They break into Camp Victoria, the headquarters of the long-running ethnic army of the Chin National Front (CNF) in western Myanmar, close to the Indian border. They disregard efforts by the camp leadership to suspend training due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the verge of adulthood, these volunteers say they demonstrated against the military coup that toppled their civilian government in February. And as the junta’s response has become increasingly bloody, so have they taken up arms.
But any hope of singing real victory songs at any time is far-fetched. His leadership is warning of a long battle.
“Now it’s an urban guerrilla-type (conflict), but within months it will turn into a traditional civil war,” Sukhar, the CNF’s vice president, told CNN.
This bleak truth increases the likelihood, in fact, that Myanmar will plunge into a protracted conflict with no victors emerging, and the country to collapse.
But the forecast of experts for the civilian population was also dire. “The ensuing period of national economic collapse, widespread poverty and deprivation will give them greater incentives to secure sources of revenue, either directly from the local people or at their expense. These factors factor into the potential emergence of new, persistent armed groups in these regions. Pointing out to the U.S., the report states that various parts of Myanmar have witnessed the following dynamics several times during the decades of insurgency.
Suikhar insisted that his movement and the Chinaland Defense Forces, who are also being trained at Camp Victoria, were led by Myanmar’s national unity government.
This exile administration, which, for now, exists only in name, is a loose coalition of anti-people forces and has no command or control over armed groups within Myanmar.
And for fresh graduates of Jungle Training Camp, the romantic vision of the fight for freedom may have a bitter ending.
Curious to know how outsiders saw the conflict, a young fighter, a former journalist and graduate from Yangon University, revealed that he was the commander of a 10-man group specially trained in urban guerrilla warfare. Started as a group.
“At least, I ordered 10. Now there are only seven. I lost three last week when they were carrying a house bomb that was used against the junta. It blew up in their hands. . They all died on the spot,” he says.
He is ordered by his superiors in the Chinaland Defense Force to return to Camp Victoria for a break after this bloodshed. Within days he was in a new black uniform and receiving more specialist training. His eyes were now gleaming with cold determination, not with hope.
stalemate is not win
But the junta army is backing down ruthlessly, say analysts.
Tatmadaw is using its long-established ‘four cut’ counter-terrorism strategy in these areas, a brutal approach that deliberately targets civilians in an effort to deny insurgents food, money, recruits and intelligence on military activity. (Therefore four reductions in clear violation of international humanitarian law, with looting of food stores and denial of relief supplies, attacks on populated areas are an integral part of this strategy,” alleges the ICG.
The strategy is well known around Camp Victoria, where citizens are leaving outlying villages for safety in small refugee camps, or Indian communities across the Tiau River. Most of the refugees are women, children and old people. They all left their villages for the same reasons.
“I am really afraid of Myanmar army because they are very evil and they are a ruthless army. Twenty years ago the army tortured my son in my own house. They hit him on the head. He had blood on his head. And so I’m really afraid of them,” said Tiel Song, an elderly woman who sat under the orange plastic wrap of a newly built shelter.
“How long will you be a refugee?” CNN asked Chanalal, Song’s neighbor on this muddy hill.
“As long as the army rules us,” he replies.
Beyond the outdoor safety of Camp Victoria, the mountains of Chin State leap into nearly-vertical waves of dense forest. The journey is over mountain passes with small mud tracks.
The local people, many of them experienced hunters, have an edge over the invading armies. They also have a mass intelligence network of their own communities, in which fighters receive live updates of enemy soldiers’ movements from village agents across the state.
But these advantages alone will not help the anti-incumbency forces survive. A deadlock is not a win.
an impossible jungle guerrilla
Entering or exiting chin-controlled territory is a grueling test of endurance. It often involves bouncing back-braking all day along mud-covered tracks behind small motorbikes made by Chinese. These tiny 125cc workhorses are modern-day mules, carrying fighters, ammunition and food to far-flung camps run by the Chinaland Defense Force.
One of these campsites sits close to a forest trail with a small network of bunkers and dorm tents for the CNN volunteers. It could be their home and fighting den for many months to come.
John Ling dropped his history studies at Yangon University to join the rebellion. Swapping the classroom for a hilltop camp, he is the administrator, or quartermaster, for about 150 other volunteers. A slightly built 22 year old man, Ling is an unlikely jungle guerrilla.
“Aren’t you afraid of being killed?” CNN asks him. “No, because I stand for my country,” he replies – adding that his parents are not worried about him, but are proud of the stand he has taken.
It may be noble – but it is also open-ended.
The armory is an A-framed tent made of plastic wrap and tree trunks. Its precious materials, dozens of shotguns designed for shooting birds, are lined along each wall. On the floor, a log fire burns to keep moisture out, and the guns go off.
Sukhar, vice-president of the Chin National Front, is adamant that these fighters will soon be supplied with automatic firearms like the AK-47.
“There are international smugglers. … you can get weapons anywhere,” he insists, but it’s unclear how those weapons will be paid for.
“People donate, raise money. So I don’t think money will be a problem.”
Many armed groups in Myanmar have for decades relied on smuggling, especially drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine, to finance their rebels. And the longer they depend on the local population, the more likely the insurgent forces will burden civilians with corruption, security rackets or simple taxation.
The CNF says it believes it is one of the 16 ethnic armies, and hopes for cooperation between them against a common enemy – all in the name of “democracy and federalism”.
Young citizens are beginning to embrace this ideal; It was a thwarting of a democratic future that drove so many youths into the jungles with guns. But the future length of their war, whether they win or lose, may depend less on the youth of the opposition than on the young soldiers and officers sent to fight the National Army.
The fight against the brutality and corruption of the generals who returned to power in February marks the sharpest end of the “young officers’ coup”. The Chin leadership knows this.
Sukhar says, “We are working on it.