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In a safe house in Myanmar, resistance is growing.

Quietly, in the gloomy light, a group of men raise their hands in a three-finger salute.

Traditionally a sign of defiance and support for pro-democracy protesters, for these men it symbolises so much more.

Once police or soldiers, they now plan to fight the forces they used to serve.

Just talking to us is a huge risk; if caught the defectors could be killed.

So in hiding, faces and voices disguised for protection, they explain why they decided to defy the junta.

Sky News has hidden the former soldiers' and police officers' identities for their own safety
Image:
Sky News has hidden the former soldiers’ and police officers’ identities for their own safety

“We were told that we could shoot the protesters if they gathered in more than five. We could arrest them and shoot them,” Officer A, a former police officer says.

“We were ordered to shoot but we couldn’t do it.”

The allegation echoes the claims of both protesters and human rights groups after February’s military coup.

Myanmar’s security forces have been accused by Amnesty International of “premeditated” attacks on peaceful protesters – including “extrajudicial executions” and indiscriminately spraying bullets in urban areas.

While a shoot-to-kill policy has never been officially confirmed by the junta, the defectors claim they were encouraged to open fire.

“My friends said if they shot the protesters, they would get a promotion as a reward and be praised for being brave and following the junta’s order,” another former police officer, Officer B, tells Sky News.

“They were promoted from police second lieutenant to police lieutenant, from corporal to sergeant. As far as I know, those who shot the protesters got promoted.”

A former soldier in the group tells a similar story.

The defectors could be killed for talking to the media
Image:
The defectors could be killed for talking to the media

According to him, challenging an order wasn’t an option.

“The soldiers and police are now abusing the people at the order of Min Aung Hlaing (Myanmar’s junta chief),” he says.

“‘Shoot. Just shoot. This is my order,’ this is how they order the troops. If we did not follow the order, we would be punished.”

As well as the shootings, the military is accused of other abuses: of power, of people, and of their duty to protect.

Some female protesters have publicly accused members of the security forces of physical and sexual violence following their arrests.

The soldier isn’t surprised.

He says he heard reports of sex assaults during his service, in particular during military operations to ethnic minority areas in Myanmar.

“People are calling soldiers ‘military dogs’ [and] also accusing them of rape. Let me tell you, yes, we have seen those scenes at the frontline. I wasn’t involved in it.

“The officers were calling the women here and there and abusing them. Rape as well. It’s happening,” he says,

At least 840 people have been killed since the coup, many shot by junta forces according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

One defector trains for potential clashes
Image:
Some protesters have travelled to border areas in Myanmar for resistance training

We put the allegations made by the defectors to the junta, but on publication Sky News still hadn’t received a response.

The men say the command to use violence against civilians is the reason they fled and joined the protest movement.

Their choice means the institutions they swore an oath to are the enemy they must defeat and the decision to defect has come at great personal sacrifice.

They have lost their freedom. They cannot see their families. They cannot return to their hometowns or tell friends where they are.

They now live their lives in hiding and on the run, waiting in dark, cramped and basic accommodation fearing they may be discovered.

Yet still they remain defiant – determined to fight for the democracy lost when the military seized power.

Since the coup, some protesters have travelled to border areas in Myanmar for resistance training and now some of the defectors are planning to use their own skills to help them.

“Those [protesters] who are not familiar with the military training, they need to learn how to use the weapons, to fix them, and set them up.

“I want to teach them. I will join with those organisations that are in the revolution to fight the junta.

“I will fight those power-hungry thugs,” the soldier says.

“I will join this revolution until the end. I will give my life. I will kill them wherever I see them.”

So in secret they plan, they train, they get strong; preparing to strike back against the generals they followed for so long.

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Strikes on energy mean Ukraine is facing its toughest 125-day wintertime in post-Soviet history, energy boss Maksym Timchenko says

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Strikes on energy mean Ukraine is facing its toughest 125-day wintertime in post-Soviet history, energy boss Maksym Timchenko says

This winter will be the toughest in Ukraine’s history as an independent state as Russia targets power and water supplies, worsening the impact of the war, an energy boss has said.

