Dalan is a term that has been frequently seen in the news re- lated to the armed resistance in Myanmar. Dalan is slang for an imposter in the Burmese language, in the context of the resistance, people refer to the civilians or government staff that coordinate with the military to spy on the people’s movements. As more and more civilians get mauled by the regime with the help of Dalans, people decide to take the matter into their own hands and take out the most notorious military informers in their own regions. Eighteen months deep into the coup, hundreds of people have been shot, butchered, and beaten to death in the name of “Dalan clearance”. Most of them were identified as military informers but some cases indeed sparked controversy. Earlier this month in Yangon’s North Dagon Township, a Myanmar Idol singer and a female companion were shot dead, al- though the singer was regard- ed as a military cooperator, the woman’s family came out and denied such accusations. Certain stories like that instil more fear into the public as well as the international community if such extrajudicial killing may turn into the massive bloodshed among civilians taking out each other on the base of hatred. Mohinga Matters sat down with one of the members of the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) that have been involved with “Dalan clearance” operation in a region close to Yangon.
MM: Please tell us about your life before the coup and how you have started to involve with the resistance movement?
Ranger: I was a social welfare worker before the coup. I drove ambulances in our independent community help team. I was saving lives, not the other way around. I had never been a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD),I was more like a pro-development youth activist. I helped out during the 2020 election at the polling station as well. When the military staged the coup by saying the election was rigged, it was an absolute lie. Hence, I participated in peaceful protests along with thousands of fellow citizens in my town. Long story short, we soon realised the people’s government wouldn’t be reinstalled with peaceful ways, we were forced to take up arms. Started as an urban guerrilla activist, I am now a member of the People’s Defense Force (PDF), under command of the Ministry of Defense (MOD), National Unity Government (NUG).
MM: Did you encounter Dalans in your town? What was your experience?
Ranger: During peaceful demon- strations, Dalans were taking notes and photographs of partic- ipants. And using that evidence, they made our lives miserable, either by blackmailing or report- ing to the military forces. When the street protests shifted into the armed resistance, most of the people have not been able to join the movement, obviously. And yet they also don’t get to live peacefully due to the Dalans who threatened to submit their photos from the protest days to the police unless they paid money. It was not a one-time payment either, Dalans would always come back for more money. I myself also was not able to es- cape the danger from Dalans. Although they did not know I was already involved with urban guerrilla activities, they targeted me for leading demonstrations in the early days. I was forced to flee home. About 50-100 people were abducted in my town. Twenty were killed, four of them during the protest crackdown, and the rest in interrogation centres. All of them took place because of Dalans.
MM: So when you plan to take out Dalans, how do you identify they are real military informers and a danger to society?
Ranger: I don’t know about the other places. In my area, every- one knows each other so it is a little easier for us to investigate. When somebody reports a potential Dalan to us, we check their background, their crimes and their personal motives discreetly. When we are certain this one is a military informer and an obstacle in the resistance movement, we first try to warn them through friends or families before the ultimate action takes place. Also, more often than not, we were given the names of people who were supposedly helping the regime and when we checked their background, they were merely members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and not doing anything against the movement. Just because USDP is a proxy party of the military, we don’t try to harm its members who are also civilians getting on with their own lives. I am not fond of killing, and neither are my fellow rangers. You might have seen the video taken by a military soldier bragging about how much he loves killing in the recent news. We are not like them. We hate to kill people. We always make sure when an action has to be taken against a person, it’s not based on hatred. It’s a sacrifice in the best interests of the cause.
MM: Recently, an incident took place in North Dagon, Yangon where a man and a woman were shot dead under suspicions of being Dalans. The man was identified as such, but the woman’s family denied these accusations which led to much criticism toward those who carried out the mission without a proper investigation. What do you make of it?
Ranger: I don’t really know the background story and it took place in a neighbourhood that is not familiar to me so I cannot make a comment on this specific occasion. But I have heard of similar stories. In one of those, a mother was allegedly murdered for simply having a policeman as a son. I personally condemn such cases. We cannot choose to be somebody’s children or parents. If we must punish someone, he or she must be guilty of an actual crime, being related to a guilty person is not a crime.
MM: Some people share the pictures of the family members of the junta’s soldiers who have been guilty of torture and killings of the PDF members. Some for, some against such campaigns. Your thoughts?
Yes, I do notice that people share pictures of the military forces’ family members online as a way to vent out their anger on the junta’s atrocities. However, we do not take action against family members just like that. We will conduct an investigation on ”so-called Dalans” as a team and make collective decisions. Being a family member of our enemy has never been on top of our criteria in setting out targets.
MM: Did you also experience a case where a non-guilty person was targeted in your region?
Ranger: One case took place, but thankfully not related to the people’s forces. There are militias and Pyu Saw Htee members armed by the regime in my region. One day, Pyu Saw Htee members shot and killed an organiser/recruiter of the USDP because the USDP member was trying to prevent gambling activities in his village that the armed thug group was promoting. In my opinion, the USDP man was sim- ply trying to do something good for his community by banning gambling, and even if he was a member of the USDP, he did not deserve to die. But relief is that it was the Pyu Saw Htee group that ended his life and not one of us.
MM: Do you also share the fear that this “Dalan clearance” might get out of control?
Ranger: Yes, it has always been my concern. So many thoughts and discussions were held around that topic with NUG as well before we started arming the regional forces. I am not here to defend NUG but such concern is also one of the reasons that NUG has not been able to distribute the weapons widely. Even at this stage, we have already prepared plans to disarm and demobilise the guerrilla forces when the people’s government is reinstalled. As I mentioned earlier, I personally am not fond of killing and am still not sure what repercussions might surface in the future in terms of all these so I am really looking forward to the near future when I can be back in the community, saving lives instead of doing vice versa now.