Junta Watch: Coup Leader’s Confession; Bogus Show of ‘Leniency’ and More

By The Irrawaddy 11 December 2021

The coup leader’s confession

At a meeting of his regime’s cabinet in Naypyitaw on Dec. 3, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing admitted Myanmar’s economy is suffering from the impact of COVID-19 and the post-coup political upheaval, which has forced foreign firms to withdraw from the country. For various reasons, the regime is being deprived of tax revenue, including income tax, he added.

Since the Feb. 1 military takeover, people have shown their opposition to the coup in various ways, including an economic boycott that has dealt a serious blow to the regime. People have refused to pay tax and utility bills, and boycotted military-linked products as well as the state lottery, which otherwise would supply the regime with billions of kyats to fund its coup. More than a dozen multinational firms have ceased their operations in Myanmar.

This has forced Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy Soe Win to continuously remind the ministries to be thrifty, and make sure they collect taxes in full. To reduce its heavy expenditures on edible oil and fuel imports, the regime has announced plans to launch fleets of electric buses and, ridiculously, Min Aung Hlaing has urged people to reduce their oil consumption when cooking.

Ten months into the coup, people are still refusing to pay taxes to the regime. On Oct. 15, the revenue office near Maha Bandula Park in downtown Yangon was bombed.

Junta’s brutality only fuels opposition

Security forces in a car ram protesters in Kyimyindaing Township on Dec. 5.

At least four people were feared killed, according to witnesses, after Myanmar security forces in a car rammed into an anti-coup protest in Yangon’s Kyimyindaing Township. The regime appears to think that such vehicular homicide in Myanmar’s commercial capital will act as a deterrent to others.

To the contrary, the flames of public hatred toward the military were only fanned when photos and videos showing the junta vehicle crashing into protesters, and security forces firing shots and beating unarmed protesters, went viral on social media,

Far from falling for the regime’s scare tactics, people took to the streets in various towns to stage flash-mob counterprotests in the wake of the incident, while People’s Defense Force (PDF) groups launched deadly assaults on regime targets in retaliation for the vehicle-ramming attack on their Yangon comrades. That night, people resumed banging pots and pans to show that their opposition to the military regime is unwavering 10 months into the coup. Furious, junta soldiers entered residential wards and yelled threats at the protesters.

Needless to say, no one believes a word of the junta’s statement that it acted in line with rules and regulations to break up the unauthorized protest in Kyimyindaing, and that only three people were injured in the crowd “dispersal”.

Coup leader sets up photo opportunities

Coup leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing (left) and NLD Patron U Tin Oo in Yangon on Dec 5. / Cncds

Min Aung Hlaing visited 94-year-old National League for Democracy patron U Tin Oo at his home in Yangon on Dec. 5 and inquired after his health. U Tin Oo, a former commander-in-chief of defense services who is now barely able to speak after suffering a serious stroke several years ago, wore an NLD jacket emblazoned with the party’s red badge as he received his junior. NLD members remarked that the meeting was politically motivated.

The visit came one day before a junta court sentenced the party’s chairperson, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and deposed President U Win Myint to four years’ imprisonment for public incitement and violating COVID-19 restrictions.

Coup leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing (left) and former spy chief Khin Nyunt in Yangon on Dec 5. / Cncds

The same day, Min Aung Hlaing met former military intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The 82-year-old former spy chief was responsible for deadly interrogations and the persecution of hundreds—if not more—of Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists during and after the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. He locked up many dissidents in the country’s remote prisons.

Following in Than Shwe’s footsteps

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Win Myint / The Irrawaddy

On Dec. 6, a regime court sentenced detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison after convicting her of two out of 12 cases against her—sedition and breaching COVID-19 restrictions. President U Win Myint was also given two years for the same offenses.

Within hours, the duo’s sentences were commuted to two years by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who ordered that the two be placed under house arrest.

The move reminded the people of a similar case in which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was given three years in prison in 2008 for sheltering US citizen John William Yettaw, who, unbeknownst to her, swam across Inya Lake to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence, where she was being confined by the previous regime led by Senior General Than Shwe. At the time, Than Shwe instructed that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be spared from serving half her sentence, on condition that she behaved well during the first half of the term. The latest commutation makes it clear that Min Aung Hlaing clings to the old regime playbook.

The show of “leniency” earned Min Aung Hlaing no praise, however. The world knows the arrests and prosecution of the State Counselor and President have been entirely unjustified from the outset, and that he granted the pardon in the hope that it would earn him some credit. But what has the move won him? Of course, only more curses from the people.

Unholy alliance

Myanmar regime-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin (left) and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on Dec 7. / Samdech Hun Sen, Cambodian Prime Minister / Facebook

Cambodia’s prime minister has never had a good reputation, at home or abroad. He has often drawn criticism for his poor human rights record, and is assumed to be a puppet of Beijing. Shortly after Cambodia took over ASEAN’s rotating chair for 2022, he received Min Aung Hlaing’s foreign minister in Phnom Penh, and announced that he would visit Myanmar on Jan. 7-8 to meet the junta chief. If the visit takes place as scheduled, he will become the first head of government to fly to Myanmar to meet the blood-stained coup leader, who has so far been shunned as an outcast by the international community.

However, days after Hun Sen announced his visit to Myanmar, US Counselor Derek Chollet began a trip to Cambodia and Indonesia to discuss key regional issues, including the importance of strengthening US-ASEAN cooperation to press the Myanmar military regime to cease violence and release all those unjustly detained, among other things. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit Indonesia and Malaysia next week to discuss regional issues including the Myanmar coup. Their trips will surely have an impact on Hun Sen’s planned trip to Myanmar and relations between the regime and ASEAN. Let’s wait and see.

UN move sees junta lose face on world stage

U Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, gives the three-finger salute to show solidarity with the anti-regime movement in the country while addressing the General Assembly on Feb. 26, 2021.

The junta suffered another international humiliation on Dec. 6 as the UN ambassador of Myanmar’s civilian government, U Kyaw Moe Tun, retained his position for the time being after the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution delaying a decision on who will represent the country at the world body.

The ambassador shamed the regime in late February by denouncing the coup at a General Assembly (UNGA) gathering and asking for the international community’s help in restoring democracy in Myanmar. Furious, the junta has been trying to replace U Kyaw Moe Tun with their man, but in vain so far. The UNGA’s decision highlights the fact that the world in no way recognizes the junta as the legitimate government of Myanmar. The regime, which has shown a tendency to make noise whenever the UN makes an announcement about it, took the pain silently this time.

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