Every day, when Ko Win Kyaw goes out to demonstrate against the Myanmar military, he carries his slingshot and a supply of rocks as ammunition. It is little help against the army’s overwhelming firepower, but he says it gives him confidence and a way to strike back.
“I know I can’t defend myself with a slingshot, because I’m facing people with guns,” he said. “When they shoot, I run.”
Mr. Win Kyaw, 36, is one of many pro-democracy protesters who have started arming themselves with rudimentary weapons as they defy the military regime in Myanmar. What began as peaceful protests after the Feb. 1 coup rapidly grew into a resistance movement, with citizens defending themselves using slingshots, homemade air guns, old hunting rifles and firebombs.
In a statement this week, the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the military’s brutal crackdown in the Southeast Asian nation had “led to some individuals taking up arms,” warning that the situation had “echoes of Syria in 2011” and was “heading toward a full-blown conflict.”
deadliest crackdown since the coup, according to a human rights group tracking the killings. More than 728 people have been killed, and at least 3,000 have been detained.
In the hard-hit Tharketa township of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, one protester said he and his friends had formed a team of about 20 people after the slaughter on March 27. “We were peaceful protesters after the coup,” said Ko Thi Ha, 26. “But when they killed so many people, we couldn’t go further with a peaceful movement. We needed to fight back.”
attacked a similar group with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, killing at least 82.
State-owned news outlets have blamed the ousted elected leaders and “anarchic mobs” for the rising violence in Myanmar. In other countries where pro-democracy movements have taken hold in recent years, the authorities have also justified intensifying crackdowns by pointing to protesters with weapons.
In Yangon this month, there were several arson attacks on police stations and government offices, as well as small explosions that caused little damage and no injuries. Some experts on the Tatmadaw fear strong retaliation if protesters were to succeed in procuring deadly weapons on a large scale.