The creation of a federal army would face enormous challenges. The ethnic armed groups have differing interests and at times fight one another. Eubank said the coordination of such an army would require outside support—or the defection of large numbers of armed Tatmadaw soldiers. Still, he is encouraged to see more Burman people caring for ethnic groups.
For instance, 21-year-old Eant Phone Aung, who has been protesting on the streets of Yangon nearly every day for the past two months, said that in the past he was blind to what was happening to ethnic groups in his country. As a majority Burman living in a major city, he didn’t know what to believe about what was happening in the far-away border regions. But after experiencing the brutality of the Tatmadaw firsthand, he said, he can empathize with the ethnic groups’ suffering.
When Aung first started joining in the protest in early February, massive crowds gathered on main streets, calling for democracy. After security forces started firing bullets at protesters at the end of February, numbers dwindled. Instead of gathering in public areas, they built barricades in their neighborhoods, defending themselves with Molotov cocktails and scattering into familiar alleyways to escape arrest.
Aung, who studied business English in college last year before COVID-19 closed schools, noted many young people had been traumatized from seeing civilian blood on the streets as well as in videos and photos online. Aung himself feels survivor’s guilt when he hears news of people being murdered by the military. Despite the risk, he attends protests because he feels the military has snatched away his future. “Unlike the older generation, our generation … experienced the essence of freedom of democracy for 10 years,” Aung said. “I don’t want to go back to the situation our country was in when I was young.”
Aung said he and the other young protesters are ready to join a federal army to defend their country with more than homemade weapons.
In the jungles of Myanmar, protesters, activists, and CDM workers are already learning the basics of warfare—how to use rifles, hand grenades, and firebombs—in weeklong boot camps, according to The New York Times.
The KNU has helped members of the opposition government, activists, and protesters escape from the cities into the jungle, providing protection from arrest. Supporters of the movement send funds to feed the exiles. Free Burma Rangers is helping train anti-coup protesters in emergency medical care, information collection, and communications to prepare them for what is yet to come.
“I have no idea what will happen, but what I do feel is things have gotten much worse and there will be more killing,” Eubank said. “But the Burma military has bitten off more than it can chew. … If the ethnics and the civilians can hang on, they can outlast this. That’s our hope.”
—WORLD has updated this story to reflect estimates of the number of displaced Karen people as of April 1.