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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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Two bodies found in search for missing TV presenter Jesse Baird and his partner

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Two bodies found in search for missing TV presenter Jesse Baird and his partner

Two bodies have been found in the search for a missing Australian TV presenter and his partner, who were allegedly killed by a police officer.

Jesse Baird, 26, and his flight attendant partner Luke Davies, 29, were allegedly shot dead in Mr Baird’s Sydney home last week.

Beau Lamarre-Condon, a police officer who was in a relationship with Mr Baird until late last year, was charged on Friday with the murders of both men.

Police said Lamarre-Condon provided them with information that led them to the bodies, which were found in a rural area around 124 miles southwest of Sydney.

The New South Wales force allege the 28-year-old officer and ex-celebrity blogger killed the couple at Mr Baird’s home in the Paddington area of the city on Monday and hired a white van to dispose of their bodies. Neighbours reportedly heard an argument at the property that morning.

Mr Baird was a presenter with Network 10 until December. Mr Davies was a Qantas flight attendant.

Flowers laid outside Jesse Baird's home in Sydney. Pic: AP
Image:
Flowers laid outside Jesse Baird’s home in Sydney. Pic: AP

The Mardi Gras board said LGBT+ communities across Australia had been devastated by the loss of the couple, who had planned to celebrate at the annual parade on Saturday.

The incident has prompted Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras organisers to ask police not to march on the weekend, a move the police commissioner urges them to reconsider.

The board said police presence could “add to the distress within our communities”, which are “already deeply affected by recent events”.

Karen Webb (second left) waving as she marched in the 2023 Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. Pic: AP
Image:
Karen Webb (second left) waving as she marched in the 2023 Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. Pic: AP

“This decision was not made lightly, especially considering that many… police members who participate in the parade are also members of the LGBTQIA+ community and are navigating the impact of this tragedy alongside us,” the board added.

“However, we believe that their participation at this year’s event could intensify the current feelings of sorrow and distress.”

The alleged killer has been part of the parade in the past, the board said.

Police Commissioner Karen Webb, who has taken part in the annual march since 2006, said she will meet with the organisers in a bid to reverse their decision.

“We’re not dealing with a gay hate crime here,” she said. “We’re dealing with a domestic homicide and… I’m disappointed [by] the position that Mardi Gras board has taken on this issue.”

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She added this time “more than any in our society” is “time to come together”.

We’re talking about inclusion, we’re talking about diversity and to exclude part of that community, I think, sends a wrong message,” she added.

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Israel-Hamas war: Joe Biden says he hopes Gaza ceasefire can be agreed ‘by end of the weekend’

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Israel-Hamas war: Joe Biden says he hopes Gaza ceasefire can be agreed 'by end of the weekend'

Joe Biden has said he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas can be secured by the weekend.

The US president made the remarks during an unannounced visit to the Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour, next door to 30 Rock in New York, on Monday.

Flanked by late night TV show host Seth Meyers, Mr Biden was asked by reporters on when a ceasefire in Gaza could start.

In a surprise turn, he said that he hopes it will take place “by the end of the weekend”.

“My national security advisor (Jake Sullivan) tells me that we’re close, we’re close, we’re not done yet,” he said. “My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

Mr Biden’s comments come as Israel prepares to start a military operation in Rafah – which he has warned against without a “credible” plan to protect civilians.

Pic: AP
Image:
The US president made the remarks during an unannounced visit to the Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour, New York. Pic: AP

Israel has said it will go ahead with an offensive on the city if hostages are not returned by 10 March, which is when Ramadan starts.

More on Gaza

According to NBC News, Sky news’ US partner network, Qatar is mediating talks between Israel and Hamas this week, and ceasefire negotiations have taken place between US, Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials in Paris.

Should it happen, it would be the second ceasefire following one in November which saw several hundred Palestinians released from Israeli jails and about 100 hostages freed by Hamas.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said earlier on Monday that the Israeli Defence Force proposed a plan for the evacuation of civilians from “fighting areas” to the country’s war cabinet.

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Alexei Navalny was set to be part of prison swap before he died, claims ally

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Alexei Navalny was set to be part of prison swap before he died, claims ally

Alexei Navalny was set to be freed as part of a prisoner swap when he died, one of his allies has claimed.

The Russian opposition leader died at a penal colony within the Artic Circle on 16 February, while serving a 19-year prison sentence on charges his supporters said were politically motivated.

It has now been claimed that the prisoner-swap talks were in their “final stages” when Mr Navalny died.

In a video posted on the late Kremlin critic’s YouTube channel, Maria Pevchikh – who lives outside Russia – said: “Alexei Navalny could have been sitting here now, today. It’s not a figure of speech.”

Ms Pevchikh said she received confirmation about the talks just one day before Mr Navalny’s death was announced.

Ukraine-Russia latest: Kremlin dismisses peace talks as ‘laughable’

She claimed that Putin “wouldn’t tolerate” Navalny being freed and decided to “get rid of the bargaining chip”. She has not offered evidence to back up the allegation.

More on Alexei Navalny

The circumstances of Mr Navalny’s death remain unclear – but several world leaders, including Joe Biden, have directly blamed Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

Mr Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya has also pointed the finger at the Russian president, claiming her husband could have been poisoned with novichok.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in his death.

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Ms Pevchikh said Mr Navalny and two US citizens held in Russia, whom she has not identified, were supposed to be swapped for Vadim Krasikov.

Krasikov is serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing of Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

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Unseen Navalny interview unearthed
Navalny’s mother ‘given ultimatum’ over his funeral

There are several US citizens in custody in Russia, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges, and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, convicted of espionage.

Both men and the US government dispute the charge.

When asked about the swap claim at a regular news conference in Berlin, German government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said she could not comment.

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