Military families increasingly voice dissent over junta leadership

Growing resentment over the brutal repression and killing of civilians during crackdowns is causing an increasing number of military family members to speak out against Myanmar’s junta, despite the threat of reprisal.

An organization dubbed the People’s Army Supporters Network appeared on social media beginning on Nov. 27, posting photos of military wives with their identities obscured, holding signs with slogans such as “my hubbie didn’t join the army to become a dictator’s henchman” and “our kids don’t want people to hate their fathers.”

The posts provide a rare look into the lives of military families in Myanmar, the members of which have mostly remained silent since the Feb. 1 coup, fearing financial or other forms of retaliation.

The junta, which seized power from the country’s democratically elected government, has yet to provide evidence of its claims of voter fraud and has violently suppressed nationwide protests calling for a return to civilian rule, killing 1,303 people and arresting nearly 7,800 over the last 10 months, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service on condition of anonymity, the wife of a sergeant who joined the nationwide anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) said the People’s Army Supporters Network was formed to challenge the prevailing view that soldiers are killing civilians to keep the country’s military leaders in power.

“The present actions of the military leaders could destroy our families’ lives at any time. And in the minds of our children, their fathers are hated by the people to a point that they want to kill them, and this can damage them mentally,” she said.

“What we are seeing most of the time is not soldiers protecting people but killing them and that is why we should be even more opposed to [the junta].”

The sergeant’s wife said that the families of soldiers are being threatened in various ways by their superiors, and nearly all the wives must endure the situation because their husbands cannot get out of military service.

Capt. Lin Htet Aung, a graduate of the Military Academy’s No. 54 Unit who joined the CDM, said the People’s Army Supporters Network was started by military wives who had turned against its leadership following the coup.

“The reason was that they could no longer accept the military leaders’ treatment of the people and acts of brutality seen throughout the country,” he said.

“Moreover, the command system in the military is seen as unfair, with unjustified orders and more oppression seen in the army nowadays. I think these are the reasons they are now opposing the coup.”

Lin Htet Aung said there are now about 6,000 policemen and 2,000 soldiers who have joined the CDM because they disapprove of what the military is doing.

Growing disillusionment

Nyi Thuta, an army captain who also joined the Civilian Disobedience Movement, told RFA that more than 85% of the military’s personnel believes that the coup was wrong.

“I don’t mean that everyone is against the military. They know this, but they don’t have the guts to leave,” he said.

“Some are scared that their lives would be destroyed, so they are staying neutral. This shouldn’t happen. If we know in our conscience that this is wrong, then we must be courageous enough to make the right choice.”

Nyi Thuta said he joined the army with the intention of protecting the welfare of the people but was disappointed in how its role had changed.

Family members also told RFA that the rising death toll resulting from anti-junta People’s Defense Force bombings and guerrilla attacks on military targets has also contributed to the rise of anti-coup sentiment.

The sister of an army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told RFA that military deaths on the front lines are unjustified as they occur in the name of maintaining power for the junta and not in the service of protecting the country.

“All these deaths were caused by our people killing each other,” she said. “How can this be justified? It could have been acceptable if they were fighting against foreign aggressors.”

The officer’s sister said she believes that nearly half the military is now unhappy with the leadership of junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun recently acknowledged to local media outlets that more than 1,000 members of the security forces had been killed in fighting since the coup.

Families restricted

Meanwhile, military family members told RFA that they have been restricted from leaving the compounds where they live along with other soldiers and their relatives as the number of soldiers joining the CDM grows. They said officers now hold monthly meetings on the compounds during which they lecture their subordinates and their families about how bad the deposed National League for Democracy government was for the country.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun has denied reports of discontent within the army’s ranks as propaganda by the opposition and claimed that “the families of the soldiers are all living in unity.” He told RFA that the People’s Army Supporters Network was started by military deserters who had “joined the CDM for personal reasons,” without providing further details.

Aung Thu Nyein, director of the Strategy and Policy Study Group think tank, said that the actions of the junta have repercussions as the military is not an isolated entity and maintains connections with the people.

“When we live together in a community, we have this ‘social pressure.’ There is peer pressure. There is shame,” he said.

“Nobody wants to shoot his fellow countrymen. So, when faced with that situation, some families felt badly about it and joined the CDM.”

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