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Myanmar defectors describe military culture of abuse, fear | News

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Captain Pyae Sone Oo waited deep into the night before making preparations to flee. His superiors had ordered him to gather 25 infantry soldiers under his command to attack anti-coup protesters the next morning.

But from his military base near the city of Dawei in southeastern Myanmar, the prospect of killing innocent civilians deeply troubled him.

“I knew that I could not command my soldiers to inflict such brutality on civilians,” the 30-year-old told Al Jazeera by phone.

So, as soon as dawn approached on April 15, 2021, Pyae Sone Oo snuck off his army base. Heart racing, he boarded a small plane that would fly him to rebel-controlled territory.

“Escaping by plane was the only option,” he explained. “Leaving by car would have been impossible given the number of security checkpoints throughout the eastern coast’s terrain.”

From Dawei, Pyae Sone Oo travelled to eastern Karen state, to territory controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), an opposition political group with a large armed force. His brother, also an officer in the army, had already defected and joined the resistance there.

The two men are among thousands of troops who have reportedly deserted Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, since it overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1 of last year.

People’s Soldiers, an organization working to help troops leave the Tatmadaw, estimates as many as 2,500 soldiers have defected since the military’s power grab and its deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters. Almost 1,600 people have been killed and 10,000 have been detained since the coup, according to rights groups, while hundreds of thousands have been displaced as civil war broke out across the country.

Tatmadaw propaganda

Even before the coup, the Tatmadaw was infamous for carrying out extreme violence against its own people. For decades, security forces have shelled and raided villages in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups in the borderlands, often forcing men to work under the threat of death. They have long used rape as a weapon of war, and in 2017, committed what many label “genocide” by cracking down on the Rohingya Muslim minority, killing thousands, burning villages and forcing some 700,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Pyae Sone Oo is all too familiar with the violent tactics of the military. Having seen firsthand how the system conditions soldiers to inflict violence on citizens, he understands the psychology behind the destruction.

“The talking point that they always propagate is that the Tatmadaw is an institution that holds the country together, an institution that protects Buddhism,” he said. “Should the Tatmadaw not exist, then Myanmar would become a slave state of the West and Buddism would cease to exist in the country.”

He explained that most of the lower-ranking soldiers are “brutalized into buying into the propaganda,” but many officers like himself have more access to information, education, and knowledge of the Tatmadaw’s long history of violence on civilians.

He said the Tatmadaw forces young vulnerable men to join and also enlists criminals who are seeking to dodge charges. It then conditions troops to believe that they are part of an honourable and heroic part of society. This “ideology” incentivizes troops to carry out their orders, even if it means carrying out atrocities, he added.

“Once I got out, that’s when I learned the full extent of how the military was inflicting horror on its own citizens,” Pyae Sone Oo said.

‘A military caste’

Anthony Davis, a security analyst who specializes in southeast Asian militaries, shares much of the former captain’s observations.

“Training for Tatmadaw infantry troops is invariably rigorous and often brutal,” Davis told Al Jazeera. “A level of brutalization is part of the course in the training process. Beyond that, Light Infantry Divisions operate as assault troops usually deployed against insurgent-held areas where they often take high casualties, and those losses go to compound the process of brutalization.”

Davis believes that the number of defections may not be as high as that claimed by the People’s Soldiers, but acknowledges that the Tatmadaw is built to be incredibly difficult to leave.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military did not respond to emailed questions at the time of publication.

“Once you’re in the family, you’re in for good,” Davis said. “You live on an army base, your family lives on an army base, your kids go to school on an army base. The Tatmadaw is as much a military caste, an entire social ecosystem, as an army in the narrow sense. That caste includes hundreds of thousands of people including soldiers’ families and relatives, and camp-followers – not just the troops themselves.”

He added that those within the institution are in a tightly controlled bubble, one that has become even more protected and defended since the coup. He also explained that soldiers within the Tatmadaw enjoy all sorts of privileges, free school, free housing, and social standing.

“Then on the battlefield impunity rules,” Davis added. “And that typically includes looting, pillaging and even rape. Tatmadaw combat units are the sharp end of a caste system that confers near-complete impunity because the Tatmadaw is a caste that sees itself as owning and running the entire country.”

