When police lance corporal Tha Peng was ordered to shoot demonstrators with his submachine gun to disperse them in the Myanmar town of Khampat on February 27, 2021, he declined. “The next day, an officer called and asked if I was willing to shoot,” he said. The 27-year-old resisted once more before resigning from the military.
He said he left his home and family in Khampat on March 1, 2021, and traveled for three days, mostly at night to avoid detection, before crossing into India's north-eastern state of Mizoram. “I had no choice,” Tha Peng told Reuters via a translator in an interview on Tuesday.
To protect his privacy, he only gave part of his name. His name was verified by Reuters after they saw his police and national ID cards.
Tha Peng said he and six coworkers disobeyed a superior officer's order on February 27, 2021, which he did not call. His and other accounts gathered along the Myanmar-India border could not be independently verified by Reuters.
According to a confidential internal police document seen by Reuters, the account of events was similar to that provided to police in Mizoram on March 1, 2021, by another Myanmar police lance corporal and three constables who crossed into India.
The text, which was written by Mizoram police officials, includes biographical information about the four people as well as their explanation for why they fled. It wasn't addressed to someone in particular.
“We have been ordered to fire at the demonstrators as the civil disobedience campaign gains traction and [protests] held by anti-coup protesters at various locations,” they said in a joint statement to Mizoram police. “We don't have the guts to fire at our own people who are peaceful protesters in such a scenario,” they said.
Myanmar's military junta, which deposed the country's civilian government in a coup on February 1, 2021, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The junta has stated that it is exercising extreme caution in dealing with what it calls "riotous demonstrators" who it suspects of targeting police and endangering national security and stability.
Tha Peng's is one of the first instances of police leaving Myanmar after disobeying orders from the military junta's security forces, according to the media.
Protests against the coup are held on a daily basis throughout the region, and security forces have retaliated. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 60 protesters have been killed and more than 1,800 have been arrested. Reuters was unable to independently verify the statistics.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who headed the civilian government, is among the detainees.