Ex-Myanmar police officers reveal how they were told to shoot protesters – and why they defected
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.
“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.
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).
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.
Nashville school shooting: Bodycam video shows moment attacker was shot dead by police
Graphic video has been released of the moment the Nashville school attacker was shot dead by police.
Audrey Hale, who identified as a transgender male and was a former student of the private Christian school, killed three pupils aged nine and three adults before being stopped.
Footage from Officer Rex Engelbert’s bodycam shows him opening fire with a rifle several times on Hale before the perpetrator falls to the ground injured.
Police then head towards the 28-year-old just a few metres away as officers shout “move, move”, and “watch out, watch out”.
The attacker, now on the floor, is hit by several more police gunshots before an officer yells to the suspect “stop moving, stop moving”, with the killer appearing to be still alive as one of their arms moves.
An officer screams “throw your hands away from the gun, get your hands away from the gun”, while another says “suspect down, suspect down”.
Hale’s body is then shown lying next to the weapons, including a rifle, the assailant used in the deadly Monday morning attack on the second floor of the Covenant School in Tennessee.
A second clip shows what happened from a different angle with footage from Officer Michael Collazo’s bodycam. He is shown firing his pistol at Hale in the second volley of shots after the suspect was already on the ground.
Minutes earlier, the officers had stormed the building as video showed several going from empty classroom to empty classroom before making their way to the second floor.
Multiple gunshots are heard in the footage as officers run down a hallway – past what appears to be a victim – and into a lounge area, where the suspect is seen dropping to the floor after being shot.
Police said the suspect was killed after a confrontation with officers.
What we know about killer Audrey Hale
Video of Nashville school killer entering building
Why Nashville tragedy could have been even worse
The start of the six-minute police video shows Officer Engelbert retrieving a rifle from his car boot before a member of staff directs him to the entrance, telling him that the school is locked down but at least two children are not accounted for.
“Let’s go! I need three!” the officer yells as he uses a key to unlock a door and enter the building, where alarms can be heard ringing.
Hale was described by officials as a “lone zealot”, who lived in Nashville, and was armed with two assault-type weapons, and a handgun.
Hale had a manifesto and detailed maps of the school, and entered the building by shooting through its doors before the killings.
Police have also released video of the moment the attacker entered the school.
The six victims have been named as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all aged nine, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and school custodian Mike Hill, both 61, and 60-year-old Katherine Koonce, who was the headteacher.
How a US aircraft carrier is part of a high-stakes stand-off in the South China Sea
There are few greater displays of US military might than its aircraft carriers – when they move, the world pays attention. They are huge floating cities of sorts.
The US has 11 and they are still the best in the world.
The USS Nimitz is one of them. It’s a warren of cabins and control rooms, beneath an enormous flight deck. It can carry around 5,000 military personnel and as many as 7,000 when you include the accompanying “strike force” of war ships and jets.
We went aboard when the ship was docked temporarily in South Korea but had just completed a deployment in the South China Sea.
Deployments like this are routine, but they are undertaken in the knowledge they will be noticed by one power in particular, and that power is China, the US’ increasingly assertive competitor.
Lt Ben Bushong, who served in the US navy for seven years – much of it as a helicopter pilot – showed us around.
He and his colleagues know things are tense, as they have been for some time.
“The big picture is helping keep a free and open Indo-pacific,” he said.
“I would just say we’re always ready and we’re always training, so if we ever get called we’re ready to respond.”
And rarely has being ready felt more pressing.
The US’ face-off with China has multiple fronts and almost all are becoming more fraught.
Just a few weeks ago, China’s new foreign minister said that if the US does not “hit the breaks” on what it sees as provocations then “conflict will surely follow”.
China has increasingly been making a point of flexing its muscles in the seas that surround it.
For many years it has been accused of militarising islands in the contested South China Sea and engaging in illegal fishing, but recently it has also been sailing and flying much closer to the self-governing island of Taiwan.
There have also been more specific incidents of concern – just last week, China said it chased away a US vessel that had “illegally” entered waters around the contested Paracel Islands, a claim the US denied.
And then there was declassified footage shot by a US jet of a Chinese fighter flying just feet away from it, in a move the US has described as aggressive and dangerous.
Chinese foreign minister warns ‘reckless’ US risks ‘catastrophic’ conflict
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The reality is that China can now afford to flex these muscles because it has rapidly developed the largest navy in the world, increasing 10-fold in just the last 20 years.
But it is the reason that US presence here is so important, according to the Rear Admiral Christopher Sweeney who leads the Nimitz’s strike fleet.
“First, we are going to sail operate and fly wherever international law allows,” he said.
“And my message to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) would be that we’re resolute in that, we’re not going to be bullied, we’re not going to be coerced and we are going to stay here and fly and operate in international norms.”
China sees the US efforts here as part of a broader effort to contain it. Fundamentally, it sees this region as its back yard.
But in answer to that allegation the admiral was resolute.
“We do not seek to contain China, we do not seek conflict with China, we seek to set international norm that we all prosper from”.
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If fighting did break out in this region, it would most likely be over the island of Taiwan, the self governing democracy China sees as its own.
China has not ruled out taking the island by force and deterring this is one of the US’ key objectives.
In the meantime, China’s increasing assertiveness is pushing many other Asian nations closer to the US and each other.
The show of allegiance with South Korea was front and centre – the two are undertaking joint drills this week and will work with Japan too next month.
While much of the tension between the US and China is invisible and covert, this is a region that is increasingly fractured and there is a high-stakes stand-off playing out.
Nashville school shooting: First pictures emerge of victims of attack, including nine-year-old girl and headteacher
Images of four victims of a shooting at a school in Nashville have been released.
Six people, including three children, were all shot dead by Audrey Elizabeth Hale after the former student opened fire in the private Covenant School in the Tennessee state capital.
The six victims have been named as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all aged nine, 61-year-olds Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, and 60-year-old Katherine Koonce.
Pictures have so far been released of Mr Hill, Ms Koonce, Ms Peak and nine-year-old Hallie.
Video shows moment attacker was shot dead
Why tragedy could have been even worse
Hallie was the daughter of the pastor whose church runs the school.
The three adults were all staff, Ms Koonce was the headteacher, Ms Peak a substitute teacher and Mr Hill was a caretaker.
“We love the Scruggs family and mourn with them over their precious daughter Hallie,” Park Cities Presbyterian Church senior pastor Mark Davis said in a statement.
“Together, we trust in the power of Christ to draw near and give us the comfort and hope we desperately need.”
The Covenant School in Nashville has about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade, as well as roughly 50 staff members.
Hale had a manifesto and detailed maps of the school, and entered the building by shooting through its doors and starting on a killing spree.
Video of Nashville school killer entering building released
What we know about killer Audrey Hale
Police chief John Drake said: “We have a manifesto. We have some writings that we’re going over that pertain to this day, the actual incident. We have a map drawn out about how this was all going to take place.”
Officers started receiving reports of an attack at 10.13am (4.13pm UK time) and as police began clearing the ground floor of the school they heard gunfire coming from the second floor.
Two officers from a five-member team opened fire in response and fatally shot the suspect at 10.27am (4.27pm).
Hale’s motive for the attack is not yet known.
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