Funding the Resistance

April 26 marks the day of the first reported conflict arising after the 2021 coup in Myanmar. It was the day the local defense force in Chin State, Chinland Defense Force began armed resistance in Mindat Township. But the official date of Myanmar armed resistance against the military regime is set as May 5, 2021—the day the National Unity Government (NUG) formed the People’s Defense Force (PDF).

The armed wing operated under the NUG’s Ministry of Defense (MOD), and since then, there are reportedly more than 250 PDF battalions under the command of the NUG across the country. There were also about 250 township-level defense force organizations and over 400 urban guerrillas and local defense groups that are cooperating with the NUG, according to an update by the NUG in May 2022. Combined with the battalions of Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) and Chinland Defense Force (CDF), there are some 300 battalions nationwide, and about 63 PDF battalions are reportedly still waiting for recognition by the NUG’s Defense Ministry, according to an analysis by the United States Institute of Peace.

NUG’s Budget

On March 15, 2022, the NUG’s MOD published a defense budget on its six-month anniversary, outlining the breakdown of the budget and how the public can support the PDFs. The budget showed a monthly budget to support a soldier (USD 20), 10 soldiers (USD 200 U.S dollars), three squads (USD 600), three platoons and one squad (USD 2,000), five divisions (USD 10,000) or five battalions (USD 30,000).

On March 31, 2023, the MOD published a news release that it has received an estimated 9.42 U.S dollars since its inception 15 months ago, and the funds are used for the PDFs, and was able to support about 75 percent of the total food subsidy. These only covered the PDFs which are under the command of the NUG’s MOD, and there were over 600 armed resistance defense forces which are not covered by this budget.

Resistance Forces in Debt

A report by Myanmar Now on March 11, 2023 revealed that most resistance forces continue to survive and fight against the junta forces with their own money and mostly in debt. Mohinga Matters spoke to two resistance groups based in Karenni and northern Shan states who echoed similar sentiments.

“in March our team is in 13 lakhs Myanmar kyats in debt due to our rescue operation in western Demoso Township earlier this month in which we had to assist over 5,000 fleeing from the conflicts,” said a 26-year-old spokesperson of a resistance armed force* based in Karenni State. [Name is redacted for security purposes as requested by the source.]

On March 9, clashes broke out in the eastern part of Demoso Township in Karenni State in which over 5,000 people had to be evacuated. According to the source, his resistance force rescued 500 people from three villages who were stuck, and they rented trucks and cars to evacuate the people over five days. The team helped the people get to safe places and find temporary accommodations for about 70 families who were in need of food and shelter due to sudden displacement.

“We also provided materials to 30 families to build temporary shelters in the IDP camps in western Demoso and gave them rice also,” he added. The team donated 15 bags of rice and ten raincoats from their rations to the existing IDP camp in the western Demoso Township where more than 300 people were already residing.

This operation has put them into over 1.3 million Myanmar kyats debt on top of their monthly expense of 6.5 million Myanmar kyats.

“We are an independent team of 42 who are currently part of the border operations. In terms of military operations, we get support from one of the ethnic resistance organizations. Our essential monthly expense is about 6,500,000 Myanmar kyats,” the spokesperson explained.

He also added that the force survived with funds they managed to crowdsource from their friends and families nearby.

“Cash flow is a struggle for us whenever we are on the frontline. We are always in debt as we need to take loans to inject cash into our military operations, especially when the operations are linked with our humanitarian assistance operations,” the spokesperson said.

Fundraising Campaigns

A spokesperson of PRA Magway said their force of about 200 members ran fundraising campaigns with the support of the public.

“Our campaigns consist of lucky draws, auctioning off valuable items. We do not upload these on our pages, but created two other pages to run these campaigns,” said the PRA Magway spokesperson.

PRA Magway was founded on March 28, 2021, and they are a local defense organization based in Minbu District, Magway Region, which have also conducted four batches of military training so far. They have gotten some support from the NUG since August 2022 for food and medicines but have yet to receive armory support from the government.

