At least 19 Myanmar police officers have crossed the border into India in the latest sign of growing dissent within the security forces and civil service officials who are opposed to the military coup.
The first reported case of police fleeing the country came as one of the country’s top diplomats resigned from his post at the United Nations after being promoted to the role of ambassador by the junta.
Tin Maung Naing, the deputy envoy, refused to take over from Kyaw Moe Tun, the current ambassador, who was fired last week by the generals after he urged countries at the 193-member UN General Assembly to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup that ousted the nation’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In Washington, Myanmar’s embassy also signalled a break with the military regime on Thursday, issuing a statement decrying the deaths of civilians protesting the coup and calling on authorities to “fully exercise [the] utmost restraint.”
In Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw last month, nine ministry of foreign affairs officials were arrested after they joined a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) which aims to prevent the military from being able to govern the country by organising nationwide strikes.
Thousands have joined the CDM, which was initially started by the medical profession, but has now picked up bankers, civil servants and small pockets of police officers.
On Feb 9, Khun Aung Ko Ko, a police lieutenant in Naypyitaw, told a crowd of protesters after he defected that “I am aware I will be put in jail with a long prison sentence if our fight for democracy does not succeed,” reported the Myanmar Now website.
He added: “But it’s worth fighting for over 50 million people in this country by doing what I believe in.”
On Friday, an Indian police officer told Reuters that temporary housing had been offered to the Myanmar officers who had fled the country and that more were expected to cross the 1,000-mile border over the upcoming days.
“What they said is they got instructions from the military rulers which they cannot obey, so they have run away. They are seeking refuge because of the military rule in Myanmar,” said Stephen Lalrinawma, a police superintendent in India’s north-eastern state of Mizoram.
India is already home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar, including ethnic Rohingya and Chin, who had fled the country during previous bouts of violence.
“This is something unusual. Because in the past, police, and military just follow orders,” said James Fanai, the President of the India-based Chin Refugee Committee.
Many members of the security forces are violently supporting the coup, however. More than 50 civilians have died as police officers and soldiers increasing turn to lethal force to suppress peaceful mass protests.
More than 1,500 have also been arrested – often in terrifying night raids during internet blackouts. They include officials from the previous civilian administration, journalists, and civil society activists.
On Thursday, Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister condemned the deadly crackdown against pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar.
“I’m horrified by the escalation of violence in Myanmar and the killing of pro-democracy protesters. We stand with the people of Myanmar in calling for an immediate end to military repression, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others, and the restoration of democracy,” said Mr Johnson.
The United States added further sanctions on members of the military junta, in addition to previous restrictions on the defence minister and three companies in the jade and gems sector, blocking members of the ministries of defence and home affairs from doing certain types of trade.