Myanmar Protesters Arm Themselves With Homemade Weapons



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.

Chinese-made surveillance drones, the slingshot has become the weapon of choice for many protesters. They are cheap and easy to conceal, and can be fired quickly from hiding. For ammunition, some buy glass marbles or smooth stones that have been collected for the purpose. When ammunition runs short, there are usually plenty of rocks around.

Until recently, the slingshot was most common in rural areas, where cowboys often use it to prod their cattle. A skilled marksman can pick off a mango from a high branch.

After the protests began, the slingshot first appeared in the hands of the police. Videos taken by residents showed groups of officers roaming the streets at night, firing randomly at people, homes and windows. As the demonstrations escalated, the police traded their slingshots for rifles while the protesters took them up in large numbers.

Last month, when Alexander Fomin, the Russian deputy defense minister, visited Myanmar, the junta leader, Sr. General Min Aung Hlaing, showed him an exhibit of items confiscated from protesters. A video of the encounter shows the general demonstrating for Mr. Fomin how a slingshot works.

“Pull back to shoot,” he said.

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Taiwan Hunters Contend With Taboos, and Trials, to Uphold Tradition

ZHUOXI, Taiwan — The smell of damp earth filled the air on a recent moonless evening as the hunter wove through the dense mountain thicket, clutching a homemade rifle and with only the narrow white beam of a headlamp to illuminate his prey.

But the hunter, Vilian Istasipal, was confident. He knew this terrain well.

A member of the Bunun, one of 16 officially recognized Indigenous groups in Taiwan, Mr. Vilian, 70, has been hunting on this land for more than 60 years.

Some of his earliest memories growing up in Zhuoxi, a town of around 6,000 people in eastern Taiwan, involved going on dayslong hunts with his father deep into the mountains where he learned skills considered essential to being a Bunun man, like how to lay a trap, shoot a flying squirrel and skin a boar.

“We kill them, but we also pay respect to their lives,” Mr. Vilian said in the courtyard of his home in Zhuoxi, also known as Takkei in the Bunun language.

formally apologized to the island’s Indigenous people for centuries of “pain and mistreatment,” the first leader to do so.

Awi Mona, a professor and expert on Indigenous law at National Dong Hwa University in the eastern city of Hualien. “What we are actually discussing is the Indigenous right to self-government on natural resources.”

Hunting has always been a central part of Taiwan’s Indigenous culture. In Taiwan’s verdant East Rift Valley, the Bunun people maintained the practice even after they were forced out of their traditional mountain homes in the 1930s by the colonial Japanese government.

Many Bunun resettled in the foothills in towns like Zhuoxi, nestled among neatly tended millet and rice fields and scattered with papaya trees and pink bougainvillea.

Then, as now, Indigenous hunting culture was circumscribed by a complex web of taboos and rituals. Traditionally, only men can hunt. Among the Bunun, flatulence and sneezing are some of the many bad omens that might lead a man to call off a hunt. Same goes if a hunter has a bad dream.

In Bunun culture, hunting female deer in the spring, when they are likely to be pregnant, is off-limits. Hunting black bears, seen as friends, is also discouraged.

Among other groups, like the Seediq and the Truku, hunting culture is similarly restricted by long-held customs, at the heart of which is a belief in the fundamental balance between man and nature.

“When I see an animal, I feel that I’m destined to meet it,” said AlangTakisvilainan, 28, a Bunun hunter. He drew a distinction with hunting in America, where the use of semiautomatic rifles effectively amounted to bullying the animals, he said.

“That humans and animals can go head-to-head in a fair fight,” he said, “I think that’s an incredible thing.”

While only Indigenous people can use guns to hunt, they are barred from killing protected species like leopard cats and Formosan black bears, and are required to use certain types of traps, knives or old-fashioned homemade rifles that can jam easily and are some times unsafe. The simple firearms are modeled after those used long ago by Indigenous hunters and must be loaded with gunpowder before each shot.

They must also apply for permits, a process which includes answering questions some hunters regard as absurd. Asking what animals a hunter plans to target, for example, is considered an insult to the Indigenous belief that the animals are gifts from ancestors.

Although enforcement of the laws has been uneven, arrests have continued over the years. So just to be safe, Bayan Tanapima, 62, said he was applying for a gun permit even though he had been hunting since he was a teenager.

“It’s very strange — we have lived for so long in the mountains so why do we have to do this?” Mr. Bayan said. “It’s like they don’t approve of the Indigenous way of living.”

Conservationists have argued that loosening such restrictions would be ruinous for the environment and wildlife, and animal-rights advocates decry what they consider cruel practices. But defenders of local hunting traditions note that Indigenous people have been caretakers of Taiwan’s environment for thousands of years and that such expertise should be respected.

