital medication, including the most basic inoculations for babies. Gas prices are through the roof. The banks might collapse. All in all, it’s very very bleak.

Please support however you can.

Credit to Charlie


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