The Role of Urban Guerilla Protests: Insights from Protest Leader

by mohingamatters

Against all odds, non-violent urban guerrilla protests persist in Myanmar’s major cities, even amidst three years of armed resistance. Flash mob-style people’s strikes occur in crowded city locations, often unexpectedly, provoking the regime and motivating the public. Despite the risks of abduction, torture, and imprisonment faced by many protestors, a resilient few continue their operations in urban areas. Among them is Nan Lin, a veteran student leader, who opts for non-violent strikes over armed resistance, although he embraces both approaches equally. Recognized as a prime target by the regime due to his influential tactics and public support, we are honored to have had an exclusive conversation with him. His insights shed light on the critical role of urban guerrilla protests in the Spring Revolution.

MM: Could you tell us why guerrilla protests are still necessary in big cities such as Yangon and Mandalay?

Nan: My comrades and I believe that the strategic combination of people strikes and armed resistance is crucial for the success of the Spring Revolution. Non-violent disobedience movements were extremely strong in early 2021. However, following the brutal crackdowns from the regime, people turned towards armed resistance.

Historically, there have been only two periods with strong support for armed resistance: during the fight for independence and the current Spring Revolution. Today, there is countrywide support for armed resistance. However, we believe that armed resistance alone is not enough to completely root out military dictatorship. It has limitations and requires significant investments and preparations, potentially prolonging the struggle.

Therefore, we advocate for a combination of people strikes and armed resistance to eradicate military rule. This includes campaigns like calling for a ban on supplying aviation fuel to the military and supporting U Kyaw Moe Tun as Myanmar’s UN representative, alongside armed resistance. We are also pushing for philosophical and ideological changes, such as women’s affairs, and conducting economic pressure campaigns like the “Blood Money.

Guerrilla protests are part of this broader civil resistance movement. Cities like Yangon and Mandalay are economic and administrative hubs for the military. Intensifying civil resistance in these areas causes significant damage to the military. We conduct these movements in alignment with ongoing battles and political conditions, aiming to spread them nationwide. We do this not by pressure, but out of our commitment to the cause.

MM: As the non-violent movement of the people was brutally cracked down, some chose the armed resistance pathway while others continued with people strikes, such as guerrilla strikes in urban areas. What made you choose this path?

Nan: Armed resistance and people strikes are both essential but serve different roles. Armed resistance is a necessary tool for removing the military dictatorship while non-violent movements and civil resistance are crucial for the long-term goal of establishing federal democracy. This revolution uniquely combines the push for democracy from the mainland and the call for autonomy from ethnic regions. This convergence of goals—democracy and autonomy as federal democracy—is a significant aspect of the Spring Revolution.

While we support armed resistance due to the current realities and necessities, we emphasize the importance of non-violent movements for the future. Our aim is to avoid future power struggles and ensure that the principles of federal democracy are upheld during the post-conflict reconstruction period. This balanced approach guides our movements and activities.

I dreamed of being a soldier in my childhood and even considered attending the Defense Services Academy, but my family disagreed. Later, I became involved in student union activities, choosing this path over a military career. I felt drawn to armed resistance again when faced with a similar decision during the revolution. However, after discussions with my organization, we decided that continuing people strikes and civil resistance in urban areas was crucial. I strongly believed in the necessity of urban civil resistance for our revolution.

MM: Is there any coordination between urban guerrilla armed forces and urban guerrilla people strike forces?

Nan: I can’t speak for everyone, but among the teams close to me, we try to keep these two efforts as separate as possible. When we talk about cooperation, it is strategic rather than tactical. We don’t coordinate actions to occur simultaneously or in the same place. Strategically, there is cooperation, but each group conducts its activities independently.

The past three years have taught us that merging these efforts can cause significant impacts and damage to our comrades and future plans. Therefore, we maintain a clear separation between the armed and non-violent movements.

MM: Many peaceful urban protests, such as the Pann Pin Gyi Street Protest, were brutally taken down by the military. How do you want the military to pay for their crimes?

Nan: Transitional justice is essential for the military. We must do an overhaul of the organization, which has long been rooted in doctrines of military power, Burman supremacy, and the entwinement of Buddhism with these beliefs, complicating the nation’s issues.

To make them pay for their crimes, there are two key points:

  1. Transitional Justice: Military leaders involved in crimes during this period must be held accountable. There should be no excuses under the guise of national reconciliation. We don’t want to see military personnel in parliament just because of agreements between leaders. Our revolution aims to hold the military accountable for every crime they committed.
  2. Control by Non-Military Authority and Federal Army: The military must be placed under the control of non-military authorities and a federal army. This is crucial to ensure that the military is reformed and does not repeat its past actions.

These steps are vital milestones for our revolution. Only by fulfilling these conditions can we smoothly construct a federal democratic union. Without these measures, true progress is not possible.

MM: We read an article in Myanmar Now a few months ago about a member of an urban strike force being arrested by the military and forced to spy on his fellow rangers. Even your name was mentioned as their top target. How do you handle these issues?

Nan: In the spy case, the victim was a very active young comrade who believed both civil resistance and armed resistance were necessary for the revolution. He was arrested by the regime’s men, who then tried to manipulate him. Luckily, we noticed it at the early stage. When addressing such a case, we see comrades like him as victims and focus on the underlying causes: the weaknesses in our organization and security, and what we can do to support his future. This approach is consistent for all our comrades.

In these times, trust is crucial since everyone’s lives are at risk. This trust system helped the victim change his mind and collaborate with us instead of giving information to the military. Handling such situations in urban areas is challenging, but we prioritize both sides’ security and understanding the root causes rather than pointing fingers.

Other strike forces have faced similar issues, sometimes leading to further arrests. It’s vital to never underestimate the enemy. 

MM: We saw the news about two women from Octopus Strike Force being arrested a few days ago. Despite constant threats, young urban protesters remain committed to the cause. Can you explain your reasoning for staying in such a risky environment?

Nan: In this revolution, we make our choices to conduct guerilla strikes in urban areas, join armed forces, operate in border regions, or leave for a third country. Each choice comes with its own set of challenges and advantages. Let me quote a famous chant from Daung Doh Myo Sett – Peacock Generation which resonates deeply with me: “Any land, any water, and any distance, our blood is together.” As long as we share the same principles, it doesn’t matter where we are.

I choose to stay in the urban areas because civil resistance plays a crucial role in the revolution. The history of our student union movements demonstrates the power of consistent people power and strikes. We believe that both hard power and soft power are necessary to defeat military dictatorship, and together they form smart power.

I remain committed to urban civil resistance movements because it is essential to be close to the people if I want to effectively lead and participate in these efforts. This is why I continue to stay and fight in the city, despite the risks.

MM: So, can you say that you have no immediate plan to leave the urban?

Nan: For security reasons, I prefer not to discuss specific locations. What I can tell you is that I will remain as close to the people as possible, continuing to participate in and lead people strikes. This is my duty, and I am committed to it.

MM: Anything you want to add?

Nan: I am not saying people strikes are important because I am leading those. Their significance is rooted in the history, situation, and context of the Spring Revolution. Right now, many people are hoping to see victorious armed forces liberating towns and cities, and they are focused on the war. We cannot blame them but I believe that this resistance belongs to everyone. It is not something to sit and watch passively; it’s something to participate actively.

Expecting independence to be delivered solely by EROs and PDFs is a misconception. Everyone has to fight. The situation is worsening, with the military increasingly oppressing the people and leaving no room for escape. The key message is that this is a time for combining people strikes with armed resistance. We have no choice but to fight for ourselves. So, I urge everyone to join the revolution actively.

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