In Myanmar, street protesters have become militants. Youth have been passionate about defending civilians, overthrowing the junta, and reclaiming democracy. Facing a lack of Western support, many have begun manufacturing homemade weapons.
Constrained by finances, Myanmar’s resistance movement has found creative ways to improve its war-fighting capabilities. Some groups have engineered carbines, drones, and landmines, while others help source raw materials and acquire the know-how to wage a guerilla war.
“To overthrow the military dictatorship once and for all, we need weapons,” Arnt Myo, a member of the Karenni Generation Z Army (KGZ-A), told The Defense Post. “But rarely can we afford to buy manufactured machine guns, so we need other solutions.”
KGZ-A is one of many anti-junta resistance groups. It was created in May 2021 and consists of an undisclosed number of male and female fighters aged 15 to 30.
Since its founding, the group has been calling for financial support to acquire more raw materials and “make the blast better.” Recently, it purchased M4, M16, and AK22 carbines, most probably sourced from Thailand.
Resisting the Military Junta
After the military junta staged a coup on February 1, 2021 and imprisoned elected representatives, pro-democracy protests took the country by storm, provoking a violent crackdown by the ruling generals. To date, the junta has killed more than 2,000 civilians, including children, the elderly, and pregnant women.
To resist this violence, local defense groups have formed in urban areas and villages. Many young people started educating themselves online in creating bombs using easily accessible materials.
Others flocked to the borderlands to receive training from armed ethnic groups that have rebelled against the military for many years. Rebels provided some weapons, however, resistance groups remain underequipped. Estimations vary regarding how many local defense group members possess weapons from 10 to 30 percent.
Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government has taken under its umbrella the plethora of resistance groups that have sprouted up around the country since the coup.
It has tried to verify and provide them with weapons and money under the condition that they adhere to its Code of Conduct, which outlines that threatening and targeting civilians is prohibited and that the only legitimate targets are the military and their system.
However, verifying every resistance group has proven difficult due to logistical problems and mistrust of potentially hidden military collaborators.
“We know that our future is at stake,” Myo said, explaining the motivation behind young people joining the armed resistance.
This silent rocket launcher dubbed “angry bomb” defines the will of people in Burma/Myanmar. pic.twitter.com/q0SEAxq3C5
— Tun Myint🌏 (@DrTunMyint) July 2, 2022
According to some estimates, up to 100,000 people have joined the resistance movement. It is also uncertain how many soldiers the junta has at its disposal. The highest estimates put the number at up to 500,000. However, since the conflict started, the junta has lost many soldiers.
Weaponizing Commercial Drones
One of the local groups recently claimed to have killed eight regime troops in an aerial bombing in the country’s northwest. Several drones bombarded troops, yet at least one was brought down by junta soldiers with a jammer when resistance forces were trying to attack a military vehicle.
However, commercial drones rigged to carry bombs play an only occasional role in the civil war. Although the usage of drones is not a game-changer due to range limitations, they help wage psychological warfare against the military.
Often lacking in other weaponry, the resistance can remain focused on inflicting small wounds on junta battalions and “terrify them,” Myo said.
For KGZ-A, “The challenge is facing devices that interfere with the drones,” as well as the risk of getting the device shot down. The group has been deploying a DJI P4 drone model with an improvised bomb release mechanism. Munitions are packed into a PVC pipe and explode when they hit the ground.
One resistance group has recently begun manufacturing naval mines to attack junta soldiers on Myanmar’s main river. Each mine costs around $50 to produce.
It has also been confirmed that army defectors that joined the resistance movement in 2021 have developed 60 mm long-range mortars despite the difficulties in getting raw materials and transportation.
Developing and deploying weapons carries significant risks for the fighters. Some die during testing.
KGZ-A and other groups have produced small, mid-range, and heavy weapons in addition to homemade guns and bombs.
Committed to fighting the revolution until the very end, despite suffering from heavy casualties from the better-equipped Myanmar army, the resistance groups are constantly campaigning for more funding to meet their needs.
KGZ-A recently announced that using donations, they “have successfully produced a 70mm double-barreled gun that can reach up to 100 meters.”
In addition, many battalions use assault rifles they seized from Myanmar military troops in ambushes. Thanks to 3D printing, they have also begun producing the FGC-9 PCC, a semiautomatic carbine that operates on 9mm cartridges.
Its primary advantage is its relative cost-effectiveness — around $90 for tools to build a barrel and a further $90 to finish up the gun.
Weapons From Abroad
Another important source of weapons comes from nearby Thailand, which shares a long border with Myanmar. The country does not manufacture weapons but is nevertheless awash with them. Guns are often procured from the Thai defense forces by civilians for private use and then land on the black market.
According to Bangkok-based security analyst Anthony Davis, the crisis in Myanmar has revived trade between the neighboring countries. The mountainous, hard-to-patrol terrain enables smuggling on the border.
Myanmar generals rely heavily on weaponry from China and Russia, which are both sanctioned by many Western countries. The war in Ukraine has further complicated matters for the generals, who praised the invasion.
Michael Martin, a former US-based specialist in Asian affairs at the Congressional Research Service, told The Defense Post “If Putin emerges from the Ukraine conflict stronger and more confident, he may give more attention to Myanmar and Southeast Asia, making the situation more complex and the region more unstable.”
The junta’s reaction to those challenging its grip on power has been fierce. Aircraft have indiscriminately bombarded civilians for supposedly lending support to the resistance. In the meantime, the number of internally displaced people in Myanmar has crossed one million.
Recently, the junta extended an invitation to armed ethnic groups to negotiate peace agreements and promised them more political rights.
Also, for the first time since the civil war started, the generals offered amnesty to resistance fighters who lay down their weapons.
Pro-democracy fighters argue that these moves prove the junta’s desperation as it is losing ground. A government-affiliated media outlet published several stories to “convince the people that the resistance movement is pushed to the corner,” Myo said.
“We will win the revolution,” he added. “The junta must fail.”