“The NUG has supported our production of weapons and allocated some funds for the drone project as well. However, there was never monthly support of sorts,” he said.

PRA Magway rarely publicized their campaigns or military operations widely online, so they are not considered a popular group, the spokesperson said. “On the ground, the Magway natives know who we are. As other groups rose to popularity, we received less support so there are instances where we had to request funds support from the popular groups,” he added.

Finding Creative Ways to Fund

Pyae, a member of a student-led force based in the northern Shan State, also shared about crowdsourcing and finding new ways to stay afloat on the ground. He said that the support from the people had decreased significantly today, and the variables are many things, such as higher commodity prices and many people facing day-to-day struggles in Myanmar.

“The ERO in our region supported us with rice and accommodation, but the rest, we need to cover on our own and survive with funds that we have managed to crowdsource among our friends and families,” Pyae Sone said.

But he explained that there were times they couldn’t survive with the donations from their friends and families, and that’s when they needed to get creative.

“A few of us on the team would take up research projects to earn income, and then we would give the earrings to our team funds. We have done research on migrant workers and worked on policy papers for foreign universities,” Pyae shared.

The spokesperson from PRA Magway also said that their day-to-day life is not completely reliant on the support of the public these days. He shared the exact outlook as Pyae that more and more people are struggling with high commodity prices and not having enough income, so some of their fundraising campaigns have also failed.

“Currently, our force has farming and agriculture programs, and we are surviving day-to-day with our farm outputs. In terms of weapons, we are still struggling and need a lot of assistance,” said the PRA Magway spokesperson.

Despite the hardships that they are facing, the resistance forces are determined to give their best to fight against the military regime and they have relayed their messages to the civilian government, to the people and to the international community.

To the National Unity Government

“I feel like as NUG or as MOD, they should put more effort into learning what the teams on the ground are doing so that they can accommodate and address the needs of all of the groups on the ground.”

Resistance armed force based in Karenni State

“Please continue to implement ways to get international support for our revolution and not just go with the flow. This revolution is not going to end tomorrow. We are aiming to eradicate the military system from its roots, it’s a long process. The NUG should draw up a proper strategic plan and want them to have field inspections to monitor and evaluate which forces are actually working and implementing things on the ground. It shouldn’t just be supporting the PDFs under the command of the NUG. Please set up a proper chain of command to collaborate with local PDFs on the ground and have the ultimate defense forces to fight against the junta forces.”

Spokesperson of PRA Magway

To the People

“Please don’t stop resisting military rule. We request for everyone’s unified support so that revolution can be won successfully. This is the time we need to stop dividing within us based on ethnicity and religion and come together as one.”

Resistance armed force based in Karenni State

“Please don’t give up. We promise to continue working hard to win this revolution. Please keep your revolution spirits up. It doesn’t need to be money support but continue supporting in any other way for this revolution.”

Spokesperson of PRA Magway

To the International Community

“Please stop referring to the crisis in Myanmar as an internal affair. Many innocent civilians are suffering, and even if you can’t and don’t want to support the resistance efforts, I think that more humanitarian support should be coming. The recently approved legislation by the US House of Representatives in December 2022, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included an amended version of BURMA Act, and it aims to broaden the U.S government to impose further sanctions as well as aid the Myanmar opposition and resistance groups. This is the way the rest of the international community can help us the groups on the ground who are taking up arms against the junta forces, rescuing civilians, and feeding the internally displaced population.”

Resistance armed force based in Karenni State

“I want to ask how many more of our youths and children have to die… We cannot move ahead properly without the international community’s support. We need the international community to pressure [the junta] and your support and help to stop the atrocious crimes the junta is committing. It is just not enough with the statements you have been issuing. We need action. We need your cooperation with the resistance organizations.”

Spokesperson of PRA Magway

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