Two years after Myanmar's military coup, a young factory worker turned resistance fighter mourns the loss of his leg in battle. A former diplomat has not seen his family in four years. A beauty queen adjusts to a new life in wintry Canada. And an exiled teacher dreams of returning to school.
The February 1, 2021 coup, which unseated Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, has left a trail of upended lives in its wake.
Aung Soe Moe, a former diplomat dismissed by Myanmar's military junta for his opposition to the coup, poses with a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi for a photo in Tokyo, Japan on January 30, 2023 — Reuters photo
US-based conflict monitoring group Acled says about 19,000 people died last year as a crackdown on protests led many to take up arms against the military.
Some 1.2 million people have been displaced and over 70,000 have left the country, according to the United Nations, which has accused the military of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Myanmar's military says it is carrying out a legitimate campaign against "terrorists". It did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters.
The stories of four people reflect a crisis the UN special envoy last week warned was taking a "catastrophic toll" on the population.
THE RESISTANCE FIGHTER
Aye Chan heard the rat-tat-tat of gunfire followed by an explosion.
"I didn't know if I had been hit or not," the 21-year-old told Reuters, recalling the military attack last year that cost him his leg.
When he tried to stand, his legs didn't work. A comrade carried him to a hospital where he awoke to find one had been amputated from the knee down.
A factory worker making instant noodles before the coup, he had been part of the massive crowds which took to the streets to demand democracy be restored after the coup.
A group of women hold torches as they protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar on July 14, 2021 — REUTERS/Stringer/Files
When protest groups began taking up arms, he joined them.
The first time on the frontlines, his heart was pounding.
“Then I looked around at my comrades and they were smiling and laughing. I was not afraid.”
While morale among the resistance troops is high, he said, they are outmatched by a well-equipped army.
“When they shoot, they shoot continuously, we can’t even raise our head,” he said. “We need to save bullets as well.”
Now, he spends most days sleeping, cooking and sharing food with friends. “I try to live my life as happily as I can,” he said. “I can't do the things I did before.”
Reuters is not disclosing his whereabouts for security reasons.
He has no regrets about joining the resistance.
“If I recover enough, I will go back to war. This is until the end.”
Aung Soe Moe, 52, was the first secretary in Myanmar's embassy in Japan when the coup happened.
A month later, he joined hundreds of thousands of government workers who quit to join the civil disobedience movement, which aimed to cripple the military's ability to govern.
His wife, stuck in Myanmar with his daughter after the Covid-19 pandemic, encouraged him to speak out. They later fled across the border to Thailand, where many from Myanmar have sought refuge but have been trapped without documents. He has not seen them since 2019.