After the military coup 1 February 2021, Yee Mon, the Defense Minister of exiled National Unity Government of Burma appeared in front of journalists for the first time among exiled leaders.
He expresses his situation in the poem ‘No borders’:
from bedstead of Banyan Tree
at Phaung Daw Oo
is found back at the upstream of Thapyae Chaung
He seems have crossed
seven mountain ranges
He seems have swam up
along seven rivers
As he is a bird
He cannot live without singing
he comes near my bed head
And sings song
There is life in the song
To sing a song
Birds have no borders
Like the cuckoo he writes about, the poet Yee Mon, better known by his pen name Maung Tin That, has come a long way. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison after ‘8888 Uprising’ in 1988 when he was a student leader of Mandalay Medical University and released in 2005. Then he published the literary magazine and wrote poems and wandered around the field of environmental struggles.
Yee Mon entered politics as a candidate for the NLD which was led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and became a member of the House of Representatives after the 2015 general election.
In the so-called ‘duel between a poet and a soldier’, Yee Mon shocked the country by beating Wai Lwin, a former defense minister from the military party, in the capital Naypyidaw, where 7,000 soldiers and 2,000 policemen were based. Yee Mon then won the general election again in 2020, but was now on the run due to a coup in February.
Yee Mon spoke to Nepali Times on the Thai-Burma border:
Nepali Times: You are the Defense Minister but have no military experience and only worked in the Special Committee of Constitutional Amendment in the parliament. How did that happen?
Yee Mon: My position is for administration and I have been preparing for this kind of situation for a long time.”
The deputy minister Col. Aing Kaung Yuat, the former commander of Mon National Liberation Army, also has no experience in urban guerrilla warfare, as well as the second deputy minister Khin Mamamyo is a peace activist. There is no one in the underground government who can lead the army, so who is the commander of the People’s Defense Force right now?
The commander has not yet been revealed and we’re discussing internally who’s the best fit.
Yee Mon did not give more detailed information, but the name of a former general from the 7th Brigade of the Karen National Liberation Army comes and goes underground. However, it is questionable whether the leadership of Karen National Union will accept it with a political burden.
How many armed men are in the PDF at this moment?
It’s 3,000 now, but we plan to increase it to 15,000 in the future.
How is the military organisation of PDF?
It is still a local community unit, but we have organized the whole of Burma divided into five divisions in central, east, west, north and south.
What are the financial resources?
With the support of overseas Burmese, we have already prepared the cost of military training.
We are in consultation with the Ethnic Armed Organization.
I guess the Karen National Liberation Army and Karenni Army are not suitable but the Kachin Independence Army could be the best source of weapons, right? Even the Vice-President of the underground National Unity Government, who is from Kachin and currently hiding in the KIA control area.
We see it that way too. I think it will work out well with some other EAOs.
There are also rumors that the Kachin Independence Army is likely to reopen the weapons factory that had been closed for a while. It must be because of the dealing with the PDF?
(Yee Mon nods his head silently.)
The PDF will depend on the EAOs, and EAOs will likely move according to the atmosphere of the international community. Eventually the dealing between the governments must be an essential point, right?
The Czech government, which has long supported the Burmese democratic movement, is likely to be the first to recognize the National Unity Government, and the Turkish government also sent a positive response a few days ago. There will be good news soon.”
For the military matter, which government have you discussed?
Through the British and American embassies in Yangon as a basic level.