Since the British colony of Burma gained independence in 1948, the country now known as Myanmar has been plagued by a series of civil wars, military coups, and human rights abuses, which helped politicians put restrictive gun control laws in place that make it impossible for the average citizen to legally possess a firearm. The civilian government ousted in the latest military coup back on February 1st is now calling for a change to the country’s laws and a recognition of the right of self-defense, but obviously that’s not going to happen as long as the country’s military is calling (and taking) the shots.
There are a small number of armed ethnic groups in Myanmar/Burma that have been fighting for independence (or waging a guerrilla war against the ruling governments, in some cases for decades, including the Kachin Independence Organization/Army in the country’s northern provinces, and as the military slaughters of civilians continues, the KIA/O and other groups are fighting back.
The spike in fighting in Kachin has happened as the military has stepped up its use of lethal force, violence and threats against civilians calling for the restoration of democracy in cities and towns across the country.
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, said on Tuesday that the protests had “turned into riots and violence,” according to a state media report.
He also said the police force “was assigned duties to subdue the protests according to democratic norms by exercising utmost restraint,” and the Tatmadaw was “helping the police troops as rearguards in required places to solve the difficulties and obstacles”.
The shooting, he said, “had to disperse the protesters, resulting in some security forces and protesters’ casualties.”
In Kachin, on March 8, police and soldiers opened fire into crowds of protesters in front of a Catholic cathedral in Myitkyina, killing two, minutes after a nun pleaded with the officers and troops to show mercy.
With the military engaging in murderous acts like these, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the armed ethnic groups are siding with pro-democracy protesters. In fact, an army of Karens is now helping to protect protesters in several cities.
On February 14, the Karen National Union, a prominent ethnic armed group near the border with Thailand, announced its support for the pro-democracy protest movement and that it would help and protect all ethnic people who protested against the coup; it has since provided security by accompanying protesters on the streets.
In Kachin, pro-KIO/A rallies have taken place in at least three townships since March 12, including in the state capital and have been attended by people from diverse ethnic groups, a journalist who was there told Al Jazeera.
Colonel Naw Bu, the head of the KIO Information Department, told Al Jazeera the KIO/A would not retaliate for individual attacks against people in Kachin, and that it wanted to protect everyone in the country.
“Protesters are being killed not only in Kachin State, but also in lower Burma,” he said. “When we say protect the people, we mean the people of our country.”
“If the military shoots, beats, persecutes and tortures the people, we, KIO as an armed group, will find a way to protect the people,” he added, but qualified that “We don’t want to solve this issue using weapons; we prefer peaceful negotiation.”
Peaceful negotiation is always preferable to armed conflict, but armed conflict is preferable to the slaughter of unarmed civilians. With Myanmar’s military committed to putting down these protests with lethal force, a call to arms for average citizens is growing louder and more intense.
A Kachin youth in Myitkyina told Al Jazeera he believed now was the “right time” for armed resistance for the country, and that it was “the time for the KIO/A to stand with the people.” “If we don’t want to live under military dictatorship, we all have to fight against it,” he said.
Self-defense is a human right, and while I’d love to see some semblance of democracy restored in Myanmar without civil war breaking out, that option may not be on the table. When unarmed civilians are being gunned down by their government simply for protesting the military’s seizure of power, no one should be shocked or surprised by the fact that a growing number of people are choosing to fight back. I just can’t help but wonder if the military coup would have even been attempted if the vast majority of the Myanmar people hadn’t already been disarmed thanks to the country’s restrictive gun control laws.
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