CNN was granted access to Myanmar by its military. The trip was coordinated through the military’s consultant, Ari Ben-Menashe. The military escorted the team and controlled its access and movements throughout. A journalist from the Southeast Asia Globe, who was also reporting for Al Jazeera, was on the trip along with CNN.
Yangon, Myanmar (CNN)Myanmar’s military junta wants you to believe that the situation is improving in the country, that security forces are exercising restraint and that the ongoing violence is due to a violent mob of anarchists that must be suppressed. It wants you to think that a political roadmap is in place and that free and fair elections will take place within two years.
But the veneer of these lies is paper thin, as a CNN team saw on a recent trip with the permission of the military, known as the Tatmadaw. We found a country exploding with anguish at the brutality of its illegitimate military leaders. On February 1, army chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing seized control of the country in a coup, overturning a democratic election and detaining government officials including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party had won by a landslide in recent elections, giving it a second term in power. In the past two months, junta security forces — made up of police, soldiers and elite counter-insurgency troops — have embarked on a systematic and coordinated crackdown against unarmed and peaceful protesters. More than 600 people have been killed, according to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.Myanmar military denies responsibility for child deaths and says elections could be pushed back Fearless local journalists and activists have risked everything to show the world what is happening, while outside access to the country has been blocked and cuts to wireless internet networks and broadband stifles communication from within. Read MoreGiven the reality of what is happening in Myanmar, it should come as no surprise that the military tightly controlled our movements. On the first day of our visit, a convoy of six trucks of soldiers accompanied us around Yangon. In addition, there were cars full of minders, translators and plainclothes security officers who shadowed and recorded our every move, and even followed us to the bathroom.Yet still, as we drove through Myanmar’s largest city, we could hear the banging of pots and pans in the distance. An ancient tradition to ward off evil spirits, it has become the signature sound of the resistance. On social media, we were inundated with messages from Myanmar citizens who knew we were there. “We know you can’t see us,” they wrote, “but we hope you can hear us.”One afternoon, our military minders took us to visit Mingalardon market, in an area where many military families live. It was peppered with stalls selling military fatigues while trucks of soldiers parked on the nearby road. The minders wanted to show that the military has public support, too. We were approached by a couple of people who offered clearly rehearsed speeches about how “the violators” — the military’s pejorative term for the pro-democracy protesters — were to blame for the violence. They flashed two fingers, an apparent clumsy attempt to create their own version of the protest movement’s Hunger Games salute, which has become the symbol of defiance in this resistance. Photos: Unrest in MyanmarAn anti-coup protester raises a decorated Easter egg along with the three-fingered salute of resistance during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, on Sunday, April 4.Hide Caption 1 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters hold homemade pipe air guns during a demonstration in Yangon on Saturday, April 3.Hide Caption 2 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters hold improvised weapons in Yangon on April 3.Hide Caption 3 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarResidents of the Tamwe area of Yangon participate in a candlelight vigil on April 3.Hide Caption 4 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPeople take part in a “flower strike” in Yangon on Friday, April 2.Hide Caption 5 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters wearing face paint stand near a burning barricade during an anti-coup demonstration in Yangon on Tuesday, March 30.Hide Caption 6 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSoldiers walk toward anti-coup protesters during a demonstration in Yangon on March 30.Hide Caption 7 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters run to avoid the military in Yangon on March 30.Hide Caption 8 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA man rides his bike as smoke billows from burning barricades in Yangon on March 30.Hide Caption 9 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters throw stones and use slingshots as security forces approached in Yangon on March 28.Hide Caption 10 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSmoke rises after anti-coup protesters burned tires in Yangon on March 27.Hide Caption 11 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters make incendiary devices during an anti-coup rally in Yangon.Hide Caption 12 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSmoke rises over Yangon’s Thaketa Township on March 27.Hide Caption 13 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarMourners attend the funeral of Tin Hla, a 43-year-old who was reportedly shot dead by security forces during a protest.Hide Caption 14 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPeople cry in Yangon after a relative was shot during a crackdown on anti-coup protesters.Hide Caption 15 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters occupy a street during a rally in Yangon on March 27.Hide Caption 16 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters gesture during a march in Yangon on March 26.Hide Caption 17 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarThein Zaw, a journalist with the Associated Press, waves after being released from a prison in Yangon on March 24. He had been detained while covering an anti-coup protest in February.Hide Caption 18 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarMen pray during the funeral of Khin Myo Chit, a 7-year-old girl who was shot in her home by Myanmar’s security