Myanmar 100 days: three female activists

Protesters make the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on May 7, 2021
Protesters make the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on May 7, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
They have given up everything and are working in the shadows to overthrow the junta.

A hundred days on from the military coup that ended Myanmar’s brief dalliance with democracy, three women tell AFP about their lives and their struggle, living between anger and hope.اضافة اعلان

AFP has changed their names because of the danger they face in speaking out against the regime.

The writer

“They murdered my future,” said writer Ma Hninsi.

Since the coup, the 55-year-old has lost her literary magazine, her lifestyle and her circle of friends.

A political prisoner for six years under the previous military regime in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison, Ma Hninsi’s world collapsed again with the coup on the morning of February 1.

“There was a lot of confusion as communications were cut off. The streets were empty, only army supporters were parading around,” she said.

The resistance organized itself quickly and Ma Hninsi demonstrated every day in Yangon.

“For the first weeks, in the streets there were many people, women, children,” she said.

“People were angry, but the atmosphere was peaceful. We sang and danced.”

But then the atmosphere changed.

“One day, the military started shooting. We understood that they had nothing left to lose,” she said.

More than 770 civilians have been killed in the junta’s crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a monitoring group.

The junta reports a much lower death toll, and blames the violence on “rioters” engaging in “acts of terrorism”.

On Armed Forces Day on March 27, around 100 people were killed in crackdowns on protests, according to the AAPP, the bloodiest day since the coup. Near Ma Hninsi’s home, students were surrounded.

“I took advantage of a calm period to hide five of them in my car and evacuate them. Within minutes, we came across a patrol,” she said.

Since then, Ma Hninsi has been hiding, writing and meditating every day “to relieve the stress”.

She is also collecting money to support workers taking part in the civil disobedience movement which is paralysing entire sectors of the economy.

“The solidarity is enormous. Everyone helps as much as possible,” she said.

“We will win. It’s not a dream — it’s a certainty.”

The humanitarian

Htoi Zin has spent her whole life in Kachin State, in the far north of the country, near the Chinese border.

Over the past three months, many anti-junta activists have sought refuge in the territory, which is partly controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed group that has fought the military for years.

From this isolated region, political resistance is being organized and Htoi Zin, 32, helps the new arrivals settle in.

“They have often travelled for several days to avoid security checks. Many are depressed, they have lost everything, sometimes they have witnessed atrocities,” she said.

She provides them with a roof over their heads, food and Chinese SIM cards to get around the junta-imposed mobile data blackouts, helped by online donations from Myanmar but also from the United States, Japan and Singapore.

“Often small amounts of a few dozen dollars, but it can be as much as $1,000. I exchange the online donations for cash at merchants,” she explains.

Since the coup, the long-running conflict between the military and KIA has flared once again, and the two have combined to send prices for everyday goods in the area soaring.

“Twenty kilos of rice costs $30 (now), when it was $19 before the coup, and it’s the same for oil or tomatoes,” Htoi Zin said.

“If this continues, we will soon not be able to afford it.”

The rebel

“I am too old to take up arms, but I support the insurgents 100 percent,” said Nan Poe, an activist.

On March 1, as soldiers hunting her interviewed her neighbors, the 53-year-old fled her Yangon home by the back door, not stopping even to put on her shoes.

She went east to territory controlled by ethnic Karen rebels, which has given refuge to many junta opponents.

A month later, the Karen National Union (KNU) armed group seized a military post and the army retaliated with air raids, the first in more than 20 years in the region.

For a week, Nan Poe hid in the jungle, helped by villagers.

She crossed the border into neighboring Thailand, but after three days was sent back by the authorities and now she prefers to stay in Myanmar.

“We have to stand up alongside the Karen youth who are fighting for our people,” she said.

As clashes between the KNU and military rumble on and air strikes continue, she helps build makeshift shelters on the hillsides, digging holes that she covers with sandbags and wood.

“At dawn, as soon as we hear the planes, we run to put the children in the shelters,” she said.

“I tell them to be brave, that victory will be on our side.”

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