When Tha Peng was ordered to shoot protesters with his submachine gun to disperse them in the Burmese town of Khampat on February 27, the police Lance Corporal said he refused to do so.
“The next day an officer called me to ask if I would shoot,” he said. The 27-year-old again refused, then forcibly resigned.
On March 1, he said he left his home and family in Khampat and traveled for three days, mostly at night to avoid detection, before crossing into the northeastern state of Mizoram. from India.
“I had no choice,” Tha Peng told Reuters news agency on Tuesday in an interview, speaking through a translator. He only gave part of his name to protect his identity. Reuters saw his police and national ID cards which confirmed the name.
Tha Peng said he and six colleagues all disobeyed a February 27 order from a senior officer, whom he did not name.
Reuters has been unable to independently verify its accounts or others gathered near the Myanmar-India border.
The description of events was similar to that given to Mizoram Police on March 1 by another Myanmar police deputy corporal and three gendarmes who entered India, according to a classified internal police document seen by Reuters.
The document was written by Mizoram police officials and gives biographical details of the four individuals and their explanation of why they fled. It was not addressed to specific people.
“As the civil disobedience movement grows and demonstrations by anti-coup protesters in different locations, we are tasked with shooting the protesters,” they said in a joint statement to the Mizoram police.
“In such a scenario, we don’t have the courage to shoot our own people who are peaceful protesters,” they said.
– Ro Nay San Lwin (@nslwin) March 10, 2021
Deaths and detentions
The Burmese military, which arrested members of the country’s elected government and staged a February 1 coup, did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
The military said it was acting with restraint in handling what it described as “rioter protest” protests, which it accuses of attacking police and undermining national security and stability. .
Tha Peng is one of the first cases reported by the media of police fleeing Myanmar after disobeying orders from military security forces.
Daily protests against the coup are organized across the country and security forces have cracked down. More than 60 protesters have been killed and nearly 2,000 detained, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, an advocacy group that has followed arrests since the coup.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the figures.
Among the detainees is Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who headed the elected government.
Dozens are fleeing
About 100 people from Myanmar, most of them police officers and their families, have crossed a porous border with India since the protests began, according to a senior Indian official.
Several took refuge in the Champhai district of Mizoram, on the Myanmar border, where Reuters interviewed three Myanmar nationals who said they had served in the police.
In addition to his ID cards, Tha Peng showed an undated photo of himself wearing a Burmese police uniform. He said he joined the force nine years ago.
Tha Peng said that according to police rules, protesters should be stopped with rubber-coated bullets or shot below the knees. Reuters could not verify police policies.
But his superiors ordered him to “shoot until they are dead,” he added.
Ngun Hlei, who said he was assigned as a police officer in Mandalay City, said he was also ordered to shoot. He did not give a date or say whether the order was to shoot to kill. He gave no details about the victims.
The 23-year-old also gave only part of his full name and was carrying his national ID card.
Tha Peng and Ngun Hlei said they believed the police were acting under the orders of the Burmese army, known as Tatmadaw. They did not provide any evidence to support their claim.
The other four Myanmar policemen agreed with this statement, according to the classified police document.
“… The military put pressure on the police force, who are mostly gendarmes, to confront people,” they said.
Ngun Hlei said he was reprimanded for disobeying orders and transferring. He enlisted the help of pro-democracy activists online and drove to Vaphai village in Mizoram on March 6.
The trip to India cost him around 200,000 Myanmar kyat ($ 143), Ngun Hlei said.
Although guarded by Indian paramilitary forces, the Indo-Burmese border has a “free movement regime”, which allows people to venture a few miles into Indian territory without the need for travel permits.
‘I don’t want to go back’
Dal, 24, said she worked as a gendarme with Myanmar police in the mountainside town of Falam in northwest Myanmar. Reuters saw a photo of his police ID card and verified the name.
His work was mainly administrative, including drawing up lists of persons detained by the police. But as protests escalated in the wake of the coup, she said she was instructed to try and detain female protesters – an order she refused.
Fearing imprisonment for siding with the protesters and their civil disobedience movement, she said she decided to flee Myanmar.
All three said there was substantial support for the protesters within the Burmese police.
“Inside the police station, 90% support the protesters but there is no leader to unite them,” said Tha Peng, who left behind his wife and two young daughters, an aged. six months.
Following the path of others who have crossed paths in recent days, the three are scattered around Champhai, supported by a network of local activists.
Saw Htun Win, deputy commissioner of Falam district in Myanmar, wrote last week to top Champhai government official, Deputy Commissioner Maria CT Zuali, asking that eight police officers who had entered India be returned to them “in order to maintain friendly relations between the two neighboring countries. . “
Zuali confirmed that she received the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
Zoramthanga, the chief minister of Mizoram, told Reuters his administration would temporarily provide food and shelter to those fleeing Myanmar, but was waiting for the Indian federal government to make a decision on the repatriations.
Tha Peng said that although he missed his family, he feared returning to Myanmar.
“I don’t want to go home,” he said, sitting in a first-floor room overlooking the green hills that stretch out to Myanmar.