forces on March 23. The girl was killed during a military raid, according to the Reuters news agency and the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.Hide Caption 19 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA Buddhist monk uses binoculars as he squats behind a road barricade with others in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 22.Hide Caption 20 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarThe mother of Aung Kaung Htet wails during the teenage boy’s funeral on March 21. Aung, 15, was killed when military junta forces opened fire on anti-coup protesters in Yangon.Hide Caption 21 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarUnidentified people cross the Tiau River at the India-Myanmar border on March 20. Some people from Myanmar have sought refuge in India since the protests began.Hide Caption 22 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarAn anti-coup protester jumps over a makeshift barricade in Yangon on March 19.Hide Caption 23 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters take positions on Yangon’s Bayint Naung Bridge on March 17. The bridge was blocked with an improvised barricade to prevent security forces from crossing.Hide Caption 24 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarMedical students hold up the three-finger salute at the Yangon funeral of Khant Nyar Hein on March 16. The first-year medical student was fatally shot during the crackdown.Hide Caption 25 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters test Molotov cocktails in Yangon on March 16.Hide Caption 26 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters stand near burning tires in Yangon on March 16.Hide Caption 27 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarAnti-coup protesters pray in Yangon on March 14.Hide Caption 28 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarEmergency workers transport the body of Shel Ye Win, who was shot by security forces in Mandalay.Hide Caption 29 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSmoke billows from the industrial zone of the Hlaing Tharyar township in Yangon on March 14. The Chinese Embassy in Myanmar said several Chinese-funded factories were set ablaze during protests. Demonstrators have accused Beijing of supporting the coup and junta.Hide Caption 30 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA member of Myanmar’s police is seen firing a weapon toward protesters in Yangon on March 13.Hide Caption 31 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPeople lay flowers and light candles beside bloodied pavement where protester Chit Min Thu was killed in Yangon.Hide Caption 32 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarMilitary trucks are seen near a burning barricade in Yangon that was erected by protesters and then set on fire by soldiers on March 10.Hide Caption 33 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA protester holds a homemade shield during an anti-coup demonstration in Yangon on March 9.Hide Caption 34 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA protester discharges a fire extinguisher to counter the impact of tear gas that was fired by police in Yangon on March 8.Hide Caption 35 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters string up longyi, traditional clothing worn in Myanmar, during a demonstration in Yangon on March 7.Hide Caption 36 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarThe wife of Phoe Chit, a protester who died during a demonstration, cries over her husband’s coffin during his funeral in Yangon on March 5.Hide Caption 37 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters step on portraits of Myanmar’s armed forces chief, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, during a demonstration in Yangon on March 5.Hide Caption 38 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPeople cry in Yangon on March 4, near a spot where a family member was killed while protesting.Hide Caption 39 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters lie on the ground after police opened fire to disperse an anti-coup demonstration in Mandalay on March 3.Hide Caption 40 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSchoolteachers wear traditional hats while participating in an anti-coup demonstration in Mandalay on March 3.Hide Caption 41 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA soldier stands next to a detained man during a demonstration in Mandalay on March 3.Hide Caption 42 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarAnti-coup protesters run in Yangon on March 3. One of them discharged a fire extinguisher to counter the impact of tear gas fired by police.Hide Caption 43 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarAn anti-coup protester writes vital emergency information of another protester on his arm in Yangon.Hide Caption 44 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPolice run toward protesters to disperse a demonstration in Yangon on March 3.Hide Caption 45 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA citizen of Myanmar living in India burns a poster of Myanmar’s military chief during a protest in New Delhi on March 3.Hide Caption 46 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarMedics help supply oxygen to a protester who was exposed to tear gas in Yangon on March 3.Hide Caption 47 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters flee after tear gas was fired during a demonstration in Yangon on March 1.Hide Caption 48 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters smoke behind shields during a demonstration in Yangon on March 1.Hide Caption 49 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters in Yangon run away from tear gas on March 1.Hide Caption 50 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPeople in Yangon take part in a ceremony on February 28 to remember those who have been killed during demonstrations.Hide Caption 51 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSoldiers patrol during a protest in Yangon on February 28.Hide Caption 52 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters take cover as they clash with police in Yangon on February 28.Hide Caption 53 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters erect barricades during a demonstration in Yangon on February 