On March 10, a tweet claimed an army in Myanmar provided protection to protesters and described it as the first of its kind.
The tweet contained photos that showed a group of armed men garbed in military uniform as well as people in civilian clothes standing behind them. In what appears to be a march, many of them are holding flags. The tweet has over 300 likes and 100 shares.
However, the claim is misleading. These photos do not show the Myanmar army.
The men in uniform belong to the Karen National Police Force (KNPF), the police unit of the Karen National Union (KNU), a political organization seeking autonomy for the Karen ethnic group in Myanmar.
A keyword search using part of the tweet in question in Chinese “緬甸首支為示威民眾提供武裝保護的軍隊” led to another tweet posted two days earlier with the same set of photos, but this post says the troops serve the KNU.
Annie Lab identified the flag in the photos as the Karen national flag used by the KNU, based on its features. The tricolor flag with red, blue and white with nine rays of light at the top left corner is identical to the Karen national flag found on the internet.
A search with the keyword “KNU” led to a tweet by Mizzima News on March 8 that links to a video showing KNU armed personnel escorting “Karen teachers and students protesting the coup, near the southern city of Dawei.” Mizzima posted on Facebook that the video was from the AFP.
Both videos from Mizzima and Dawei Watch show one of the men in the tweeted photo wearing a uniform with the same insignia and a cap with the same logo.
Both the man in the video and the photo can be seen with a rifle with the same red pistol grip, a drinking flask holstered on the right side and a hand grenade attached to the strap.
A screenshot of one of the frames of the Dawei Watch video showed the insignia up close.
Annie Lab found that it has white rays placed against blue and white, with a yellow star in the middle.
The insignia on the cap, on the other hand, has a star connected to what looked like horns.
News articles about the KNPF we found in Karen News, a news site run by Karen journalists, Frontier Myanmar and Reuters all featured men and women donning uniforms and caps with the same insignia as that of the man in the photo.
According to Mizzima, the starting point of the march is a village called Myay Khan Baw. Annie Lab was able to find the village in Tanintharyi Region that matches the name both in English and Burmese through the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU) under the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.
The Karen ethnic minority communities live in the southeastern state of Kayin and have sought autonomy. The KNU political organization, which has its own army, has been engaged in a conflict with the military of Myanmar called Tatmadaw for 70 years.
Since the coup in February the KNU has been involved in 200 clashes with the Tatmadaw, according to a report by Just Security at New York University School of Law.