Western volunteers join Myanmar’s anti-regime fight

Last Updated on May 17, 2024 4:05 pm

Western volunteers, including a former British soldier and an American fighter, have joined the battle against Myanmar’s military regime, inspired by the bravery of the anti-coup resistance. These individuals have independently traveled to Southeast Asia to support the local forces in their struggle against the junta.

Jason (a pseudonym used due to security concerns), an ex-British infantryman who served in Afghanistan, spent eight weeks on the front lines in eastern Myanmar before returning in late April. He described the resistance fighters as “ready to die for the cause,” noting their exceptional bravery compared to other conflicts he has experienced.

The resistance, composed of ethnic armed groups and supported by some foreign volunteers, has been battling Myanmar’s military for decades. However, since the coup on February 1, 2021, the violence has escalated, spreading to central regions. The military, equipped with Russian-made fighter jets, has been accused of committing atrocities, including indiscriminate airstrikes and village burnings, which the UN and human rights groups have labelled as potential war crimes.

Despite these brutal tactics, the junta has struggled to suppress the uprising. The resistance has inflicted significant losses and gained territory, initially using primitive weapons but now increasingly well-equipped due to public donations, ethnic army support, and seized weaponry.

A British fighter with recruits in the PDF Zoland, an armed group fighting the Myanmar military regime in Chin State
A British fighter with recruits in the PDF Zoland, an armed group fighting the Myanmar military regime in Chin State

Myanmar has not seen the same influx of international volunteers as conflicts like Ukraine or Syria. There are no organised efforts to recruit foreign fighters, and the country’s numerous armed groups operate independently. However, volunteers like Jason have joined the fight, despite the potential legal risks in their home countries.

According to Al Jazeera’s report, footage and photos of Jason fighting alongside the resistance in eastern Myanmar have been seen. Two sources also witnessed him on the ground.

Jason, who also fought in Ukraine after the Russian invasion, emphasised that he is not a mercenary but fights for causes he believes in.

“I’m not a mercenary,” said Jason. “I do it purely for who I think is the right side.”

He expressed concerns about untrained foreigners joining the conflict.

“There’s always the worry that Myanmar could become the next Ukraine with idiots going there,” he said.

He has plans to form a team of experienced servicemen from the UK, US, Canada, and Australia to assist the rebels. They aim to work within the resistance’s system rather than as a separate entity.

“We have knowledge from four different armies that we can use to teach them,” he said. “My experience there solidified even more my urge to help them. They just want their freedom and democracy.”

“We don’t want to be the white saviours, with our own team, we would rather work in their system than be our own entity. We’re doing it all for free,” he added. “People have to take time off work.”

In Chin State, bordering India, the People’s Defence Force Zoland (PDF Zoland) posted a photo of two foreign volunteers, Azad from the southern US and a British volunteer. Azad, who has no military background but volunteered with the Kurdish-led YPG forces in Syria, is teaching sniper and infantry courses. He sees the Myanmar revolution as part of a global struggle, akin to the fight in Syria and Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

Azad, a self-described “leftist internationalist,” has been in Chin State for three months and expects more international volunteers as the conflict shifts towards urban areas. He finds inspiration in the rapid development of the resistance, which has managed to push back the junta despite overwhelming odds.

The Christian humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers (FBR) has also been involved in the conflict, providing healthcare and aid to displaced communities while recording human rights abuses. Though primarily a relief organisation, some FBR members carry weapons for protection.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s regime has bolstered its forces with foreign support. In April, officials visited Russia and China to purchase combat drones. Army chief Min Aung Hlaing has met with Vladimir Putin, and Russian officials are regular guests at Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day parade. Russian military instructors have reportedly trained Myanmar soldiers on Russian weaponry, though these accounts are difficult to verify.

A resistance commander from Pekon, in southern Shan state, reported hearing of Russian trainers near the front line, though the last confirmed sighting was four months ago, with the trainer allegedly evacuated as attacks intensified.

The involvement of Western volunteers highlights the international dimensions of Myanmar’s conflict, reflecting a broader struggle for freedom and democracy against authoritarian regimes.

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