Junta Watch: A Disingenuous Call for ‘Peace’, Regime Boss Seeks Divine Help, and More
By The Irrawaddy 12 February 2022
Junta hopes ‘peace talks’ with EAOs will ease pressure
On Sunday, the military regime invited ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to join preliminary peace talks to be held on Saturday, Myanmar’s 75th annual Union Day.
Both signatories and non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) have been invited to the talks, but the parallel National Unity Government (NUG), as well as its parliamentary body, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Force (PDF)—all of which the regime has labeled as terrorist organizations—are excluded from the planned talks.
Padoh Saw Taw Nee, head of foreign affairs at the Karen National Union, which is a signatory to the NCA, issued a strong response to the junta’s proposal. “We no longer have the NCA on our mind. They [the military regime] have already violated the NCA, and we have therefore cut ties with them.”
The regime said participants are free to discuss any topic at the talks, but most of the EAOs told The Irrawaddy they are not sure whether they will attend the event. The Irrawaddy has also learned that the regime has sought help from China to push the Northern Alliance—a military coalition comprising the Arakan Army, Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army—to attend the event.
The peace talks are simply the regime’s attempt to kill two birds with one stone. The presence of EAOs at the Union Day event will lend some legitimacy to the regime—or at least allow it to spread propaganda. At the same time, if the regime, which is at war not only with EAOs but also numerous resistance groups, can convince the EAOs to enter a ceasefire, it would gain some breathing space for itself.
Cambodian PM red-faced after Australian detainee ‘release’ gaffe
The military regime denied releasing detained Australian economics professor Sean Turnell after Cambodia said he had been freed.
On Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Prof. Turnell had been released the previous day, claiming the development came about after he passed on a request from Australia’s government. But by that evening he had been forced to issue a retraction on Facebook saying he had received faulty information.
During his visit to Myanmar in January, the first by a foreign head of government since last year’s coup, Hun Sen brought the matter up with Min Aung Hlaing.
Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told AFP that Hun Sen had misinterpreted coup leader Min Aung Hlaing’s statement that he would think about a release for Turnell after the adviser’s legal case was over.
Turnell was working as an economic adviser to civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when he was detained shortly after the coup in February last year. He has been charged with violating the Official Secrets Act and faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison if found guilty.
On Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called on the regime to release the economist, and said Australian officials should be able to observe his court proceedings.
Flag relay held despite fresh COVID-19 outbreak
On Tuesday, the military regime held a relay that saw the national flag transported from Yangon to Naypyitaw as part of celebrations for the 75th Union Day on Saturday in the administrative capital. The relay came amid a significant surge in coronavirus cases in the commercial capital.
Hundreds of people including military personnel and their families, regime employees and military sympathizers were involved in the relay as the flag was carried from Yangon City Hall to Yangon International Airport. From there it was carried by a military aircraft to Naypyitaw, and then to Naypyitaw City Hall. Students were involuntarily brought in to cheer the flag along the route.
The flag was carried by more than a dozen masked regime officials, none of whom wore gloves. Regime officials are ignoring COVID-19 regulations after prosecuting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under the Disaster Management Law for alleged violation of COVID-19 regulations because the civilian leader greeted one of her party’s election convoys during campaigning ahead of the 2020 general election.
Hypocritically, even as the regime salutes the national flag, which it calls the Union Flag, its forces continue aerial and artillery strikes that have killed scores of civilians and displaced tens of thousands more in ethnic states.
Junta adviser Lt-Gen Yar Pyae promoted to SAC
Minister of Union Government Office (1) and national security adviser Lieutenant General Yar Pyae was promoted to membership in the State Administration Council (SAC), the governing body of the military regime, on Tuesday.
A graduate of the 22nd intake of the Defense Services Academy, Lt-Gen Yar Pyae was a classmate of junta No. 2 Vice Senior General Soe Win. He was the head of the military’s peace negotiation team under the National League for Democracy government, and became chairman of the junta-appointed National Solidarity and Peace Negotiation Committee (NSPNC) after the military coup last year.
The NSPNC met some political parties on the pretext of holding peace talks in October last year. The committee drew criticism when member Lieutenant General Win Bo Shein proposed a switch to the proportional representation electoral system at the meeting.
Lt-Gen Yar Pyae has served as the commandant of the Defense Services Medical Academy, chief of Eastern Command, judge advocate-general, chief of armed forces training and Bureau of Special Operations chief. He was appointed Union Government Office Minister four months after the coup, and became a national security adviser shortly thereafter.
