CNN  — 

A dozen armed recruits crawl along a dusty pathway, the cicadas masking any sound of their approach towards their target, a small village in the jungles of Myanmar.

The ambush scenario is fabricated but the threat they are training for is real: a military junta that seized power in a coup on February 1, and embarked on a brutal crackdown on any perceived opposition to its rule.

Many of those who have fled to the jungles are members of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) – which has seen thousands of white- and blue-collar workers, including medics and teachers, as well as engineers and factory workers, leave their jobs to disrupt the economy in resistance to the coup.

Members of Myanmar's Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) undertake military training in the country's ethnic border regions, as clashes with the ruling junta escalate.

Now they want to know how to defend themselves from Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, which continues to shoot people dead in the streets, has deployed rocket-propelled grenades and mortars against its own citizens, and hunts those wanted for arrest in terrifying nighttime raids on homes, according to the UN.

So they have traveled to the county’s borderlands, to areas control by ethnic armed groups that have been fighting the military, central government and each other for greater rights and autonomy, on and off for 70 years, to be taught how to fire a gun.

Maj. Gen. Nerdah Bo Mya is chief of staff of the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), one of two armed wings of the Karen National Union (KNU), Myanmar’s oldest rebel group that claims to protect the ethnic minority Karen people and their territory in southeastern Karen state.

He heads up a free basic training program. “This is a responsibility to protect life,” he said. “If we don’t train them who’s going to help them?” The increasingly violent tactics used against protesters and bystanders has led to more than 760 deaths, according to advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), although they say the actual death toll is likely far higher.

Nerdah Bo Mya said not one of the 200 anti-coup protesters he has trained had held a gun before and many were still in college. “They’re quite young, their age is around 24, 25 – and some are nurses and also some doctors and medical staff,” he said.

As well as being told how to handle weapons, they are prepared for the physical hardships of combat, shown first aid techniques and taught basic marksmanship.

The KNDO is not the only armed ethnic group offering CDM members training. Footage from a number of ethnic areas shows recruits chanting slogans, such as “for the people,” “for our freedom” and “for our independence.”

The military junta has not responded to CNN’s request for comment on these camps. On May 4, however, the military leadership published a statement in the state-run New Light of Myanmar calling on those who had traveled to ethnic areas or overseas to come home.

Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)  protesters train with armed groups in the wake of a military coup in Myanmar.

Basic training for anti-coup protesters

Once they have received the training, the idea is for the men and women to return to their cities and pass on their knowledge to fellow protesters.

One 18-year-old, who was manning a roadblock in the city of Bago last month when dozens were killed by the military, said many of his comrades had traveled to the ethnic areas for training. He had stayed behind.

Asking to remain anonymous for his safety, the teenager said: “We have two groups, one to protect the neighborhood and another went to get the training and they will come back and teach us what they have learned.”

Nerdah Bo Mya acknowledges it is a very one-sided battle on the streets of Myanmar.

“We told them they have to be wise and we have to fight with our head and not with our heart,” he said, ack