Myanmar’s protesters face down the military with slingshots and rocks

Protesters use homemade slingshots against security forces in the Myanmar capital of Yangon, March 28, 2021. (Photo: NYTimes)
Every day, when Ko Win Kyaw goes out to demonstrate against the Myanmar military, he carries his slingshot and a supply of rocks as ammunition. It is little help against the army’s overwhelming firepower, but he said it gives him confidence and a way to strike back.اضافة اعلان

Win Kyaw, 36, is one of many pro-democracy protesters who have started arming themselves with rudimentary weapons as they defy the military regime in Myanmar. What began as peaceful protests after the February 1 coup rapidly grew into a resistance movement, with citizens defending themselves using slingshots, homemade air guns, old hunting rifles and firebombs.

For many in Myanmar, the turning point came March 27, when security forces killed at least 150 people. It was the deadliest crackdown since the coup, according to a human rights group tracking the killings. More than 728 people have been killed, and at least 3,000 have been detained.

The protesters often turn to YouTube to learn to make simple weapons, relying on easy-to-find resources. For air guns, plastic pipe is used for the barrel, and a butane lighter switch works as a trigger. Ball bearings taken from bicycle wheels are the most popular ammunition, but protesters also shoot marbles and plastic pellets. Homemade smoke bombs are usually made with gunpowder or potassium nitrate, an ingredient in fertilizer.

Both the air guns and the smoke bombs are more defensive than offensive. The air gun is not lethal, but it can hit a target 30m away. The protesters use it to keep soldiers from advancing too quickly. When the protesters need to escape, they use the smoke bombs to shield themselves from view as they retreat in hard hats and goggles.

Some experts on the Tatmadaw fear strong retaliation if protesters were to procure deadly weapons on a large scale.

Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based analyst who writes for the Jane’s Group of military publications, said Tatmadaw generals viewed themselves as having acted with restraint, responding proportionately as the protests have grown.

“People talk about the brutality of the Tatmadaw, which is undeniable,” he said. “But we are talking about 500 dead in the space of two months, not 5,000. It could easily have been more. By their own twisted standards, there is no doubt they are trying to calibrate the escalation of violence.”

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