But Maksym Timchenko told Sky News that Moscow will fail to turn out the lights for too long with its missile strikes because of his country’s ability to repair the damage quickly.

The chief executive of DTEK, the largest private Ukrainian energy firm, predicted that people will endure the next 125 days of wintertime “as brave Ukrainians” despite the threat of new Russian attacks against the energy grid.

“We will survive and we will win,” he said.

Image:
Maksym Timchenko, DTEK chief executive

Workers from DTEK as well as Ukrenergo, the national electricity company, have mobilised – at great personal risk – to repair power stations, substations and other parts of the network that have been targeted by Russian airstrikes since October in a new energy frontline.

“This has the same importance for Ukrainian victories as the military frontline,” Mr Timchenko said.

Four of his employees have so far been killed on duty since Russia launched its full-scale war in February. Three died in rocket strikes and the fourth was killed by a mine.

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“I’m so grateful to our people… who work in this industry,” he said. “These are real heroes and will stay in the history of Ukraine forever.”

With Russia thought already to have bombed more than a third of Ukraine’s energy system, the boss of DTEK predicted the coming months would be the harshest since at least 1991 when Ukraine gained its independence from the then Soviet Union.

“I can say with full confidence [it] will be the most difficult winter because we have never seen such destruction, such behaviour of our enemy, and we never lived under such conditions – constant rocket attacks and destruction and damage and explosions,” he said.

Equally, “I have full confidence that we will cope”.

Electricity & Drones
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Engineers are working constantly to repair Ukraine’s power network

READ MORE: Ukraine war latest – Putin spy chief meets CIA over nuclear threat

Mr Timchenko said all six of his company’s thermal power stations had been hit, some of them several times, but they were all back up and running.

“In this fight, you learn a lot: how to restore power supply; how to restore the system; what creative technical solutions can be found so that we bring back our power stations,” he said.

“I have a strong belief that there is no chance that a complete blackout can continue for a long time so that people cannot live.”

But he appealed to the international community for more electrical transformers to assist with efforts to reconnect the grid. “Today, equipment is more important than money for us.”

Electricity & Drones
Image:
Vasyl Timoshchuk is one of the electrical engineers risking his life to repair Ukraine’s infrastructure

A major attack on 23 November knocked power out across much of the country for tens of millions of people. Even many homes in the capital Kyiv were without electricity and water for at least 48 hours – the worst impact of Russia’s new tactic so far.

Read more: Striking satellite image reveals extent of Ukraine’s power shortage after Russian missile strikes

However, Mr Timchenko said despite the damage, it had been possible to retrieve power supplies. “Now we start this countdown of the winter season – 125 days – and trust me, we will get through these 125 days as brave Ukrainians,” he said.

In one home on the outskirts of Kyiv, a couple in their 70s said they would never give up no matter how long they must go without electricity and running water.

Liubov Sudakova and Volodymyr Sudakov
Image:
Liubov Sudakova and Volodymyr Sudakov

Liubov Sudakova and Volodymyr Sudakov are lucky because they have a log stove that keeps the house warm when the power is out. They have also stocked up on food – potatoes and other vegetables – grown in their garden.

“We just need the bombs to stop falling,” said Liubov. “When bombs were flying in the summer… I was in my garden and heard this ‘woosh’ and later boom. So that was scary.”

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Pele: Brazil football legend back in hospital as he fights cancer

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Pele: Brazil football legend back in hospital as he fights cancer

Brazilian football legend Pele is back in hospital, according to his daughter.

But in an Instagram post, Kely Nascimento also said there was “no emergency”, as he continues to fight colon cancer.

She said he had been admitted so that doctors could regulate his medication.

She wrote: “Lots of alarm in the media today concerning my dad’s health. He is in the hospital regulating medication.

