MIZORAM – A group of police officers who defied the Myanmar army's orders to shoot opponents of the coup recounted their experience after they escaped to India. While speaking, they raised a three-finger salute — a symbol of resistance to Myanmar’s military rulers.
“We cannot hurt our people, that’s why we came to Mizoram,” said one of the men, who hails from the northwestern town of Tedim. Mizoram state in India’s northeast shares a border with Bangladesh and Myanmar.
After the army coup, the police were ordered to “shoot people and not just the people, we were told to shoot our own family if they are not on the side of the army,” he said. The Associated Press has not been able to independently verify their claims, though images and accounts of the security forces' crackdown inside Myanmar have shown intensifying violence against civilians.
Indian villagers in Mizoram have given shelter to 34 police personnel and one firefighter who crossed into India over the last two weeks. They spoke to an AP photojournalist on condition of anonymity because of fears of retribution against family members still in Myanmar.
Back in Myanmar, the three-finger salute, which traces its origins to the Hunger Games books and movies by Suzanne Collins, is being used by youth protesters at massive anti-army demonstrations.
Meanwhile, K. Vanlalvena, a lawmaker from Mizoram state, urged the Indian government not to deport refugees from Myanmar until the return of normalcy there. The lawmaker belongs to the Mizo National Front, an ally of India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party.
Those who escaped spend their time watching television and doing chores. Some have carried mobile phones and are trying to connect to families they were forced to leave behind. At night, all of them sleep on mattresses on the floor of a single room.
One of them told the AP that they were under the command of Myanmar's army.
“We are all policemen working under the Myanmar government. We left our family in Myanmar. We do not know what is happening to our family, but they will face a lot of problems from the army. We came to Mizoram for shelter, we will die if we go back there,” he said.
“We cannot reach our parents due to telecommunication problems, but what we heard is they are very scared to go out of their homes ... I’m hoping that one day we will meet again,” he added.
Earlier this month, Myanmar asked India to return the police officers who crossed the border. India shares a 1,643-kilometer (1,020-mile) border with Myanmar, and is home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar in different states.
Last week, Ramliana, president of a Village Council in Mizoram state, a community-based body, said 116 Myanmar nationals crossed the Tiau River and reached Farkawn Village through a stretch where India’s paramilitary Assam Rifles personnel were not present. He uses one name.
India’s state and federal government officials haven’t given an exact number of people from Myanmar who have crossed over to India after the coup.
Last week, India’s Home Ministry told four Indian states bordering Myanmar — Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh — to take measures to prevent refugees from entering India except on humanitarian grounds.
The ministry said the states were not authorized to accord refugee status to anyone entering India from Myanmar, as India is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention of 1951 or its 1967 Protocol.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military for most of its history since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. A gradual move toward democracy in the past decade allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to lead a civilian government beginning in 2016, although the country's generals retained substantial power under a military-drafted constitution.
Her party won last November’s election by a landslide, but the military stepped in before Parliament was to convene on Feb. 1, detained Suu Kyi and other government officials and instituted a state of emergency, alleging the vote was tainted by fraud.
Verified tallies show more than 200 people have been killed by security forces in Myanmar since the coup. They have used live fire and rubber bullets against protesters and some detainees have died in custody.