'The Dictators Will Not Have Good Days Forever,' Says Veteran Myanmar Activist
2021-04-11 -- Democracy activist Min Ko Naing, who has has spent more than half of his 58 years opposing military dictatorship in Myanmar, has been on the run following the military coup on February 1 that overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. A key leader of the student led protest on Aug. 8, 1988 at Yangon University, he spent 15 years in jail after his arrest in 1989, and founded the 88 Generation Students Group to pursue the goal of democracy. Arrested again in 2007 for organizing peaceful demonstrations in support of the Buddhist monk-led Saffron Revolution, he was sentenced to 65 years in prison in 2008, but was released under a mass pardon in 2012. Nearly two months after the current military junta charged Min Ko Naing and six others under section 505(b) for inciting unrest against the state, he spoke to Khin Maung Soe of RFA's Burmese Service about the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy government that has emerged as country's "shadow government" to coordinate opposition to the military regime that has killed more than 700 people in the 10 weeks of protests across the country.
RFA: I hear you are now working with the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). Since when you were working together with CRPH and what are you doing?
Min Ko Naing: We have worked together with the MPs before the coup. After the coup, we have become determined to work together more closely. There are cases that the military's State Administration Council and their informers are fabricating stories to make people distrust the CRPH. They are making deliberate attacks to damage the reputation of the CRPH. The CRPH has been rejuvenated with members of new generations. The CRPH is marching on under a collective leadership and holding collective responsibility. It is different from organizations built on the fame of a single leader. This collective leadership and responsibility have given us the robustness and the ability to think broadly. I am very pleased about that. I believe that we will see more concrete results soon. I want to ask everyone to have faith in them.
RFA: As the fight against the coup has been prolonged, the people, especially young people, are now becoming exhausted physically and mentally. They are financially starved and every day they are wondering what to do next. What advice do you have for them?
Min Ko Naing: I am very sympathetic to them. I have experienced the same things over 30 years ago. The revolution we pursued faced a brutal crackdown. They shot and killed so many people that the bodies were piling up in the street. At that time, we felt that we were totally lost. Now, I see the same things happening to young people. They don't even have 500 or 1000 kyats in their pockets, but they are scraping by to keep things going. I've heard about them all. As I have said earlier, the CRPH should first consolidate a public administration. Then, they should work on the people's security and then their defense. They should go to the territories where they can be safe. There are all kinds of training available in these territories. These territories will become 'free zones' where they can continue the fight against the military together with ethnic minorities. Those who remain in the cities will continue their fight by guerilla protests. The important thing is to keep showing our resistance.
RFA: Now, many young people are waiting to see the plan for a federal army materialize. What can you tell me about that?
Min Ko Naing: As we are establishing a federal union, the forces we employ should be federal army forces. How will we get there? We should take several steps. We don't want that to take a long time. But we cannot skip the necessary steps. We should be quick and, at the same time, should meet certain standards. That's why these young people should travel to the safe zones I have mentioned and they should join training programs. I think you know what kind of training I am talking about. They need to join hands with ethnic armed groups in these free zones. I cannot lay out the route to get to these safe zones on the map of Myanmar. They should check out what is the closest zone in your area and decide how to get there by themselves. Speaking from my experience, what we have learned about these places in prison is not very reliable because there are many informers among the detainees. We know the price to pay is high because we want to see enormous changes. So I want to reiterate that the processes of forming a federal army will not be lengthy, but we cannot skip the necessary steps.
RFA: The employees who are participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) are also holding out as much as they can now. What do you think they should do next?
Min Ko Naing: Mainly, they need a guarantee for their future. I am sympathetic. The guarantee should be for both long-term and immediate needs. They need accommodations and food supplies, at the least. We are trying to meet these needs as much as we can. The CRPH has dedicated committees to address these issues. For the long term, we need to know how long we should be providing to these CDM employees. It depend on how much donors in the country and abroad can contribute. In fact, the government bureaucracy is in ruin now and they cannot function anymore. That's why the military authorities are using both intimidation and incentives to break up the CDM movement. They have lost and the CDM movement has already won. Currently, the CRPH is assisting these employees. But our channels have been blocked at times. We are using all available channels to support them. If these CDM employees no longer feel safe living in their homes, they can go to one of these safe zones. People like Dr. Zaw Wai Soe or Dr. Win Myat Aye are helping them. We are all working to make the changes happen before the end of April. Take a look at the banks. Even if they are all reopened, they cannot be operational. People are withdrawing all the money they have in the bank.
RFA: How do you view international support for Myanmar?
Min Ko Naing: There are only two kinds of countries in the world: those who condone the dictatorship and those who support democracy. Take a look at the allies who support democracy. It is not just one or two countries that are supporting the movement in Myanmar. Many countries are teaming up to back up the fight for democracy in Myanmar. Now, there will be a hearing at the United Nations. Zin Mar Aung will be attending to testify. The UK, one of the permanent members of UN Security Council, is organizing that meeting. They invited her as an acting minister of the CRPH. UNSC members will hear the voice of the CRPH and they will carry it to other members. This is very important. It means that UNSC members have recognized the legitimacy of CRPH. The meeting will pressure the UNSC to take appropriate actions. The allied countries who support democracy are trying to prove that they have done everything they can. If they don't succeed, they will use a different strategy. There are mechanisms like the IIMM (Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar). They have requested evidence from the public. I learned that they have recorded over 270,000 pieces so far. They are archiving the strongest evidence.
RFA: What can we expect out of the movement in coming days?
Min Ko Naing: In the next few days, we are going to announce the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG). We have a shared vision of removing this terrorist military council. All sorts of organizations will be included in this government. We have been busy bees in the past few days. We have been negotiating with all the groups at home and abroad. In addition to the widely known ethnic armed groups, we are recruiting civic groups, and prominent actors, and so on. When it comes out, you will see how strong it is and how much support we have from our allies around the world. We also have plans to broadcast public TV programs. We have plans to disseminate the information through SMS messages even if internet connections are totally shutdown.
RFA: People are very concerned about the prospect of China influencing ASEAN to intervene in Myanmar. What do you think about that?
Min Ko Naing: Our people can clearly distinguish who are good friends and who have been exploiting us. We can see what the U.S. is doing now. They have teamed up with the Philippines, Malaysia and other countries to launch naval exercises. The dictators will not have good days forever. They will have bad days also. There will be good days for the truth of democracy. We have seen the military's State Administration Council attempting to take control of our UK embassy. This is such a terrorist act. Everything they have done is wrong. Besides, take a look at the press tour they arranged with the CNN reporter. The world got to know more about their persecution. I strongly believe that the world will see the truth and the people will prevail. In the meantime, we have to persist and not break off the joining of hands.
Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung for RFA's Myanmar Service.
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