Hla Min Kyaw

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Hla Min Kyaw. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1. https://ijbs.online/?page_id=3522

I’m Hla Min Kyaw from the Yaw region. I’m a single guy and I have been in the army for thirteen years; I’m just shy of thirty years old. Back when I finished tenth grade, I was casting about for work, and there wasn’t much going on in my area then. I would have liked to attend an engineering school and work in that field, which is a real passion of mine. But opportunities were scarce, so I sat, and easily passed, the entrance exam for the military’s computer science and technology stream.

Over thirteen years of service, I have had several roles. I most recently became a sergeant at the Ayeyarwady Naval Base. I did alright there, my salary was about 240,000 Myanmar Kyat per month, but of course the army deducted 10,000 for “insurance”, which went straight to the Union of Myanmar Economics Holding Limited. Sometimes they would even take more than that, based on their own logic. Directly before becoming sergeant I worked in shipbuilding. Whenever a navy ship docked, we had to work on maintenance and repairs. We got so busy that we only had one meal per day. I was proud to be part of that maintenance crew. I followed the rules and was diligent. But I had an accident and hurt my head, requiring surgery. After that, the hospital ordered my seniors to restrict me to lighter duties, like working on propaganda and with military records.

I left my position and joined the side of the people in September 2021. There were so many reasons I decided to do so. One reason is the atrocities committed against peaceful protesters after the February military coup. I was secretly using social media, so I saw it all. I could not accept these events; they were pounding in my head in every day. You wouldn’t believe it, but soon after the coup the head bureaucrat in charge of all the departments at the naval base organized an event where he tried to explain how the military’s shooting killings of young female protesters Mya Thwe Thwe Khine and Kyal Zin weren’t a problem. He said that all the social media attention the deaths were getting was just from people hyping the deaths to try and get more followers for their accounts. But I knew these were clearly atrocities.

The other reason I left was because of the electoral fraud narrative that Min Aung Hlaing used to justify the coup. I know that is nonsense and hypocritical. I voted in the 2010 and 2015 elections while in the military. In 2010 my battalion commander gave us a speech before going to the voting booths. He told us explicitly to vote for the party “closest to the military” (I.e., the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP]). He used the idiom, “if something slips, it may still fall into your pocket”, meaning that even though some authority was finally being devolved to civilians under the new constitution, by voting for the military we could minimize the losses. At that time I was just a kid, so I did what he said and voted for the USDP. Was that not intimidation? Is that not electoral fraud?

Then in 2015, I followed the National League for Democracy (NLD) campaign closely, posting stickers up and uploading pictures online. My Facebook account was so pro-NLD it was actually reported by someone in the military and got taken down. The NLD accorded with my values and I knew they wanted to improve our country and grow its prosperity. I could vote freely in 2015 and I voted for the NLD with pleasure.

I did not get the chance to vote in the 2020 elections. The military voted for me. I was denied my right to vote. It worked like this: there are advance votes, which can be arranged for people who are not present on the base at election day. In our battalion we had over a hundred people. But on the day, only fifteen of us were allowed to vote. People like the chief of staff, seniors. The rest of us were all prepared to vote, ready and eager, but we were told that advance votes had already been cast for us. Is that not electoral fraud? We were disenfranchised by the army, which is terrified of the people’s will.

For these reasons I became resolute and contacted a family member, who put me in contact with someone from a People’s Defense Force, who then connected me with people in liberated areas. I could not really trust those soldiers around me at the base. Because of the organization of different groups on duty, it was hard to know if anyone else had left the base since the coup. There was propaganda spreading from the military saying that some deserters had been caught, arrested and interrogated. I don’t know if there was a grain of truth to it or not.

I was certainly worried what would happen to me and my family once I left. I was anxious about whether the public would accept me, a soldier who had been in the army for thirteen years. During this time, when I was planning to leave but had not arrange everything yet, the army attacked my small home village in Yaw. They killed eighteen civilians and set most homes on fire. The young and the old were brutally massacred. I was in tears; this was unbearable. How can anyone accept these atrocities? Any person with even a shred of humanity would reject them.

I didn’t have much money on hand, but in September the group People’s Soldiers sent me some funds and helped me plan my escape. To exit the naval base, I had to go across a creek that bordered it. This was the first obstacle, I thought about it a lot: I just need to cross this river, and then I will face whatever difficulties there are on the outside. I was happy to take the risk because I had come to realize I would rather give my life for the people than work for the benefit of an unjust organization. I swore an oath at that time. I would never kill or torture anyone in my life. By making this oath, I hoped that fortune would favor me to escape successfully.

I managed to discreetly arrange for the hire a small boat. I waited by the creek one night when it was raining. The whole area was restricted, a military zone, I didn’t know if the boat would come. After forty-five minutes, I saw the boat and its pilot coming around the bend through the rain. I exhaled. He took me on wordlessly and delivered me to the other side of the creek. Then it was time for a taxi. It didn’t take too long to find one; once I was inside, I changed out of my saturated clothes. I told the driver to take me to a nearby small town.

Once I made it, I had breakfast and found a safe place to bunk. I withdrew some money using the Wave app and took out my phone’s SIM card. Then I continued my journey in a hired car; it was me, the driver and his wife. They were sympathetic and helped me with everything. There were a lot of checkpoints around and I only had a student card as identification, but every time we passed one the driver covered for me. He even told the soldiers that my bag was his wife’s bag, so they never thought to check it. Right in front of us soldiers were cutting open cargo boxes and bags from other vehicles.

When I reached a liberated area I met others who share my belief that we should work together to fight against injustice and the State Administration Council. We should not serve under people who stole power immorally. I’m here to help the revolution. That is my first priority. I will even give up my life. When the revolution is successful, I will serve my country as a civilian. There are so many regions in Myanmar without proper education, social programs, and healthcare. Places where there is not even proper electricity. So many villages have suffered from the military. When the people rule Myanmar, I will go to these places and set up mental wellness and economic development programs. I will do my best.