Ambassadors snub minister, dodge briefing
Junta Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin held a diplomatic briefing on recent developments in Myanmar on Tuesday in Yangon. To the regime’s embarrassment, only three ambassadors were present at the briefing, though there are more than 40 embassies in Yangon.
The briefing was intended for foreign diplomats and heads of UN agencies in Myanmar. But only three ambassadors, including those of Russia and Japan, attended the briefing, at which officials repeated the junta’s narrative of the takeover. ASEAN countries only sent lower-level representatives.
The foreign minister urged UNCTED, ACCT, ASEANPOL and Interpol to denounce the “terrorist” acts of the parallel civilian National Unity Government, its parliamentary body the CRPH and armed wing the PDF, and called for cooperation in counterterrorism operations.
But no one seemed to take the request seriously. Global police body Interpol said on Thursday it will not provide help to countries in situations that involve domestic politics, two days after the Myanmar army announced it had sought its support.
Min Aung Hlaing’s advisers Dr. Daw Yin Yin Nwe, Dr. Salai Ngun Cung Lian and Daw Yin Yin Oo were also present at the briefing. Daw Yin Yin Nwe, the former daughter-in-law of the late military dictator Ne Win and onetime education adviser to former President U Thein Sein, talked about alleged electoral fraud in the 2020 general election and violence allegedly committed by the PDF. She has been strongly critical of the NUG, CRPH, PDF and striking civil servants.
Dr. Salai Ngun Cung Lian continued to defend the military regime, repeating his assertion that the military takeover was in line with the army-drafted 2008 Constitution. He was a legal counsel for the defunct Myanmar Peace Center and Rakhine State Inquiry Commission under President U Thein Sein administration’s from 2012 to 2015.
Daw Yin Yin Oo, the eldest daughter of Ne Win’s protégé Dr. Maung Maung, was present but did not brief the diplomats.
Hoping for a long rule, junta boss invokes magic
Min Aung Hlaing’s words and deeds over the last year reveal the type of person he is. People know more about his personality one year after the coup. It is known to the world that he is power crazy. But he is still far from becoming a totalitarian leader given that he has not been able to take control of the country one year after the putsch. And he is obviously detached from reality, as can be seen in, for example, his plans to operate electric buses in a country that has long suffered from frequent blackouts.
Like his military dictator predecessors, Min Aung Hlaing believes deeply in various superstitions—astrology, occultism, numerology, black magic and yadaya—magic rituals performed to delay, neutralize or prevent misfortune.
This was proven when Min Aung Hlaing together with his family placed the “Hti” umbrella atop a pagoda in Pwintbyu Township in Magwe Region on Thursday.
The umbrella is considered the most important part of the pagoda, and is placed atop the highest part of the religious structure. The Hti is also one of five items of Myanmar royal regalia, and represents sovereignty.
It is unusual to place a new Hti on a pagoda that is in good condition. Normally, only when a pagoda is damaged and being renovated is a new Hti placed on it. The pagoda on which Min Aung Hlaing placed a Hti was built only 18 years ago by a donor.
The pagoda was originally just 13.5 feet (about 4 meters) high. But Min Aung Hlaing has raised the height to 45 feet. Please don’t ask why 45 feet and not 50 or 60 feet. Myanmar generals have a traditional obsession with the number 9, which is the regime’s talisman.
It is also strange that Min Aung Hlaing has chosen a small pagoda in the provincial town, out of the countless pagodas in the country. When reporting the story, state-run media cited a local myth about a monk who once said the pagoda could help bring peace and prosperity. Maybe that’s why Min Aung Hlaing picked the unknown structure; the general must be getting twitchy due to the constant attacks on his forces by PDF groups and EAOs.
After putting the Hti atop the pagoda, Min Aung Hlaing together with his son Aung Pyae Sone and some of his regime members shouted three times “Aung Pyi!”—a common phrase used to mark the successful conclusion of a religious ceremony. But in the mouth of Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar people are all too aware that the exclamation is intended as a yadaya, shouted in the hope of conquering his enemies.
In February 2020, Min Aung Hlaing placed a Hti atop the Htilominlo Pagoda, an ancient pagoda in Bagan. On Dec. 18 last year, he, together with his family, did the same at the centuries-old Kyaik Devi Pagoda in Yangon’s Hlegu Township. Myanmar people know he did so solely in the hope of ensuring that his rule in Myanmar will be a long one.
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