The appearance of ex-generals from the previous Myanmar military regime at the Armed Forces Day commemoration and subsequent ceremony hosted by the current regime on Sunday proves that they are all in solidarity with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who staged a coup that has so far killed 1,700 people.
As part of events to mark Armed Forces Day, the coup leader paid respects to 25 retired senior military officials who attended the anniversary of the founding of the Myanmar military.
Most of the aging former soldiers were senior officials in the former Myanmar military regime that oppressed the country from 1988 to early 2011, when the regime handed over power to a proxy so-called civilian government.
At that point, some generals faded from public view while others took higher positions in the proxy administration, fooling the world into thinking that they were “reformists” who had left military dictatorship behind.
Among the 25 attendees to which Min Aung Hlaing paid his respects at the gathering were U Thein Sein, the president of the quasi-civilian government that relinquished power to the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy after his huge loss in the 2015 general election.
His appearance at the ceremony hosted by Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday proved that the former general was not a genuinely reform-minded president when he was internationally praised for the democratization process in Myanmar during his presidency from 2011 to early 2016.
As if to underscore the point, the former president was among two attendees who gave “words of advice” to coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, his wife and audience. What he advised on the day is unknown.
Pictures of the event show Min Aung Hlaing clasping his hands together and kneeling in front of U Thein Sein—a traditional Myanmar way of paying respect to elders—before giving him some honorary presents.
Though the event is said to be held annually, this year’s one turned out to be significant because Min Aung Hlaing personally attended the gathering, after being absent last year, and due to the former president’s appearance and his “words of advice” to the coup leader. The ceremony may well have been a way for Min Aung Hlaing to make a pretense of unity—even if only with the old soldiers—within the army, which has been demoralized in the face of public denunciation and growing defections since the coup.
Noticeably absent from the event were Myanmar’s ex-dictator Than Shwe and his former No. 2, Vice Senior General Maung Aye. The duo have rarely appeared in public since their retirement in 2011, not even attending Armed Forces Day commemorations as “honored guests.” They probably either can’t be bothered acknowledging any respect from Min Aung Hlaing, whom Than Shwe picked as his successor, or think the event is beneath them.
A few hours before the gathering, retired military officials gathered as “VVIPs” or “VIPs” for the Armed Forces Day event in Naypyitaw. Apparently proud of their service during the oppressive former military regime, as the pictures show, the beaming old soldiers clad in their uniforms seemed to be pleased with Min Aung Hlaing’s coup against the democratically elected NLD government in February last year.
Among them, no one seemed happier than U Soe Thane, an ex-admiral under the Than Shwe regime and a powerful minister in the Thein Sein administration, who openly praised the February coup in his book.
The other retired military officials present included, unsurprisingly, the chairman of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), U Than Htay. After the USDP’s embarrassingly heavy loss to the NLD in the 2020 general election, he was among those who sought Min Aung Hlaing’s intervention. The party’s former chairman U Htay Oo, who is also a former military officer, appeared too.
Other attendees included ex-General U Tin Aye, who used to be the chief of the union electoral body under the U Thein Sein administration, as well as U Nyan Tun, the former commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Navy-cum-vice president from 2012 to 2016. Former USDP lawmakers U Ohn Myint, U Maung Myint, U Hla Htay Win and U Wai Lwin—all retired military officers—appeared too.
Probable new faces at the event were the family of Myanmar’s first dictator Ne Win, who ruled the country from 1962 to 1988. Daw Khin Sandar Win, the dictator’s daughter, attended in a military uniform as she used to serve in a medic battalion. She appeared with her three sons Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win. They were jailed with their father for high treason for plotting to overthrow Senior General Than Shwe’s regime in 2002 and released in 2013.
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