People take part in a demonstration against the February 1 military coup, along a street in the town of Muse in Shan state, near the China-Myanmar border on Feb 8 2021
On the third anniversary of its merciless coup, armed resistance groups and dwindling cash reserves leave the ruling forces on the back foot The perilous escape from the clutches of Myanmar’s military junta had thwarted Zay Thu Aung, a helicopter pilot, for months until an army sports day offered an unexpected opportunity to flee.
Since a 2021 coup had thrown the country into chaos, he had been desperate to defect from the generals who were mercilessly killing their own people. But he could not contemplate seeking freedom in neighboring Thailand without his wife and five-year-old son.
When he was sent for extra training at a base in Pyin Oo Lwin, near Mandalay, Mr Aung, 37, put his meticulous planning into action, summoning his family to watch a sports competition to mark Union Day, a February national holiday.
The event meant troop inspections were, unusually, cancelled for much of the day, and the young family jumped in a car and made a daring dash for the Thai border, navigating military checkpoints and seeking help from militias.
“My wife was afraid on the road, but I told her how to answer questions at checkpoints, and to say that we were on a vacation,” he said. The final stretch of their journey to safety was made on foot and motorbike, before the trio paid £500 to be spirited across the Moei river into Thailand.
As conflict-riven Myanmar hits the third-year anniversary of a brutal coup on Thursday, armed resistance groups are locked in a deathly struggle with the military, which for the first time since it seized power on Feb 1 2021, is on the back foot.
A sudden and coordinated surge by determined militias, which began in the northern Shan State in October in an offensive dubbed “Operation 1027”, has fanned across the country, overrunning hundreds of military bases and conquering swathes of territory.
Overstretched on multiple battlefronts, the military has been weakened by dwindling cash reserves, battlefield attrition, and snowballing defections. It faces the biggest challenge to its iron-fisted rule in three years.