This February 1st marks the third year since the military staged the coup. In this issue, we interviewed Nay Phone Latt, the spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s Office of the National Unity Government (NUG) which is the forerunner of Myanmar people’s pro-democracy struggle. As customary, we discussed the events of the past year and gained insights into the NUG’s outlook for the future.
MM: It has been three years since Min Aung Hlaing & co. staged the coup. As people helping the resistance from the outside, we feel the time has flown swiftly. Undoubtedly, it must have been awfully long for those who are being detained, and imprisoned, and those who are at the frontline battling against the regime’s forces. How did time pass for an official of the NUG like yourself?
NPL: Personally, I find these three years to be extremely long. In ordinary circumstances, people enjoy their lives, meet friends, spend time with family, and engage in work, allowing time to pass seemingly unnoticed. However, during this period of significant revolution, stress is our constant companion. Initially, I never thought a coup would happen; such an event was assumed to belong to the past. But when peaceful protesters were met with violence, it became our reality. Over these three years, we have received both good and bad news, with the latter often involving heart-breaking obituaries, reports of heavy weapons causing harm, and the loss of innocent lives, including children and grandparents. Daily news highlights the burning of villages. For me, these three years have been emotionally challenging. Those who have lost their families, homes, and friends must bear an even greater pain.
MM: After three years, the public seems absolutely fed up with the hope for international support, people remain 100% reliant on the People’s Defense Force (PDF) for the liberation of the country. Are you on the same page with the people or do you still have realistic expectations from the international community?
NPL: I believe everyone remembers the moment when a young child held a protest sign in front of an embassy, questioning how many more people must die before receiving help from the UN. At that time, we hoped for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). While there has been some assistance, it’s evident that it falls short of what is truly needed. In the context of Myanmar’s internal conflict compared to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, certain countries may feel constrained in offering aid. Despite the available assistance, it is still insufficient. If there is a genuine desire to stand united with the people of Myanmar and achieve their aspirations, the international community must provide more effective support. Throughout the three years of the revolution, we have often asserted that we must rely on ourselves. The recent positive news, from victories in battlefields to the capture of cities, demonstrates the remarkable progress made. Ethnic revolution forces have successfully captured 32 cities, some of which already have established administrations. The NUG government has announced the establishment of public administration in Kawlin. While international support has played a role, the primary force behind this progress is the unwavering support of our people. There are individuals who earn as little as 1,000 Kyats per day as laborers and contribute 500 Kyats to the revolution. This illustrates the revolutionary spirit among the people.
MM: In terms of international discussions, we often hear about the UN, China, ASEAN, and Thailand. But what about India? It’s a powerful neighboring country, but India’s stance on the revolution still seems unclear. Can you share what plans the NUG has to get India involved?
NPL: Honestly, we haven’t overlooked our neighbors. Good or bad, they are our neighbors, and we’re actively engaging with all of them, including ASEAN, China, and India. However, their perspectives differ. While we see the NUG as the legitimate government, some neighboring countries view the military group as the existing power and maintain relationships with them. But they are also in contact with the NUG. Beyond India and China, we’ve established relations with other neighbors, but the details of these agreements can’t be disclosed publicly. Every meeting comes with conditions including non-disclosure requests. We recognize the importance of our neighbors and are open to cooperation, even if not everything can be shared with the public.
MM: When the NUG published its policy on China, lots of people, especially the young resistance crowd, criticized it by stressing how China has been supporting the junta. They reminded that the Milk Tea Alliance showed support to Myanmar’s pro-democracy struggle. With this policy, they said that the NUG ignored the alliance we made along the way. What is your response?
NPL: This approach is not exclusive to the NUG. It has been a consistent policy across successive governments. Simultaneously, we maintain relations with countries that may not be entirely comfortable with China. In the realm of international relations, our top priority is the swift success of our revolution. It’s crucial to be pragmatic in this pursuit. I want to clarify that supporting China’s policy does not mean neglecting other considerations. We engage with various countries, initiate discussions on these matters, and provide explanations to foster understanding.
MM: Recent developments in the battlefields have been encouraging. However, some people only tend to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Ethnic Regional Organizations (EROs) and emphasize that those results are unrelated to the NUG. Specifically, resistance forces in ethnic regions have shot down fighter jets and claimed territories while the NUG-controlled areas are still struggling to reap similar rewards. What is your response to that?