‘The soldiers are prisoners’

Nyi Thuta, who co-founded People’s Soldiers, believes getting troops to leave the Tatmadaw, which numbers about 300,000 personnel, is key to loosening its hold on power — particularly high-ranking officers.

Formerly a captain in the Tatmadaw, Nyi Thuta said he joined the military in 2007 because he wanted to protect his country. The idea was to uplift Myanmar as it embarked on democratic reforms, but when the coup took place a little more than a decade later, everything changed.

“The country has a long history of dictatorships, so I knew how bad this could get,” Nyi Thuta told Al Jazeera.

Photo of Nyi Thuta in military fatigues
[Courtesy of Nyi Thuta]

So, the 32-year-old took to Facebook to voice his anger, writing posts about how the coup was regressive and a step backwards. It did not take long for his superiors to threaten him, demanding that he stop sharing his opinions online.

“That’s when I realized that my freedom was gone,” Nyi Thuta said. “ I knew the only way that I could express my freedom was to get outside the Tatmadaw.”

Days after the coup, when protests began erupting throughout the country, Nyi Thuta was cautiously optimistic that the Tatmadaw would allow demonstrators to protest peacefully. But it wasn’t so.

“There was the first victim of the coup,” he said, referring to a 19-year-old girl who was shot in the head during a protest in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, on February 8 of last year. “I thought about the person who killed her. I wondered if he would be held accountable, if so, then maybe there was hope. But it didn’t happen.”

Nyi Thuta left the Tatmadaw weeks later, in early March.

Reflecting on life inside the institution, he explained that soldiers are often “trapped”.

“The soldiers are like prisoners,” he said. “They just obey their orders. If they’re told to crack down on protesters, or ordered to kill them, then they have to do it.”

If troops refuse to carry out their orders, he said, they could be placed in military prison or killed, or their families could be targeted.

“They force you to kill others to survive,” Nyi Thuta said. “First you might not like the idea – the sounds of the screams are painful. But you get used to it. Because you don’t have a choice, you have to do what they are told.”

But for many soldiers, the coup – after a decade of democratic reforms – went a step too far.

Just in the last two weeks, multiple high ranking officers, including three lieutenant colonels, have defected with their families, Nyi Thuta said, and fled to territory controlled by ethnic armed groups where they now support the resistance.

He is hopeful that many more will join their ranks.

Back in Karen State, Pyae Sone Oo too has joined the resistance. But he has trouble looking to the future.

His mind is focused on one goal and one goal only – revolution.

“At this moment I do not have a future,” he said. “And I cannot think about my future until the revolution is won.”



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Not going to fly: Spirit Airlines again rejects JetBlue’s bid | Aviation News

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Spirit shareholders will decide the issue during a June 10 special meeting.

By Bloomberg

Spirit Airlines Inc. rebuffed a hostile $3.3 billion takeover offer from JetBlue Airways Corp., setting the stage for a potentially contentious vote by shareholders on whether to back a JetBlue bid or stand by a pending combination with rival deep discounter Frontier Group Holdings Inc.

Spirit said its board unanimously determined that the JetBlue proposal is not in the best interests of the carrier or its shareholders. The potential transaction “faces substantial regulatory hurdles” and is unlikely to be successfully completed, Spirit said Thursday in a statement. Spirit again recommended shareholders vote in favor of Frontier’s bid.

JetBlue didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Frontier also didn’t immediately respond.

It was the second rejection of a JetBlue bid by Spirit’s board, which stood by Frontier’s $2.9 billion cash-and-stock deal agreed to in February. After an unsuccessful $3.6 billion cash offer, JetBlue on May 16 went hostile, offering the reduced proposal directly to Spirit shareholders in a tender offer.

Spirit shareholders will decide the issue during a June 10 special meeting.

The no-frills carrier stuck by its earlier reasoning that the Frontier offer has a better chance of closing. Market overlap in the eastern US between JetBlue and Spirit could raise antitrust questions at the same time JetBlue battles a federal lawsuit over a business alliance with American Airlines Group Inc.

Spirit shares fell 1.9% to $19.05 as of 7:29 a.m. before regular trading in New York, while JetBlue and Frontier each slipped less than 1%.

