A year after the violent takeover of the military in Myanmar, a silent struggle to regain democracy erupted

Bangkok – The lush Thai countryside just across the river from Myanmar protects refugees from a fight they did not choose. Some days, Myanmar military offensives are so close to the border that stray bullets ricochet over to the Thai side.

CBS News Asia correspondent Elizabeth Palmer says this is where tens of thousands of people – from Buddhist monks to political activists and everything in between – have taken refuge from the army, which seized power in Myanmar just one year ago on Tuesday.

The generals ousted the democratically elected civilian government, arrested its leaders, and sent the army into the streets to take control on February 1, 2021. If they did not expect resistance, they were wrong. The protests that followed were enormous and furious.

Thousands of Myanmar people came out to appease the ruling junta, ready to defend the fragile democracy that has just begun to take root in their country.

More than 100 killed in day of protests in Myanmar


But it was a route: The army opened fire on the protesters, and hundreds were killed,

Kyaw Zay Y was there.

“At the time, they were shooting at everyone,” he told Palmer.

Zay Y was not shot, but he was arrested among thousands of people during the ongoing street protests. He said security forces beat him with an electric cable before releasing him, 10 days later.

As soon as he could, he fled.

Zay Y is now housed in a new house – a safe house across the river in the Thai border town of Mae Sot – with his family, including his brother-in-law, Myat Thu. Until a few months ago, he was a captain in the Myanmar army. In the fall, he decided to leave.

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“I could no longer serve,” he told Palmer, as part of his job had become civilian.

The United Nations Human Rights Office said on Tuesday that at least 1,500 people had been killed in protests against the coup over the past year. The junta’s security forces illegally detained nearly 12,000 people during that period, more than 8,700 of whom remain in custody, according to UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.

Since the coup, some democracy activists have resorted to violence. There have been hundreds of bombings against the junta and its security forces. In the northern jungle, young people volunteer for military training with Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups.

On the Thai side of the river, former army captain Thu arrives – learning military tactics online.

Also sheltered in Mae Sot are politicians, including former lawyer and activist Kyaw Ni. He has been appointed Deputy Minister of Labor in exile by the Myanmar National Unity Government, which is pressuring the international community to recognize its legitimacy.

Crucially, the exile wants access to some of Myanmar’s nearly $ 1 billion in government funds frozen by the Biden administration.

“There are a lot of things we need the money for,” Ni Palmer said. “Many of our members are fighting in exile, and we need to support the civil disobedience movement in Myanmar, and help the people who are in prison.”

Police are pictured behind barbed wire outside the Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar, October 18, 2021.

STR / AFP / Getty

Aung San Suu Kyi, the elected leader of Myanmar, was arrested by the generals and is now facing a number of charges that are widely seen as false. It’s very possibly she will spend the rest of her life in prison,

But the broader battle is not dead.

One year later, Myanmar’s democracy is finally down. But millions of brave citizens are trying to make sure it is not out.

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