NPL: For those who raise such questions, I encourage them to explore and read the statements made by ERO leaders. Even the ERO leaders themselves have openly acknowledged the collaboration with the NUG. We are not simply taking credit for what others have conquered. There have been political agreements, notably during Operation 1027. Military agreements were discussed and documented. Recently, I noticed a reference to the principle of refraction of light in a statement by the Three Brotherhood Alliances. It’s like seeing depth not in its actual form but in appearance depth. Similar to the international relations I mentioned earlier, our relationship with ERO operates on such terms. Coordinated meetings involve spoken agreements, and certain aspects need to be further articulated. As the NUG, we cannot publicly disclose specific details about our meetings, agreements, and the parties involved due to external pressures from certain countries and neighboring nations. When analyzing Myanmar’s political landscape, you cannot simply understand from surface-level observations. We must consider hidden dynamics and try to see behind what is visible. Fighting the terrorist army is not a task that the NUG or EROs can achieve independently; especially without the collective support of the people. The NUG and EROs recognize each other’s strengths and actively cooperate daily. While we may not reveal every detail at this moment, there will come a time when the entire picture becomes clear.
MM: In various locations, the NUG is engaging in judicial proceedings. In Kawlin, we observe the efforts to open the first branch of the Spring Development Bank. Beyond the armed revolution, it’s evident that administrative tasks are being undertaken. However, such endeavors, including opening a bank, come with inherent risks. What are your thoughts on this dual approach? Do you anticipate an increase in such administrative tasks, and how do you see them aligning with the armed resistance?
NPL: It’s a given situation. While we are actively engaged in the armed revolution, there is a noticeable shift where we are capturing and holding cities under our control—a shift from the traditional dominance of armed resistance in rural areas. This strategic offensive requires not only resources but also the simultaneous establishment of administration in the captured cities. Maintaining these cities comes with its challenges, especially considering the high cost of resources. For instance, the Spring Development Bank is in the planning stage, and we have also put our efforts into other areas like medical treatment and school openings despite the ongoing conflict. The defensive measures to protect these cities, especially in regions like Sagaing and Magwe, are intensive because the regime seems to target the NUG’s controlled areas more aggressively. As we progress, it’s essential to demonstrate effective governance to the international community, showing our ability to manage cities successfully. However, this balancing act involves risks as there are concerns about potential security breaches of individuals and administrative members in the process.
MM: The usage of technology has also featured brilliantly in guerilla attacks using drones etc. However, the junta still has an upper hand in modern warfare with Russian-backed weapons and Chinese spyware. Do you have concerns about the potential arsenals at the generals’ disposal, or do you believe the airstrikes are their final resort?
NPL: The military might possess powerful weapons and use their greatest strength. There are also reports suggesting the potential use of chemical bombs despite the lack of on-site inspection for verification. Still, our reliance on public support remains crucial. Regardless of sophisticated military equipment or weapon costs, sustaining a war requires people’s backing. Our young people, empowered by technology, contribute significantly. Although we’ve developed weapons from scratch, procurement requires a practical approach. And acquiring weapons is no straightforward task; it’s not like buying vegetables. Complexities and challenges arise from procurement including timely delivery and transportation across diverse situations. The junta possesses ammunition and guns, but seeing its troops abandoning their posts day and night, it is evident that the regime is reluctant to use these weapons. On our side, there’s a shortage of ammunition and weapons, but eagerness to engage in combat among our comrades is unmistakable. The contrasting spirits between younger PDF fighters, filled with anger at their inability to fight, and the apparent disinterest of junta troops, play a crucial role in determining outcomes.
MM: What would be the ultimate yet realistic goal for the end of 2024?
NPL: What we can affirm is the successful capture of cities, accompanied by the establishment of administrative functions. Local orders are being issued in Northern Shan state, and the repeal of laws enacted by the military group has been initiated as observed in Sagaing. With more than 32 cities already under control, our strategic offensive will persist, expanding our influence into additional areas. At the start of this year, signs of the military’s disintegration have surfaced. The soldiers’ morale and motivation to fight have long gone as they’ve come to understand that their purpose is simply to safeguard their masters. In an era of widespread information, even if the regime attempts to isolate its soldiers, families and relatives provide insights. The lack of fighting spirit and purpose diminishes their chance of victory. If this trend persists, the gradual collapse of the military becomes inevitable. The prospect of nationwide freedom remains uncertain, given the unknown variables at play. Politics is like solving equations such as 2+3+X+Y when X and Y are unknown. In any case, our relentless work continues to achieve the desired victory, utilizing all available resources.
MM: Anything to add?
NPL: We probably discussed the armed resistance mainly. In reality, it’s more than that. Our main strength lies in the power of the people, and it’s crucial to emphasize that our approach is not limited to a single military operation. We are collaborating across different strategies to dismantle the terrorist military group, leveraging various methods beyond just military actions.