With the pursuit of Spirit, JetBlue is seeking a burst of growth it can’t otherwise attain. The rival bid by Frontier would combine similarly focused deep-discounter carriers offering bare-bones low fares while charging for extras like coffee, bottled water and printed boarding passes. Either combination would pass Alaska Air Group Inc. to become the fifth-largest US airline by capacity.

Domestic, Leisure Travel

Spirit’s allure stems in part from an industrywide turn toward domestic markets and leisure travelers — the bread-and-butter of ultra-low-cost airlines — as it’s recovered from a pandemic slump. Bigger carriers have moved more heavily onto that turf amid the slow return of overseas travel demand.

Under the Frontier deal, investors in Miramar, Florida-based Spirit would receive 1.9126 in Frontier stock and $2.13 in cash for each Spirit share. The deal implies a value of $25.83 a share for Spirit. Assumption of net debt and operating lease liabilities push the total value to $6.6 billion. Holders of Denver-based Frontier would own 51.5% of the combined company and name seven of the twelve directors. The agreement includes a $94.2 million breakup fee.

JetBlue has said its offer isn’t subject to approval by its shareholders or to a financing contingency, and includes a $200 million “reverse breakup fee” payable to Spirit if a deal is blocked for antitrust reasons. The proposed deal would generate as much as $700 million in annual synergies, the carrier has said.

A Spirit deal would give JetBlue, hounded by Wall Street analysts for much of its 23-year history over cost creep, access to an organization and management team highly focused on keeping operating expenses in check. JetBlue lost out in its only other takeover attempt when it was outbid by Alaska for Virgin America in 2016.

(Updates with additional details beginning in second paragraph)

–With assistance from Justin Bachman.



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Germany school shooting injures one, suspect arrested | Crime News

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The shooting in a secondary school in Bremerhaven injured one person, who is not a pupil, police say.

Police in Germany’s northern city of Bremerhaven have arrested a suspected attacker after a shooting in a school injured one person.

The incident happened on Thursday at the Lloyd Gymnasium, a secondary school in the centre of Bremerhaven, local police said in a statement.

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” they said, adding the injured person, who has been taken to hospital, was not a pupil.

“Students are in their classrooms with their teachers. The police have the situation on the ground under control,” the statement said.

German paper Bild said the injured person was a woman.

It also reported that a second suspect appeared to be on the run. It earlier reported they were armed with a crossbow.

Police said they were ascertaining whether more than one person was involved.

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Bremerhaven police said on Twitter that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Previous incidents

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passersby in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The attacker then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people, including 12 teachers and two students, at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone below 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.



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How much do Australian voters care about climate change? | TV Shows

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On Thursday, May 19 at 19:30GMT:
More than 17.2 million Australians are set to vote during this week’s elections – and for the first time, climate change could shape the outcome in a major way.

Massive deadly bushfires in 2019 and destructive flooding in 2021 have changed many Australians’ outlook on climate action. Polls show an increasing number of citizens believe that global warming “is a serious and pressing problem” and that “we should begin taking steps now, even if this involves significant costs.”

Despite this growing support for stronger climate policy, neither major party has pledged ambitious reform. Both Liberal Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese support a net zero carbons emissions policy by 2050, which analysts say isn’t bold enough. And though 29 percent of Australians cite climate change as their most important issue, most candidates are not talking about it, for fear of alienating voters in coal mining towns.

That’s one big reason why so-called “teal independent” candidates are gaining traction around the nation. This group of nearly two dozen, mostly female candidates are running on an anti-corruption, pro-climate action platform. Political experts say that if a major party fails to secure a majority in Parliament, these independents could tip the balance of power after negotiating more climate-friendly policy outcomes.

Other issues at stake in this year’s elections include the soaring cost of living, government corruption and tackling gender and racial inequality.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll talk about the major issues sending Australians to the polls, and what it could mean for the country’s climate policy. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Kishor Napier-Raman, @kishor_nr
Federal Politics Reporter, Crikey

Intifar Chowdhury, @intifar2210
Associate Lecturer & Youth Researcher, Australia National University (ANU)

Kate Crowley, @Kate__Crowley
Associate Professor, University of Tasmania





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