Anti-junta activists celebrate major win as

Myanmar’s junta can be defeated by the end of 2022, the Prime Minister of the underground National Unity Government (NUG) has told Myanmar Now. 

Mahn Win Khaing Than said in an interview that after intensive efforts to convince armed groups like the Karen National Union (KNU) to join the revolution last year, Myanmar’s anti-military forces have joined together with unprecedented solidarity. 

The major barrier to defeating Min Aung Hlaing’s coup regime, he said, will be finding a way to overcome the military’s air force. 

He also discussed high-level meetings he attended between top military officials and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi about the military’s operations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State while the National League for Democracy (NLD) was in power. 

Myanmar Now: When rumours started last year that the military was going to stage a coup, did Aung San Suu Kyi have a plan for how to respond? 

Mahn Win Khaing Than: She didn’t give us any orders regarding the coup back then. Maybe she had an agenda in her mind and this is the route she had planned for us. One thing to consider is that she had been trying to reconcile with the military during the five years of the party’s administration and it proved to be a failure in the end. The military is the source of the problem. I think she must have thought that this was the only way out of this mess and decided to go along with it. As we all know, if this didn’t happen, another five years would have gone by without any progress. Therefore, in a way, Aung San Suu Kyi knew the enemy all along.

Before the coup, Min Aung Hlaing is rumoured to have asked for his service term to be extended and to be president, but Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly rejected these requests. As the speaker of the upper house, the Amyotha Hluttaw, you must have been present for any such discussions. Do you think the coup could have been prevented if she had complied with his requests?

Now, here’s what I think. There are things we didn’t get to do in our five-year term, but we tried to see the silver lining. However, if we’d let this situation go on without being able to amend the 2008 Constitution, our country would have continued to drift away to nothing, as we had been doing in previous years. What I’m trying to say is that there will always have to be sacrifices for a country to change. It saddened us that there would have to be sacrifices but it is what it is. Because of this whole mess, we now know who’s truly on our side and who our enemies are and that the Constitution is no longer valid. Otherwise, this would have continued to be their trump card, which is evident in the fact that the commander-in-chief had more power than the president himself.

To say it bluntly, we were able to change because of him. If he had continued to lay low and do nothing, we would have been unable to change. Another thing is the cabinet. The cabinet’s administration team was made up of the same people, with many of the higher ranks–such as general directors, secretariats and assistant directors–being army generals. Those positions are hard to get rid of. It’s easier said than done to remove them.

But now we can get rid of them easily and replace them with better people. They won’t be able to control our departments anymore. However, the people of the country are paying for this with their lives. Nevertheless we need to focus on the silver linings right now. We will be able to submit proper requests at the parliament as well. This wouldn’t have been possible without the revolution as all power lay in the hands of the commander-in-chief.

Even the army generals who were living peacefully are now in danger because of the coup. No military-affiliated person can live peacefully now. That’s one good silver lining, I must say.

We have heard that some members of the NLD cabinet had emergency meetings with military officers on issues including Rakhine. Our sources from the military said that Aung San Suu Kyi gave directions to eradicate the Arakan Army (AA) and to use the air force if necessary. Do you think Aung San Suu Kyi had that kind of power over the army?

Security affairs should mean that things remain confidential at all costs. It wasn’t exactly confidential, considering even you are hearing about it, right? There’s one thing I remember, that the military came to explain about the battles with ARSA (the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army). Aung San Suu Kyi said nothing though. They didn’t talk about the AA either. They presented a video as proof that ARSA attacked them. No directions were given during that meeting. The video contained a scene where an entire village, including children, were yelling chants, holding weapons. [The military] were accused by the international community of torching villages. So they showed a video of people torching their own houses. And then they showed a video of Hindu people getting killed. They wanted to make it look like ARSA was committing atrocities. That’s all they showed. Nothing about the AA was discussed in that meeting.

Did she believe them?

To be honest, we only learnt about the massacres in Inn Din village some time later. We knew nothing about those matters when they came to us. I personally even thought ARSA was the big bad guy. So we asked for a soft copy of the videos they showed us. I showed the files to the international representatives including those from the EU. We truly believed [the military]. But we did not know anything about the incidents in Inn Din. I think we were caught in between the military and the people, and I feel like we were cheated if we think about it now.

We even told international representatives that we would have to fight back if necessary as they were trying to destabilize the rule of law. We believed them because they showed us the videos and it was terrible according to the videos. They convinced us that they did nothing wrong.

How did Aung San Suu Kyi respond to this?

Honestly, I think she believed them as well. That’s why the ethnic minorities misunderstood the NLD. They’re angry that the NLD didn’t say anything to stop the military. I think Aung San Suu Kyi took all the blame for herself. Even the ethnic personnel within the NUG used to criticise Aung San Suu Kyi for not saying anything.

