Burma Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has offered his assurance that the military will carry out its national defense duties regardless of the form that the government sworn into power next year takes.
The message was posted to his Facebook account on Monday, stating: “Whichever government is in office and whichever political system is adopted, the main duty of the Tatmadaw [Burma Armed Forces] is national defense.”
His comments come amid an uncertain transition period in Burma as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) prepares to form a new government, following her party’s landslide Nov. 8 election victory. In the last week, Suu Kyi has met separately with Min Aung Hlaing, outgoing President Thein Sein and Than Shwe, the reclusive leader of Burma’s former junta.
The commander-in-chief’s Facebook post was made after he met Burma Army officers, rank-and-file soldiers and their families in Kengtung and Monghsat townships in Shan State, a conflict-torn region in eastern Burma where ethnic human rights groups say an estimated 10,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting between the government and ethnic Shan rebels.
Min Aung Hlaing also said the Burma Army was duty-bound to ensure peace and stability in the region, tasks that necessary required the military to “have combat capacity and power. Intensive training is of great importance,” read the post.
“Because the Tatmadaw is legally tasked with national defense duties, all must execute these duties well. Although national defense is easier said than done, it is a duty to be served at the risk of lives. So, a lack of attention is unacceptable,” Min Aung Hlaing told members of the Burma Army.
He and his wife Kyu Kyu Hla also toured a military hospital in the town of Monghsat to offer encouragement to hospitalized military personnel and their family members, as well as presenting cash and gifts.
He told military members that there should not be armed conflicts “on the path to a multi-party democratic system in Burma.”
“The country will develop peacefully only when the armed conflicts come to an end. On the one hand, the army must fight to win, as it is safeguarding the country,” his post read.
While the Burma Army signed a so-called “nationwide ceasefire agreement” with eight ethnic rebel groups on Oct. 15, it is currently engaged in hostilities with major non-signatories to the accord in Kachin and Shan states, displacing thousands of civilians. Right groups have claimed human rights abuses including attacks on civilians, rape and indiscriminate shelling of schools and temples during offensives against the Shan State Army-North that began on Oct. 6.
The United States on Thursday called for a credible, independent investigation by the Burmese government into the reports of military atrocities in Shan State, saying the claims were “reprehensible” if true.
“We are concerned by reports of Burmese military atrocities, including allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and infrastructure, rape, and other acts of sexual violence,” Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
She said perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions if the allegations made by the Shan Human Rights Foundation proved accurate.