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Myanmar People's Defence Force (PDF)

Insurgency Overview

The Myanmar People’s Defence Force (PDF) is a citizen militia formed to combat the military dictatorship which came to power in Myanmar after the 2021 coup d’etat and overthrew the previously democratic-leaning government, the NDL (National League for Democracy) (1). Feeling the need to protect the people of Myanmar following the violent suppression of otherwise peaceful protests, several armed resistance groups rose to combat the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) and the new oppressive government, one of which was the PDF. Working in conjunction with other resistance groups, the PDF conducts various attacks on what they call the military junta and holds defensive positions across Myanmar to protect liberated territory. With little international support besides sanctions against the government and humanitarian aid, the PDF has relied on resources they can capture or source from civilian supporters. The PDF has also manufactured supplies by themselves using methods such as 3D printing (2).

History & Foundations

Myanmar has had a long and troubled history with political revolution, dating back to the late 1940s. Starting with rebel groups such as the Burmese Communist Party-White Flag (BCP-WF), Communist Party of Burma-Red Flag (CPB-RF), and The People’s Volunteer Organization-White Band (PVO-WB), the people of Myanmar have proven that an armed citizen’s militia is an effective but violent form of resistance. Over the years, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has experienced multiple instances of regime change, transitioning from dictatorship to democracy (and vice-versa).

Starting in April 2011, the Burmese government had been ruled by the National League for Democracy and the people of Myanmar lived under a relatively unstable democracy. However, this relatively democratic regime was overthrown in a coup d’etat conducted by the Myanmar Armed Forces – called the Tatmadaw – which began on February 1st, 2021 (3). Within a matter of days, the Tatmadaw cut off the Burmese people from internet and telecommunications, shut down the national stock market, imprisoned elected officials, issued a state of emergency, and established the State Administration Council (SAC) as the governing force of Myanmar. The Tatmadaw claimed that these actions and SAC’s control of the government were due to the NLD’s landslide victory in the election, which the Tatmadaw believed was obtained illegally.

By February 5th, pro-democracy protests had erupted throughout Myanmar. Although these protests were peaceful, they were met with extreme violence from the Tatmadaw. Tatmadaw security forces would indiscriminately fire on anti-coup demonstrations, intimidate the population with armored vehicles, and illegally detain protestors. Within the first few months of the coup, over 800 civilians had been killed by the Tatmadaw. Despite the immense loss of life and violent military suppression, protests continued. However, they did not keep the same peaceful mentality of the original demonstrations, as anti-coup protestors began fighting back against the Tatmadaw, leading to a revolution that seemed more and more like an all-out civil war as the months went on (4). With the people of Myanmar feeling that they had no military force working to protect them, an exiled political party called NUG (National Unity Government) formed the People’s Defence Force on 5th of May 5th 2021 (5).

Objectives & Ideology

According to NUG press releases, the PDF’s main objective is to defend and protect the lives, properties, and livelihoods of the people of the Federal Union of Myanmar. The PDF believes that it is their duty to collaborate with other allied forces to safeguard the security of the people, overthrow the military dictatorship by waging what they perceive as a just war, organize defense zones throughout Myanmar, and carry out evacuation procedures for natural disaster-driven incidents. The PDF regard their civilian-controlled structure and democratic focus as the prime factors of their organization (6).

Approach to Resistance

Following the examples set by previous resistance groups in Myanmar, the PDF believes the only way to combat the Tatmadaw’s violent rule is through armed resistance. The PDF attempt to oppose Tatmadaw forces in any way possible. However, due to their lack of equipment, they primarily conduct guerilla-style attacks such as Ambushes akin to drive-by shootings and IED strikes (7).

In villages that support the PDF’s cause and near their training camps, rebel fighters construct defensive jungle outposts to hinder Tatmadaw attacks (8). However, Tatmadaw airstrikes and artillery barrages still wreak havoc on these liberated locations (9). To increase their ability to fight, PDF fighters construct small arms via methods such as 3D printing and metalworking with makeshift materials. Most notably, the PDF has been seen using the FGC-9, a 3D printable 9mm carbine, which became widely circulated throughout the internet after files were published in 2020 (10). Besides armed resistance, PDF soldiers with backgrounds in the medical field also act as nurses for civilian villages (11).

International Relations & Potential Alliances

Besides sanctions placed on the Myanmar government primarily by western nations, the PDF has received no support from international organizations. The PDF instead rely heavily on ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to help them in their fight against the Tatmadaw. EAOs, such as the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), have been fighting the Myanmar military for decades and resemble an organized paramilitary group. With training camps and outposts throughout Myanmar, these EAOs have welcomed PDF fighters to bolster their numbers. Working in conjunction, EAOs and the PDF carry out attacks on Tatmadaw assets, train newly recruited fighters, and occupy defensive positions throughout the jungles of Myanmar (12).

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - Dunst, Charles. “The Myanmar Coup as an ASEAN Inflection Point.” JOURNAL OF INDO-PACIFIC AFFAIRS, August 2021.

Renshaw, Catherine, and Michael Lidauer. “The Union Election Commission of Myanmar 2010–2020.” Asian Journal of Comparative Law 16, no. S1 (December 14, 2021).

(2) - On Myanmar's Front Line: Armed Resistance Gathers Pace | People and Power. YouTube. Aljazeera, 2022.

Eydoux, Thomas. “How Rebel Fighters Are Using 3D-Printed Arms to Fight the Myanmar Junta.” The Observers - France 24. The Observers - France 24, January 11, 2022.

(3) - “University of Central Arkansas: 22 Burma/Myanmar (1948-Present).” Political Science.

(4) - Dunst, Charles. “The Myanmar Coup as an ASEAN Inflection Point.” JOURNAL OF INDO-PACIFIC AFFAIRS, August 2021.

“University of Central Arkansas: 22 Burma/Myanmar (1948-Present).” Political Science.

(5) - “PDF .” People's Defence Force – ကာကွယ်ရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန.

(6) - “PDF .” People's Defence Force – ကာကွယ်ရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန.

(7) - Hundreds of Anti-Junta Bomb Attacks Have Occurred in Myanmar since the Military Coup on Feb. 1, 2021. YouTube. Radio Free Asia, 2022.

Instagram. Our Wars Today.

(8) - Training in Karen Army Camp for the Revolution - PDF - Part 1 - Trailer. YouTube. YouTube, 2021.

(9) - Myanmar's Jungle Warriors. YouTube. Vice News, 2022.

(10) - Eydoux, Thomas. “How Rebel Fighters Are Using 3D-Printed Arms to Fight the Myanmar Junta.” The Observers - France 24. The Observers - France 24, January 11, 2022.

Myanmar: People's Defence Force Braced for Army Assault. YouTube. AlJazeera, 2022.

(11) - Myanmar: People's Defence Force Braced for Army Assault. YouTube. AlJazeera, 2022.

(12) - Burmese People's Defense Force Hard Training, KNDO Army Camp, Karen State, Burma. YouTube. YouTube, 2022.

Additional Resources


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