I tried to explain a little, though. According to the 2008 Constitution, the military had more power than the president himself. If she said anything to oppose them, we wouldn’t have even been able to run the country for five years. That’s why she had been trying to reconcile with the military; to minimise the bloodshed. However, I can understand why the ethnic minorities were angry at her for not stopping the military. I tried to explain as much as I could, though.

So does this mean that the NLD leaders who ran the country for five years did not give any directions to the army regarding security matters?

The home affairs ministry reported the intel they had gathered back to us. There was nothing else. All we had were intelligence reports. There’s nothing else.

The military recently announced that they would be extending the term of the military council. As speaker of the upper house, do you think this was lawful?

The law states that [the term] can be extended when the president willingly transfers power to the military. However, in this case, the president didn’t hand over power; they staged a coup. There’s no law that suggests that they can extend their term after a coup. They’ve been doing this since 1962. They claimed that the power had been transferred to them only after [detaining] both the president, who was also a member of the defence department, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor. It doesn’t add up at all. It’s not according to the law at all.

Everyone understands now that the military has to be eradicated. The entire population of the country now has one single goal. Such a thing has never happened before

They’re just trying to cover up the fact that they staged a coup. If a president were to transfer the authority to someone else, the vice president and the speakers of the parliaments would remain the same. However, we were all detained and T Khun Myat and I were the first ones who were asked to leave the residence

Now that T Khun Myat has resumed attending the parliamentary office, the junta is trying to show that the parliament is operational and that the extension of the military council’s term is valid. What would you like to say about this?

I think the military just wanted to show that they, too, had a parliament, when they saw the formation of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). They only have a lower house speaker but no upper house speaker. A parliament needs to have two chambers (laughs). 

What do you, as a Karen person and Prime Minister of the NUG, think will happen next in regards to the revolution?

We are expecting that our revolution will be successful by the end of this year. There are certainly several difficulties we will need to overcome [but] I’ve never seen such nationwide solidarity before. We had to resolve issues with the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) in the beginning, especially with the Karen National Union, as they suffered a lot too. They had suspicions about all sorts of things.

They were especially worried about us reconciling with the military. They said they could and they would sit this fight out as nothing would change if we reconciled with the military; they had so much to lose if this ended in nothing. However, we managed to convince them to join forces with us. 

We had to take a lot of time to convince them but this was not their fault. They had suffered so much that they couldn’t trust anyone easily. They had to think about all the what-ifs. But we have now earned their trust and the country is finally together as one. Victory is inevitable, now that we have all the ethnicities by our side. Such a thing has never happened before.

We have the upper hand on the ground. We just need to worry about their air force

In the past, nobody would have believed it if someone had told them about the massacres and the burning of villages in places like Kachin State. They’d just think that the military couldn’t have been that cruel. Now that such things are happening even in the mainland, everyone understands how cruel and ruthless the military is. Therefore the entire population is now able to sympathise with the ethnic people. Many people have apologised for their negligence. Everyone is together as one now.

Everyone understands now that the military has to be eradicated. The entire population of the country now has one single goal. Such a thing has never happened before. We have to win this fight or these atrocities are going to happen for more decades to come. 

There are several difficulties as well. Everything is going to turn out fine when we have dealt with those difficulties. We are trying our best as more people are going to suffer the longer we take.

When we first talked with the Ethnic Armed Organizations, they drew up a timeframe, based on their experience. We were very disappointed and worried because it was quite long and we knew that more people would suffer the longer we took. But we have now come to believe that they were right. This is the right amount of time needed for us to be victorious. 

What solid information can you give to the people regarding the revolution?

I know that the people are very exhausted and I promise that it will be done by the end of this year. We are trying our best to stand victorious in the shortest amount of time. We have the upper hand on the ground. We just need to worry about their air force. These are the things we need to discuss with the EAOs. We would have won a long time ago if they didn’t have an air force.

The people of Myanmar will go down in history for being a part of the formation of a new nation

The country will have to suffer for several decades to come if we don’t win this fight. So we need to win this fight once and for all. Another thing is my own personal opinion: I feel like it’s the silver lining that we finally know clearly who’s good and who’s bad. We can start a new chapter from here. We can replace every staff member. It will not be the same as five years ago when we didn’t get to do everything we wanted.

We can form a new country from here. The people of Myanmar will go down in history for being a part of the formation of a new nation. This is not our revolution. This is the revolution of the people and the Generation Z kids. Please continue to fight and we will provide whatever support you need. We will try to lead you out of this mess as soon as possible.

Nyan Hlaing Lin is Senior Reporter with Myanmar Now

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