Burmese army major defects to Thailand

Guardian Unlimited

Matthew Weaver
Wednesday October 3, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

A Burmese army major defected today, raising renewed hopes of dissent in the armed forces that is seen as crucial to bringing down the ruling junta.

The unnamed officer fled to Thailand apparently in disgust after being ordered to beat Buddhist monks protesting against the regime last week.

Fearing for his safety the major requested that his name is not reported. But an interview he gave in Thailand criticising the brutality of the regime has been released.

“[The demonstrators] were very peaceful. Later when I heard they were shot and killed and the armed forces used teargas, I was really upset and I thought the army should stand for their own people,” he said, according to the BBC.

He added: “I knew the plan to beat and shoot the monks and if I stayed on, I would have to follow these orders. Because I’m a Buddhist, I did not want to kill the monks.”

Thai intelligence officials know the identity of the major, the AFP news agency reported.

It quoted him as saying that peace and prosperity is impossible under the ruling military.

His defection comes amid a number of reports suggesting signs of mutiny in the army.

Anna Roberts, the acting co-director of the Burma Campaign UK, said: “We are getting reports from eastern Burma of an increase in defections. And even before the current uprising there were signs of dissent in the army.

“If these reports are true it is a sign of the extent to which the regime is under pressure. It shows the need for the international community to up that pressure.”

Burmese exiles claimed last week that the disgruntled officers had formed a group backing the protesters. They released a letter claiming to be from the Public Patriot Army Association urging the army to defend the monks.

On Monday, the Daily Mail reported that a senior official in the regime called Hla Win had defected and claimed that hundreds of monks had been killed by the regime.

The Asia Times also claimed that Than Shwe, the junta’s number one general, had clashed with his deputy, Maung Aye, over the use of force. It added that some soldiers refused to shoot protesters.

The security forces were reported today to be hunting down protesters who took part in the demonstrations.

Shari Villarosa, the acting US ambassador in Burma, said: “From what we understand, military police … are travelling around the city in the middle of the night, going into homes and picking up people.”

According to the New York Times, one of those arrested today was a staff member of the United Nations in Burma.

The arrests follow a four-day visit to Burma by the UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari.

Special report
More on Burma
27.09.2007: Life in Burma
27.09.2007: Protests in Burma
Video series: Burma strife
Interactive: Burma protests
Gallery: Support grows for protesters
Audio: Ian MacKinnon and Isabel Hilton on the protests
Guardian Abroad
Campaign for Burma
News guide
Burma: best news websites
Useful links
Free Burma Rangers
Human Rights Watch: Burma

Military officer flees to Thailand
Thursday, October 04, 2007
A Burmese military officer has fled to Thailand to seek asylum, apparently because he refused orders to attack Buddhist monks in anti-junta protests, a senior Thai intelligence official said.

Major Hla Win entered Thailand with help from a non-government organization, and he hopes to apply for asylum in Norway, the official said yesterday.

Hla Win’s defection is the first known case of a military official fleeing the country since the junta last week ordered a crackdown on anti-government protests.

The Thai official could not say why Hla Win had fled, but Burma watchers said they believed he had refused orders to open fire on Buddhist monks who led 100,000 people on the streets of Rangoon.

Human Rights Watch released a statement in which the official said: “They [the demonstrators] were very peaceful. Later when I heard they were shot and killed and the armed forces used tear gas, I was really upset and I thought the army should stand for their own people.”




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