Ciang Isbabanal, a police officer who works on Indigenous issues in the nearby town of Yuli, said that while hunting laws were necessary to curb extreme behavior, the cultural taboos on hunting were so deeply rooted that close outside supervision was unnecessary.

“I hope the country can respect their culture and give them space to live freely,” said Mr. Ciang, a Bunun who also hunts when off-duty. “Having too many legal constraints doesn’t work.”

Back in the forest on a recent night, Mr. Vilian, the 70-year-old hunter, strode up the mountain to where he knew there’d be trees heavy with just-ripened olives — a favorite snack of deer and boars.

Mr. Vilian found a small boar writhing in a trap. According to tribal customs, it was too young to be killed just yet.

After wrapping it in his shirt, he headed home to a late-night feast of braised bamboo shoots and deer meat soup.

But before they could dig in, the ancestors needed to be thanked. Mr. Vilian, his son, Qaivang, and Mr. Bayan, his cousin, dipped their fingers in a bowl of rice wine. They sprinkled a few drops on the boar — now flailing in a rusty cage. The boar was later given to a relative to raise for several years.

“Today we are very happy,” the men chanted in the Bunun language. “To our ancestors and mountain gods, we thank you for giving us this food.”

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N.R.A. Chief Takes the Stand, With Cracks in His Armor

Mr. LaPierre is seeking to use bankruptcy to help reincorporate the N.R.A. in the more gun-friendly state of Texas, and has already repaid the N.R.A. about $300,000 as he seeks to hold on to his job. Asked if he was disciplined for misspending the money, he said, “Yes, I was disciplined, I paid it back,” suggesting that at the N.R.A., discipline sometimes amounts to paying back money after you are caught.

Whether his bankruptcy gambit will work remains to be seen. To persuade Judge Hale that the N.R.A.’s petition should be rejected during a trial that started last week, lawyers for the attorney general, Letitia James, and for a major creditor — the N.R.A.’s former advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen — presented evidence that they said showed that Mr. LaPierre had sought bankruptcy protection in bad faith.

Proving that a filing was made in bad faith can be difficult because it means showing intent. But Monica Connell, an assistant attorney general, argued that Mr. LaPierre lacked the authority to take the N.R.A. into bankruptcy on his own and had used a “convoluted” ploy to get its board of directors to unwittingly grant the necessary authorization.

Rather than putting a bankruptcy resolution before the board, Ms. Connell said, Mr. LaPierre’s team asked the board to vote on a new employment contract for him. It looked like a reform measure, since it reduced his golden parachute.

But the contract contained an inconspicuous provision giving Mr. LaPierre authority “without limitation” to “reorganize or restructure the affairs of the Association for purposes of cost-minimization, regulatory compliance or otherwise.”

The new contract was first presented to a committee of the N.R.A. board in a closed session on Jan. 7. There weren’t enough copies to go around, and no one could leave with a copy. N.R.A. officials said board members had ample time for review.

By that time, Mr. LaPierre’s main outside counsel, the law firm of William A. Brewer III, had spent months planning the bankruptcy, racking up millions of dollars in legal fees. But no one told the board about that. After the committee emerged from its closed session, the board approved the contract, with little inkling that they had conferred bankruptcy authority on Mr. LaPierre.

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N.R.A. Chief Kept Bankruptcy Filing Secret From Deputies

But the organization remains a potent lobbying force that has reshaped the political landscape around guns. Its enduring influence was on display in the aftermath of two recent mass shootings, in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., when calls for gun control ran up against stout Republican opposition and the realities of the Senate filibuster.

The bankruptcy, however, is a risky gambit for the N.R.A. and a sign of its desperation. Mr. LaPierre and his outside lawyer, William A. Brewer III, an architect of the filing, could lose control over the organization. One possible outcome, if the case is not dismissed outright, is that the judge, Harlin D. Hale, will appoint a trustee to take over the N.R.A.’s day-to-day operations, displacing the current management. The use of a trustee is rare in large company bankruptcies and usually happens only in cases of fraud, incompetence or gross mismanagement.

Gregory E. Garman, an N.R.A. lawyer, argued in court against such an outcome this week, saying “a trustee is in fact a death sentence.”

“The argument that a trustee assures the future of the N.R.A. beguiles our purpose and our role,” Mr. Garman said. “We don’t sell widgets.”

The N.R.A. has used the trial to argue that the group has reformed after making some modest blunders in oversight. “Compliance has become a way of life at the National Rifle Association,” Mr. Garman said, while acknowledging that there would be “moderately cringe-worthy” moments in the trial.

But those moments undercut claims of reform. Among the issues that have come up in the proceedings is that Mr. LaPierre’s longtime assistant, Millie Hallow, was kept on even after she diverted $40,000 from the N.R.A. for her personal use, including to help pay for her son’s wedding. (Before she was hired by the N.R.A., Ms. Hallow pleaded guilty to a felony related to the theft of money from an arts agency she ran.)

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