28.Hide Caption 54 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPolice charge at anti-coup protesters in Yangon on February 27.Hide Caption 55 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarAn injured protester receives medical attention in Mandalay after police and military forces cracked down on protests on February 26.Hide Caption 56 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarFactory workers hold placards and shout slogans as they hold an anti-coup protest in Yangon on February 25.Hide Caption 57 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarAnti-coup protesters shout slogans in Yangon on February 25.Hide Caption 58 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA police officer films protesters near the Indonesian Embassy in Yangon on February 24.Hide Caption 59 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarThida Hnin cries during the funeral of her husband, Thet Naing Win, in Mandalay on February 23. He and another protester were fatally shot by security forces during an anti-coup protest.Hide Caption 60 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPolice stand guard near the US Embassy in Yangon as protesters take part in an anti-coup demonstration on February 22.Hide Caption 61 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters hold signs featuring civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration in Yangon on February 22. Hide Caption 62 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters gather for a demonstration on February 22.Hide Caption 63 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA man is carried after police dispersed protesters in Mandalay on February 20. Hide Caption 64 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA police truck uses a water cannon to disperse protesters in Mandalay on February 20.Hide Caption 65 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA police officer aims a gun toward protesters during a demonstration in Mandalay on February 20.Hide Caption 66 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA protester holds a Suu Kyi poster as he sits in front of police in Yangon on February 19.Hide Caption 67 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters flash the three-fingered salute during a rally in downtown Yangon on February 19.Hide Caption 68 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarFlower tributes and sympathy messages are left in Yangon for Mya Thweh Thweh Khine. The 20-year-old was shot in the head at a protest in Naypyidaw, and she died on February 19.Hide Caption 69 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters block a major road during a demonstration in Yangon on February 17.Hide Caption 70 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarDemonstrators block a Yangon bridge with their cars on February 17.Hide Caption 71 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarBuddhist monks march during an anti-coup protest in Yangon on February 16.Hide Caption 72 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA Suu Kyi banner is displayed during demonstrations in Yangon on February 15.Hide Caption 73 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSoldiers carry barricades in Yangon on February 15.Hide Caption 74 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarElected members of Parliament wave to protesters in Yangon as police surround the headquarters of Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, on February 15.Hide Caption 75 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarMedics clear the way as an injured protester is carried away for treatment in Mandalay, Myanmar, on February 15.Hide Caption 76 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPeople gather around an armored vehicle in Yangon on February 14.Hide Caption 77 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarYoung people in Yangon take part in an anti-coup hip-hop performance on February 14.Hide Caption 78 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters demonstrate in Yangon on February 14.Hide Caption 79 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA child runs alongside an armored vehicle in Yangon on February 14.Hide Caption 80 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters march through the city of Shwebo on February 13.Hide Caption 81 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarMembers of the Myanmar Photographers Association hold up their cameras as they call for Suu Kyi’s release on February 13.Hide Caption 82 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPolice detain a protester during a demonstration in Mawlamyine on February 12.Hide Caption 83 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarFarmers ride a tractor with a Suu Kyi poster during a demonstration in Thongwa on February 12.Hide Caption 84 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA protester dressed as Lady Justice makes a three-finger salute as she takes part in a demonstration in Yangon on February 11.Hide Caption 85 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters demonstrate in Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on February 11.Hide Caption 86 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarGen. Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s military leader, makes a televised statement on February 11. He announced that more than 23,000 prisoners were set to be granted amnesty and released that day. It was unclear what offenses the prisoners were convicted of.Hide Caption 87 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarBodybuilders take part in a protest in Yangon on February 11.Hide Caption 88 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPeople hold up letters that spell “get out dictators” during a demonstration at Inle Lake on February 11.Hide Caption 89 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA protester carries a child during a march in Yangon on February 10.Hide Caption 90 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarWomen in wedding gowns holds up anti-coup placards in Yangon on February 10.Hide Caption 91 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA police officer aims a gun during clashes with protesters in the capital of Naypyidaw on February 9.Hide Caption 92 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA protester