behind the scenes of the Burmese resistance


They are young, have sometimes sacrificed their studies to take up arms, and risk their lives for the “Burmese revolution”: three years after the military coup which overthrew, on 1er February 2021, the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, opponents of the Burmese junta see it retreat for the first time. His army suffers multiple defeats on the ground. Generals surrendered, and its soldiers fled the fighting by crossing borders with neighboring countries.

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On Saturday February 10, the junta also announced compulsory military conscription from April, for all men aged 18 to 35 and women aged 18 to 27 – a sign of weakness, which will result in further swell the ranks of the resistance.

The documentary United against the junta, broadcast on Saturday February 17 by France 24, offers an insight into the ranks of this Burmese resistance at this crucial moment of change, and in an eminently strategic location: the town of Loikaw. This capital of Kayah State, a town of 60,000 inhabitants located 120 kilometers from Naypyidaw, the capital of Burma, is the first to have switched to the side of the insurgents since the outbreak, between the end of October and the beginning of November 2023, of a series of collective offensives from the ethnic crown of the country, on the Thai, Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi borders.

The Karenni, local ethnic group

In Loikaw, the resistance took up position in the ghost town, emptied of its inhabitants. They control its access, and surround the forces of the regular army, around a thousand men entrenched in a large base and in a handful of bunkered buildings in the city center. There are no longer any army convoys, military checkpoints or any authority from the junta in this state the size of several French departments: the Karenni governing body of the Burmese revolution treats the wounded, manages the schools and takes care of refugees.

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Internet access everywhere is provided by Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite network, and electricity by independent generators. A terrifying threat persists: aerial or drone attacks. One of them, Monday February 5, killed four children and injured dozens of others in an attack on two schools in the countryside not far from Loikaw.

The main insurgent force in Kayah State, and the one that hosted the France 24 journalists for this report, is called the Karenni Nationalities Defense Forces (KNDF). It is the product of an alliance between the historic guerrillas of the local ethnic group, the Karenni, and civilians, mostly young and Karenni, from Loikaw and other towns in Burma.

Students turned snipers

It took three years for this process of hybridization, which occurred similarly along the entire multi-ethnic Burmese periphery (around 30% of the population), to succeed and bear fruit. The KNDF today announces 8,000 armed men, and 5,000 in support. Mawi, one of their frontline commanders in Loikaw, was the owner of an organic agricultural farm before taking to the barricades and then joining the resistance.

Former students have become snipers. A couple of nurses brave drone attacks to treat the wounded at the front in hideouts. This youth, compared to whom the regular Burmese soldiers sometimes look like malnourished peasants, has in common their hatred of the common enemy: the army.

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And to believe in the advent of a federal democracy after decades of intermittent conflicts between ethnic armed groups, democratic forces, and successive juntas. The last one, the one who took power three years ago, seems to have achieved a “sacred union” against her.

United against the junta, documentary directed by Constantin Simon (Fr., 2024, 26 min). Presented by Antoine Cormery on France 24.

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