Burma

Junta Watch: Ex-Air Force Chief Goes Missing, Strikers Warned and More

By The Irrawaddy 29 January 2022

Where is Maung Maung Kyaw?

Then-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

Since being forced to step down as the air force chief on Jan. 10, General Maung Maung Kyaw has not appeared in public for some three weeks.

Despite the dismissal, Maung Maung Kyaw, who oversaw deadly airstrikes on villagers and displaced civilians, remains a member of the State Administration Council (SAC), the regime’s governing body.

However, he did not appear at the first SAC meeting of 2022, held on Jan. 20. He was also absent from the final match of a women’s football tournament in Naypyitaw the following day that was attended by almost all the SAC members including junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and his wife Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, as well as most of the regime’s cabinet ministers and their wives.

Lieutenant General Aung Lin Dwe, who was forced to step down as the military’s judge advocate-general just before Maung Maung Kyaw’s dismissal but was kept on as SAC secretary, was present at the SAC meeting, however.

It is not clear whether Maung Maung Kyaw has taken leave because he is upset at being forced to step down at the age of just 58, or is simply busy working with the aviation companies owned by his relatives that supply Myanmar’s air force.

Maung Maung Kyaw 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.


A barefaced lie about ‘peace’ in Kayah

The remains of vehicles burned out by junta soldiers in Hpruso Township, Kayah State in December 2021 / KNDF

In their Jan. 24 issues the junta-controlled newspapers claimed that stability has been restored in Kayah State with markets resuming normal operations and locals visiting churches and pagodas.

For months, intense fighting has rocked Kayah, with the military regime employing artillery, gunships and jets to crush the resistance movement there.

On that very day, as the regime claimed that Kayah was again peaceful and stable, Demoso, which has been severely damaged by artillery strikes and air raids, was being bombed from air.

In Loikaw, the state capital, residents only remain in three out of 15 wards, and Hpruso is also largely deserted.

The regime newspapers reported that 314 internally displaced people have returned to their homes. Even if it were true, there are still more than 170,000 people unable to return.


Desperate to avoid another humiliation

A normally traffic-choked road in downtown Yangon is deserted during a silent strike on Dec. 10, 2021, in stark contrast to the tens of thousands of people (at right) who took to the streets in the area to voice opposition to the regime during an earlier protest.

The military regime has warned people not to participate in next week’s silent strike planned for the anniversary of the Feb. 1 coup, saying that anyone taking part in the strike will face legal action.

Anyone who closes a business or shop for a day or who claps in support of the strike could face charges carrying punishment of up to life imprisonment, said the regime in an announcement on Jan. 25. The announcement threatens protesters with prosecution under the Counterterrorism Law, the Electronic Transactions Law and the sedition law, adding that property, both moveable and immovable, would be seized for participation in the silent strike.

Apparently, the regime was embarrassed by previous silent strikes, which saw the whole nation of over 54 million people staying out of sight all day, with even roadside vendors who rely on daily business to earn a living refusing to peddle their wares.

Security forces have told residents in some areas of Mandalay and Yangon not to participate in the strike or they will be prosecuted.


Min Aung Hlaing talks with Hun Sen

Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, which holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, held bilateral talks by video link with Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Jan. 26.

Cambodia’s prime minister held talks with Min Aung Hlaing via a videoconference on Wednesday, in which the ASEAN chairman urged the coup leader to follow the regional bloc’s five-point consensus on resolving the Myanmar crisis.

Hun Sen urged Myanmar’s military ruler to allow a visit by an ASEAN special envoy and to allow humanitarian aid access, Kao Kim Hourn, secretary of state at Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters.

The prime minister appealed to all sides including the Myanmar government to cease violence and reach a ceasefire. The secretary however did not mention how Min Aung Hlaing responded to Hun Sen’s proposals.

The consensus, which Min Aung Hlaing agreed to in a face-to-face meeting with ASEAN leaders in April last year, requires the regime to cease hostilities, grant humanitarian access and support inclusive dialogue.

Following Hun Sen’s two-day visit to Naypyitaw on Jan. 7 and 8, the first visit by a head of government to Myanmar since the military takeover last February, Cambodia was forced to postpone the first ASEAN meeting under its 2022 chairmanship amid reports of differences among the bloc’s members over the visit, in which Hun Sen did not meet detained democracy leaders.

In a video call with Hun Sen after his return from Myanmar, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore stressed that the ASEAN chairman needs to engage with all parties concerned about the crisis in Myanmar.


Junta ‘not planning to dissolve NLD before vote’

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told Nikkei the regime has no plan to dissolve the National League for Democracy ahead of an election the junta says it will hold in August 2023.

His statement comes as the regime continues to detain and imprison numerous NLD leaders including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, while pushing to replace the current first-past-the-post electoral system with proportional representation.

Whether the party takes part in the general election will be determined by the NLD, added the junta spokesman.

In May last year, the junta-appointed Union Election Commission led by former Major General Thein Soe publicly said the NLD would be dissolved. Two months later, the regime officially annulled the results of the 2020 general election, which the NLD won with an overwhelming majority.

China, however, voiced concern over the regime’s plan to dissolve the NLD the following month. Since then, the military’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, and pro-military parties have been pushing for a switch to PR.

Min Aung Hlaing plumbs new depths  

Min Aung Hlaing is planning to hold a grand military review next month, when the country marks its 75th annual Union Day, becoming the first military dictator to preside over such a ceremony, which has previously been held only by civilian presidents.

Typically at the ceremony, known as “Boshu Thabin” in Burmese and held on important national days, the country’s civilian president is saluted by honor guards, parading columns of military and police personnel, and members of social organizations. The spirit of the event is in total contrast to the cruelty of the coup leader on whose orders more than a thousand people have been killed since last year.

The planned ceremony is nothing more than an attempt by Min Aung Hlaing to portray himself as the head of a government supported by the people. It has drawn criticism from many people including retired military personnel, as the ceremony is expected to cost billions of kyats (millions of dollars) at a time when the country’s economy is in a tailspin due to the military takeover. Junta No. 2 Soe Win, however, has been actively leading preparations, forming 15 sub-committees to organize the event.

The first such parade was held under Myanmar’s first president, Sao Shwe Thaik, in 1950. It was also held under presidents Dr. Ba Oo and Mahn Win Maung. Under the dictatorships of General Ne Win and Than Shwe, the ceremony wasn’t held. Min Aung Hlaing will be the first military ruler to hold the parade.

The last one was held under U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in 2015. The ceremony was not held under the NLD government. Suffice it to say that Min Aung Hlaing has even less shame than his predecessors, who did not dare to hold the parade, though all three led military coups and are loathed by the people.


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