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Interview: ‘I couldn’t go on working for them,’ says Myanmar military nurse

Capt. Khin Pa Pa Tun, a nursing captain at the Myanmar Military Medical Academy, and her husband, retired doctor Capt. Thin Aung Htwe, left the military, took their two children and fled to an opposition-controlled area of Myanmar recently to join the pro-democracy movement.  Thin Aung Htwe retired from a 500-bed military hospital in Meikhtila in 2009 because he no longer liked the military. The couple spoke to Khin Maung Soe of RFA’s Myanmar Service from an undisclosed about their motives and experiences in the army that overthrew their country’s elected government on Feb. 1, 2021.

RFA:  Please tell me why you joined the anti-junta movement?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: I was serving in the hospital when the coup was staged. I knew that the coup was wrong but I had to continue my work because of family reasons. 

RFA: Can you further explain why you left now, over a year after the coup?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: The reasons they gave for the coup were not logical and I was not happy about the violence in the crackdowns and the atrocities that followed. I couldn’t help shedding tears every time I saw in the news young protesters beaten up and killed. But I had to carry on with my work because it was not easy to leave and I have a family to think of. Finally, I couldn’t go on working for them.

RFA: How do you see the current situation of the country?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: I have to say our country has become a failed state. Everything is falling apart in the health, education and economic sectors.  People are being arrested unlawfully and there have been extrajudicial killings. 

RFA: How many other people like you are in the military?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: There is a lot of discrimination in the army. Lieutenant Colonels and higher ranks have a lot more benefits than officers below them. They have become ‘specially privileged’ people. They have abused authority for their own benefit and we in the lower ranks are being used as their pawns.

RFA: How many officers like you think the junta is doing wrong?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: There are many who pretend not to see the reality and there are some who keep on working in the interests of their families.

RFA: Who do you think are greater in number: those who oppose or those who support the junta?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: I think there are more officers who do not like the junta than those who support them, though they do not express their views openly.

RFA: What are your future plans?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: I feel a lot better now as my conscience is clear. I was quite unhappy then wearing that uniform because my conscience was not clear.

RFA: Why do you think the coup was launched and what do you think of the reasons they gave for their act?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: I think it was carried out in the interests of one person. And the excuse they gave was not logical. I have been in the military service for over 20 years and I have never voted in elections. I realized they fixed votes in advance because officers added in the lists names of those who are not even in the camp. That’s why I cannot accept the (junta’s) excuse that the voting lists were erratic. I know their wrongdoings. 

RFA: You must have heard about the burning of villages and the killings of innocent people in several regions and states. Who do you think is responsible for all these atrocities?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: It’s the leaders who gave the orders as well as those who committed the acts. The perpetrators had a choice. They didn’t have to follow the orders to the letter.

RFA… Do you have anything to say to your fellow officers and colleagues?

Khin Pa Pa Tun: Among the Four Oaths we have to say aloud at roll call every morning, there’s one that says ‘we will always be loyal to the country and our citizens’. I refused to say that aloud later because my conscience was not clear. I don’t think we should be saying this oath if we are wearing these uniforms and serving these leaders. 

RFA: Can you tell me why you left the military service?

Thin Aung Htwe: There are many reasons I left the service. To be honest, I am more interested in the politics of the country. I always ask myself why our country is so poor and backward. Is it because our people are not intelligent or is it because of the system? Our country has been suffering for the past 70 years because of mismanagement of a group of people. These people have not managed well. Frankly speaking they do not have the management skills. They don’t have the education or experience or goodwill for the country. They only made us work for them and their families. Our education levels have gone down so badly. Our universities and colleges were once among the top in Southeast Asia but now we, even doctors, cannot get a proper job in a country like Singapore. Our local degrees are useless and we need more college degrees to be able to work there. We got into this situation due to mismanagement.

RFA: What would you like to say about your decision to leave the military?

Thin Aung Htwe: To speak frankly, we are very happy now. First, because we can now participate in the struggle for democracy, and second, because of the knowledge that we are no longer on the opposite side of the people. We will do whatever we can to help the people’s cause.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane.