Myanmar’s opposition People’s Defense Forces are fighting the ruling junta’s army with locally produced weapons, PDF members have told VOA in recent weeks.
PDF members, mostly students and farmers with no prior experience in making weapons, said they found out how to make the weapons from YouTube and each other.
Most opposition troops would rely on these improvised weapons.
Some armed opposition groups in central Myanmar and Kayah State along the country’s eastern border with Thailand are producing and using homemade weapons, including rocket launchers, inflicting heavy casualties on forces of the junta.
The Tiger People’s Defense Force in Pale Township, Sagaing Region, produced 15 rockets with a range of about five kilometers. Initially, the group produced crude guns, bombs and mines, then moved into the production of rocket launchers and ammunition within six months.
“We made 100 single-shot rifles and shared them with other groups in the Sagaing area and produced 300 rocket launcher rounds. All of these weapons are used in combat,” said Bo Than Chaung, head of the information and weapons production team of the Tiger People’s Defense Force.
Another resistance unit, the Karenni Generation Z, active in Kayah and southern Shan State, has been producing 130mm, 70mm and 55mm mortars since March. Kalay Bo, spokesman for the unit, said it costs between $50 and $80 to make a mortar.
Karenni Generation Z can produce 20 shells for 130mm mortars per day. However, he has to change his location every time the junta finds out where he is operating, and he faces raw material problems and, above all, financial problems.
“At first, we could produce homemade shotguns to fight the military. However, we could not resist with these weapons when the junta forces used automatic weapons, long-range artillery, jets and helicopters. That’s why we have developed more advanced weapons to fight the army,” Kalay Bo said.
Armed resistance movements erupted across Myanmar shortly after the military cracked down on peaceful protests in last year’s military coup. Since then, the People’s Defense Armed Forces have emerged. However, not all groups work together under one command. The opposition National Unity Government has said that 257 battalions have been established under the command of the NUG Ministry of Defense and more than 500 PDFs are affiliated with the ministry.
Some PDFs are based in areas of Kachin, Kayah and Karen States in the east and Chin State in the west which are under the control of ethnic armed organizations which have been fighting for autonomy for years . These units receive arms support from the Karen National Union, the Kachin Independence Organization and the Rakhine Army – themselves ethnic organizations – as well as the NUG.
However, obtaining weapons for fighters in central Myanmar is difficult due to transportation difficulties and lack of funding. According to Resistance Chapters, it costs at least $3,000 for an automatic machine gun on the black market. Due to the lack of weapons and insufficient funds, opposition groups have turned to producing weapons themselves.
One group, the People’s Revolutionary Anti-Dictatorship Army, or DPRA, with nearly 1,000 fighters, which operates mainly in Sagaing but has also launched guerrilla attacks in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay, has learned the technique of producing rockets from its ally, the Kani Force guerrillas in Sagaing. Depending on the availability of raw materials, the DPRA said it manufactures 20 rocket launchers, 30 60mm mortars, 20 roadside bombs and 30 8mm rifles per month.
“We receive 10 million kyat [$5,000] a month of public donations and most of it is used for the production of weapons,” Linn Nway, a senior member of the organization, told VOA.
The DPRA estimates production costs at $175 for a roadside bomb, $35 for each 60mm mortar and 8mm rifle shell, $75 for a rocket with a range of between three and five miles . “It takes three months to produce a rocket,” Linn Nway said.
Some small opposition groups of around 50 members are unable to fight the junta forces due to a lack of arms and manpower. Groups rely heavily on their mine production for guerrilla warfare against military convoys, bases, banks, and buildings.
“Although we cannot fight with the junta forces, they are afraid to enter the villages. They were ambushed by our group, which caused heavy casualties from the landmines we laid,” said Bi Lone, a leader of the Black Wolf Defense Force in Monywa Township in Sagaing.
Most weapons produced by the PDF are rudimentary and insufficient to defeat the well-armed junta forces.
Many groups can only produce single-shot rifles that can only be loaded with a single bullet.
“Every time we shoot, we have to insert another bullet to shoot again,” Bo Than Chaung said.
Opposition groups claim that the lack of military-grade raw materials and weapons-making experience has cost lives and caused injuries and material loss during the manufacture of weapons. In October, some members of the Black Wolf Defense Force were seriously injured and a large amount of raw materials, as well as the belongings of the fighters, including uniforms, were destroyed in an explosion while they were manufacturing explosive devices, said Bi Lone.
Another problem facing opposition groups is obtaining raw materials, such as iron pipes, lead and gunpowder, as the military regime has restricted the transport of metal, including iron and steel, towards Sagaing. Goods entering Sagaing are subject to strict inspections.
“We can successfully get iron, but we mainly face a shortage of gunpowder imported from India and the Thai border. We cannot make pipe bombs without it,” Lin Nway said. circumstances, the price of raw materials has tripled, and it costs more than 150 dollars for 35 grams of gunpowder.
Opposition groups claim that only 10% of their troops can be armed with commercially produced weapons, and the rest rely heavily on locally produced weapons. Groups rely heavily on public donations and sell their assets to raise funds for arms production, however, production may meet less than 50% of requirements. In these circumstances, the opposition forces all say that the lack of financial support is the biggest problem.
“We need at least 10 million kyat [$5,000] per month, however, the donation we normally receive is around 5 million kyat [$2,500]said Bo Than Chaung. The group works under the aegis of the NUG but has received no support so far.
“I hope one day we will get weapons from the NUG,” he added.
On July 9, the NUG Department of Defense publicly shared its spending on military affairs. In May, of the $44 million in military spending, about 63% was for arms, ammunition and military operations and 22% for arms production. The NUG has said it needs at least $10 million a month to support fighting forces.