Junta Watch: Coup Leader Finds a ‘Godbrother’, Sacks a General, Backs a Friendly Monk and More

By The Irrawaddy 15 January 2022

Myanmar Air Force chief General Maung Maung Kyaw (center) is seen during the ‘Sin Phyu Shin’ joint military exercise in Ayeyarwady Region in February 2018. / AFP

Regime reshuffles key military posts

General Maung Maung Kyaw, who as Myanmar’s air force chief oversaw airstrikes that killed dozens of civilians and displaced thousands, was forced to retire on Jan. 10 and replaced with Chief of Staff (Air Force) Lieutenant General Tun Aung.

The military said Maung Maung Kyaw, who had served as air force chief for four years since January 2018, was due to retire as per the military’s retirement policy, issued in 2021, which sets the terms of office for the military leadership. Under the policy, his term could have been extended for two more years, and at 58 the general is still two years short of the official retirement age in Myanmar. It is not clear why coup leader Min Aung Hlaing sacked him.

Maung Maung Kyaw will however remain on the State Administration Council (SAC), the governing body of the military regime. He graduated with the 26th intake of the Defense Services Academy and is the youngest son of General Thura Kyaw Htin, who served as the air force chief in the 1980s during Ne Win’s military dictatorship.

SAC Secretary Lieutenant General Aung Lin Dwe was also recently forced to step down as judge advocate general of the military. He remains SAC secretary, however. The commander of the Monywa-based North Western Command, Major General Phyo Thant, was also transferred to the Border Affairs Ministry as deputy minister. The transfer came after intense fighting in Sagaing, which is overseen by the North Western Command.

There is unsurprisingly no mandatory retirement age for the ranks of Senior General and Vice Senior General in the retirement policy issued in 2021.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) greets Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing during a meeting in Naypyitaw on Jan. 7, 2022. / AFP

Birds of a feather flock together

Min Aung Hlaing asked Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to be his “Godbrother” during the latter’s visit to Myanmar, reported Fresh News, a pro-Hun Sen media outlet. Min Aung Hlaing reportedly told the authoritarian Cambodian leader, who has held power for 36 years, that “in the future if the premier celebrates any family gatherings such as [a] wedding ceremony, he would like to be invited as a guest.”

It was in his role as the current chairperson of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that Hun Sen met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, whose ouster of the elected government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has plunged Myanmar into violent conflict and economic disaster.

During his two-day visit to Naypyitaw on Jan. 7 and 8 Hun Sen became the first head of government to visit Myanmar since the military takeover last February. Protests and rallies were held in some parts of Myanmar as people expressed anger at the visit.

Cambodia was forced to postpone the first ASEAN meeting under its 2022 chairmanship amid reports of differences among the bloc’s members over Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar, during which he did not meet democracy leaders.

Dhammaduta Chekinda (center) receives a meal from Min Aung Hlaing (right) and his wife Daw Kyu Kyu Hla (left) at the Hsekeindayama Monastery in Dhammaduta Zaytawun Tawya, Hmawby Township, Yangon Region on Feb. 24, 2019. / Cncds

Amended law benefits regime-friendly monk

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing signed into law an amendment to the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University Law on Jan. 11. The amendment allows the university’s deputy rector Ashin Chekinda, a well-known Buddhist monk close to the coup leader, to remain in the position for 15 consecutive years with the possibility of an extension, should the regime consent to it.

On Myanmar’s Independence Day on Jan. 4, the coup leader conferred on Ashin Chekinda the title Agga Maha Pandit, an honorific bestowed on Buddhist monks who demonstrate a high proficiency in teaching Buddhist doctrine.

The monk is known for his summer school programs, in which he teaches teenagers Buddhism and other subjects like civics, attracting hundreds of youngsters annually. He has barely appeared in public since the coup and has been tight-lipped about the regime’s brutal crackdowns on peaceful protesters, some of whom were the same age as his summer school students.

When Min Aung Hlaing and his family renovated the Kyaik Devi pagoda in Hlegu Township on the outskirts of Yangon Region in December, the monk was present at the ceremony, confirming suspicions that he is close to Min Aung Hlaing.

The remains of vehicles burned by junta soldiers in Hpruso Township, Kayah State, in December. / KNDF

The thief cries ‘Thief!’

The military regime announced on Jan. 12 that it would take action against the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the political wing of the Karenni Army, and People’s Defense Force (PDF) groups, labeling them terrorist organizations and accusing them of committing war crimes as defined by the Geneva Conventions and international law in Kayah State’s Loikaw.

The regime accused the KNPP and PDFs of taking cover in religious buildings, schools and residential wards, and of using civilians as human shields to attack its troops, as well as using heavy guns to attack Loikaw Prison.

In reality, almost all residents of Loikaw have been forced to flee junta airstrikes since last week. At the same time, the regime has imposed restrictions making it difficult for displaced people from the town to flee into other regions and states. Junta soldiers have been looting and torching houses in abandoned wards and villages.

On Dec. 24, at least 35 people including women and children were killed and burned in seven vehicles by junta soldiers near the village of Moso in Hpruso Township. It was unclear whether the victims were burned alive or after they were killed.

The military regime said the bodies found in the vehicles were those of PDF fighters. It said one of their vehicles caught fire during an armed clash and the blaze spread to other vehicles. It was a particularly obvious lie from the regime, as the so-called “PDF fighters” included children who were not even in their early teens, and the burned vehicles were some distance apart, as seen in photos.

Months ago, Chin State’s Thantlang and Karen State’s Lay Kay Kaw became virtual ghost towns after being subjected to junta raids. Many a religious building and house were damaged by junta shelling, something that has become routine during regime raids. The junta’s statement on the fighting in Loikaw is nothing more than a case of a thief crying “Thief!”

Indian cardiologists pose with Min Aung Hlaing (center) along with Myanmar doctors and nurses.

Coup leader calls on Indian doctors to save his grandchild

India’s Telangana Today reported last week that two senior pediatric cardiologists from Hyderabad were specially invited to perform a heart procedure on the grandchild of coup leader Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon last month.

The two cardiologists operated on the infant, who was born some two months after the coup. According to the newspaper, the 9-month-old was discharged the day after the operation and was doing well.

In a picture published by Telangana Today, Min Aung Hlaing, on whose orders more than 1,000 people including pregnant women, preschoolers and school-aged children have been killed since last year’s coup, appeared visibly relieved after his grandchild’s life was saved.

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