pleads for police to refrain from using tear gas against demonstrators in Yangon on February 9.Hide Caption 93 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarPolice fire water cannons at protesters in Naypyidaw on February 9.Hide Caption 94 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters gather in Yangon on February 8.Hide Caption 95 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters flash three-fingered salutes as they face rows of riot police in Naypyidaw on February 8.Hide Caption 96 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarHospital workers show three-finger salutes during a demonstration in Yangon on February 7.Hide Caption 97 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarA rally takes place in Yangon on February 7.Hide Caption 98 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters shout slogans in Yangon on February 7.Hide Caption 99 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarProtesters give roses to riot police in Yangon on February 6.Hide Caption 100 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarYangon residents bang objects to show support for Suu Kyi and her party on February 5. Hide Caption 101 of 102 Photos: Unrest in MyanmarSoldiers block a road near Myanmar’s Parliament on February 2, a day after the coup.Hide Caption 102 of 102But minutes later, others approached us, this time flashing three fingers — despite the fact we were surrounded by security forces and in a military area. Many of them were shaking with fear at the boldness of what they were doing. They knew there would be a price to pay and yet they felt the risk was worth it. “This is something I am doing for my country,” one woman said. At another market, it was a similar scene. We stood back and avoided approaching people, mindful of the fact we were surrounded by security forces. But despite the risks, some wanted their voices heard.”We want democracy. We don’t want military coup,” another young woman said. When told we were surrounded by military, she said, “I am not afraid.” Like many young people in the country, she sees her future being ripped away. Successive military regimes ruled Myanmar through brute force and fear for half a century between 1962 and 2011, plunging the Southeast Asian nation into poverty and isolationism. In 2011, the military gave up direct rule and embarked on a series of reforms that allowed for parliamentary elections. “We don’t want to go back to the dark age. We lost our voice and had democracy only for 10 years. We don’t have weapons, we don’t have guns. Just only we have voice,” the young woman said. Myanmar's military is waging war on its citizens. Some say it's time to fight back Our minders appeared anxious and upset that their ploy had backfired. The military has greatly underestimated the strength, will and bravery of its own people and the ever-mounting hatred for the junta.The military said 11 people were detained after speaking to us, or for flashing the three-finger salute. Later, we confirmed eight had been released, though they are now in hiding.At township offices across Yangon, alleged victims of the protest movement were paraded out for us. They said they had been beaten, threatened and humiliated by the “violators.”In North Okkalapa township, a district that has seen some of the worst violence and many deaths at the hands of security forces, the local administrator complained the demonstrators were noisy and broke the law by gathering in groups of more than five. The township is currently under martial law. Our minders were perturbed and didn’t answer when we asked directly whether they were seriously comparing these infractions to hundreds of people being killed, among them children. The seat of powerAfter three days in Yangon, we were taken to visit the capital, Naypidaw. Driving into the pristine, sprawling city, it is easy to see why the junta is so detached from the thinking of its people. Built out of the jungle in the early 2000s and populated almost entirely by the military and government workers, it is a bubble. A spotless 12-lane highway stands virtually empty, devoid of any traffic. The Defense Services Museum is a vast, colossus of a building, an imposing monument to Myanmar’s military, replete with marble halls laden with oil paintings and marble busts of the country’s former heroes.In an interview with CNN, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the spokesperson for the Tatmadaw, sat beneath a portrait of Aung San, widely seen as the founder of modern-day Myanmar and the father of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson for the Myanmar military, at the Defense Services Museum in Naypyidaw, Myanmar on April 4.When asked if Aung San would be rolling in his grave to see what’s happening in his country, he replied: “If Aung San was alive today, he would say, ‘You are such a fool, my daughter.'” A collective gasp went through the room and the translator’s eyes bulged as he relayed in English what had been said.Aung San Suu Kyi is deeply beloved in Myanmar, especially among the Bamar-majority ethic group — such public criticism of her is unlikely to win the military any supporters. But in the arrogant, insular world of the Tatmadaw, such considerations are unimportant. Preserving power, and the pecuniary interests that come with it, is the priority. On our final night in Myanmar, our primary minder asked what we thought about what we had seen in his country. I told him honestly, that it was clear the military did not have the support of the people, that it was using oppression and brutality to maintain control and that I had seen far too many civil wars erupt from such tactics. He listened thoughtfully as I spoke and nodded without saying anything. Many have speculated that internal schisms exist within the Tatmadaw and there is a possibility of a splitting of ranks, though there is little evidence to suggest that has happened so far. On the plane ride out of Yangon, a young man approached me shyly and handed me a letter.”Dear Clarissa Ward, please let know the world what is really happened in Myanmar… We civilians don’t want military junta.” It was signed simply from “a Myanmar citizen,” one of many millions who are desperate for the world to hear their story and know their pain.
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