New Battles, Old Wars
Tha Yet (Myanmar)
On 1st February 2021 Myanmar’s military carried out a coup which deposed the democratically elected government and shattered a decade of political and social development overnight. Many of the country’s elected officials were detained and Myanmar returned to military rule – something that the vast majority of the population had hoped they would never see again.
Protests against the coup quickly began to grow, from small acts of defiance to a nationwide uprising which protestors began referring to as the ‘Spring Revolution’. In order to suppress the growing protest movement the military soon turned to the use of deadly force and mass detention. In the first months of resistance, hundreds of peaceful protestors were murdered, thousands were imprisoned and virtually every town and city in the country was subjected to a brutal campaign of terror by state security forces.
As the majority of urban protests were quashed by the military crackdown, many young Burmese retreated into the jungles and mountains of Myanmar’s rugged periphery to learn how to wage war against the junta from armed groups who have been doing so for generations. Large swathes of Myanmar’s border regions have been embroiled in civil war for decades and local ethnic populations have long suffered under military repression. The resultant patchwork of self-administered regions protected by mountains, jungles and well established ethnic armed groups is the perfect training ground for a new generation of Burmese freedom fighters.
Amongst those active in training these new recruits, pushed to take up arms in the face of a new era of military tyranny, is the The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF). The ABSDF was formed on the Burma-Thailand border in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown by military forces on the ‘8888 Uprising’ of August 1988, drawing obvious parallels with contemporary events. Since then the organisation’s armed wing has fought alongside numerous armed opposition groups in Myanmar in a violent and protracted conflict against state military forces.
The ABSDF’s basic military training course welcomes recruits from a wide range of ethnic, social and political backgrounds, but all trainees share one ambition – to take up arms against the Myanmar military. Some will stay with the ABSDF whilst others will join other existing armed groups across the country. Many will become part of the Peoples’ Defence Force (PDF), the military wing of the opposition government in exile, the National Unity Government (NUG). All will fight to free their country from the grip of another brutal dictatorship.
This work is supported by grants from The VII Foundation and The Frontline Club.
Tha Yet is a Burmese photojournalist who has been working for local media agencies and CSOs for almost a decade, first as a reporter and researcher and more recently as a photographer. Tha Yet’s work has focused on communal and racial violence in Myanmar and the spread of hate speech through social networks, documenting human rights and minority rights issues – particularly those affecting the Rohingya and other Muslim communities in Myanmar – gender issues and social cohesion initiatives. Since the military coup in Myanmar Tha Yet has spent time following the lives of young People’s Defence Force recruits training in the forests of Kayin (Karen) State along the Thai/Myanmar border. Due to the political situation in Myanmar the name Tha Yet is an alias and this bio has been heavily redacted to remove any identifying information.