“There is no emergency or new dire prediction. I will be there for New Years and promise to post some pictures.”

Pele's daughter said her father was 'recovering well and within normal range'. Pic: Instagram/Kely Nascimento
Image:
Pele and his daughter in September 2021. Pic: Instagram/Kely Nascimento

The football star had a tumour removed from his colon in September 2021 and has since been in and out of hospital for treatment on a regular basis.

ESPN is reporting the 82-year-old had been admitted to Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo with “general swelling” and was having cardiac issues.

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And medics were concerned that chemotherapy treatment was not having the expected results.

Pele is to have further tests for a more in-depth assessment of his health issues, it added.

His manager and the hospital did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pele is arguably the greatest footballer of all time.

He burst on to the global scene as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup, helping Brazil to the first of their record five successes.

Pele celebrates after scoring at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Pic: Reuters/Action Images/Sporting Pictures
Image:
Pele celebrates after scoring at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Pic: Reuters/Action Images/Sporting Pictures

Injury affected Pele’s contribution to the 1962 and 1966 finals, but he led Brazil to a third triumph, this time in Mexico in 1970 as part of what is widely regarded as the greatest international team of all time.

Brazil‘s leading scorer, with 77 goals in 92 matches for his country, he embodied the idea of football as “the beautiful game”, one played with skill, speed and imagination.

There is much dispute over the number of goals overall he scored during his career, which Guinness World Records puts at 1,279.

However, critics believe that figure is too high, boosted by hundreds scored in friendlies and practice matches.

Including those, he scored at almost a goal a game throughout his 22-year career.

Others put his total at 757 goals, although his main club, Santos, says his tally was closer to 1,000.

In 2013, he was awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur (award of honour) in recognition of his career and achievements.

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Man arrested over mass drowning of migrants in English Channel fighting extradition to France

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Man arrested over mass drowning of migrants in English Channel fighting extradition to France

An alleged ringleader of a people smuggling gang, accused of sending more than 30 migrants to their deaths in the English Channel, is fighting extradition to France.

Harem Abwbaker, a UK asylum seeker, is said to have charged the migrants $3,200 (£2,680) each for the trip in November last year.

Appearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the 32-year-old was accused of putting them in a badly-designed boat with inadequate navigation or life-saving equipment.

When the boat deflated and sank in darkness two hours after leaving France – and all but two on board drowned – he allegedly offered their relatives money to keep quiet.

French authorities outline allegations

Two migrants survived and identified Abwbaker as the ‘right-hand man’ of the gang’s leader, according to an extradition warrant issued by the French authorities.

The document also claims he personally helped the migrants on to the boat and electronic data showed his mobile phone was at the launch site on the French coast.

The warrant states the migrants were powerless to respond to an emergency, and “had no chance of facing any event at sea,” Prosecutor Michael McHardy told Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Harem Ahmed Abwbaker. Pic: National Crime Agency
Image:
Harem Abwbaker was arrested in Cheltenham. Pic: National Crime Agency

Suspect wants to prove ‘innocence’

Abwbaker, a Kurd, was arrested in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on Tuesday morning. In court he gave his address as the town’s Ramada Hotel.

He sat in the dock in jeans and a grey sweatshirt, scratching his beard during the 30-minute hearing.

Asked if he agreed to be extradited, he said through an interpreter: “If I return now, how can I come back once I’ve proved my innocence? What you’re talking about is my life and my freedom.”

Judge Paul Goldspring said: “It’s clear he’s not consenting.”

Read more:
French government will investigate worst-ever Channel migrant disaster

It’s previously been reported that 27 bodies were recovered the day after the boat sank and four migrants were still missing.

According to the extradition warrant, the French Navy recovered 25 bodies.

This is what remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people
Image:
The remains of the boat which capsized in the English Channel in November 2021

Abwbaker did not ask for bail and was remanded in custody ahead of an extradition hearing in April. He will appear in court again for a preliminary hearing on 29 December.

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