As a devout Buddhist, Nay Lin Tun says he could not bring himself to fire upon the protesters, particularly the monks.

 

But he knew that if he refused to follow orders, he would almost certainly be arrested and perhaps face a firing squad.

 

In the end, Nay Lin Tun's Buddhist beliefs overruled his military discipline and he deserted.

 

'Sons of Buddha'

 

Myanmar's military


Army has had prominent role in Myanmar's history, having led the push for independence from Britain

Senior General Than Shwe retains an iron grip on the country through two key posts - as head of state and head of the military

Below him are generals who are regularly reshuffled to stop them gaining too much power

Next come the officers who are graduates of the elite Maymyo military school

Officially there is no conscription, but human rights groups say Myanmar is the world's biggest recruiter of child soldiers

Petty criminals, orphans and the poor are also forced to join the army's lower ranks

But observers say there are growing tensions in the army, with factional rivalries and uncertainty over a successor to Than Shwe

"I am a Buddhist. I don't want to kill monks," he told TV2 Norway after his escape.

 

"Monks are the sons of Buddha. So I left my position and fled the country."

 

Before the recent protests Nay Lin Tun had previously been an officer fighting Karen rebels east of Yangon.

 

When he decided to escape last week he contacted those former enemies who smuggled him and his son across the border into Thailand, where they are now in hiding.

 

Speaking to TV2 he said that even though he and his son had escaped Myanmar they were still not safe.

 

Myanmar has demanded he be returned to the country and he said he fears assassination or that the Thai authorities might send him back.

 

"If I go back, I will surely be killed," he said.

 

He says he wants to apply for asylum in Norway, where he has friends and which is a base to a large number of Myanmar exiles.

 

Nay Lin Tun's actions give a rare insight into Myanmar's secretive army of which only a little is known.

 

Desertions

 

Activists says hundreds were killed in the
bloody crackdown of protests [AFP]
Myanmar
's army has a force of more than 400,000 soldiers.

 

Treatment and training is harsh and insiders say there is a great deal of discontent within the ranks and an increasing number of desertions.

 

Zaw Oo, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University and head of the Vahu Institute, an independent think tank specialising in Myanmar, told Al Jazeera that Myanmar's army is not a monolithic force and is facing critical challenges.

 

In particular he said mid-level officers – those in charge of managing the foot soldiers - face huge frustrations.

 

"Burma is now facing a very tough economic crisis and this is also affecting the rank and file of the army," he said, using the country's former name.

 

"Last year the army lost at least 10,000 troops who deserted because they can no longer live under the very harsh conditions."

 

But despite this, fear remains the glue holding Myanmar's army together, with strict punishments for soldiers who do not toe the line. 

 

Speaking to TV 2 Nay Lin Tun said most officers in the army are "like robots", afraid of the consequences of refusing to follow orders.

 

He said that while there are other officers like him who are sympathetic to the protesters, it is very unlikely there will be any kind of mutiny against the country's military rulers.