Junta Watch: Military Throws a Party as COVID Rages; Another ASEAN Snub and More

By The Irrawaddy 19 February 2022

Junta does its best to spread the coronavirus

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing addresses Union Day celebrations on Feb. 12, 2022. / Cncds

Undeterred by the latest outbreak of COVID-19, the military regime celebrated Myanmar’s 75th Union Day in Naypyitaw on Feb. 12 with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing presiding over a grand military review. Myanmar has seen a significant surge in COVID-19 cases since late January. On Jan. 31, 278 cases were detected (3.35 percent of the total samples tested on the day). The figure jumped to 1,607 (6.5 percent) on the eve of the celebration.

Among those present at the event, regime employees and students alone numbered 10,400. If we count the guests from the respective regions and states, representatives of ethnic armed organizations and political parties, military personnel, cultural dance groups, floats and the 46 columns of marchers and 10 aircraft squadrons that saluted coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, the total attendance may have been in the tens of thousands.

Min Aung Hlaing still looking for a magic boost

Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday placed a “Hti” umbrella atop a century-old Buddha image in Kengtung in eastern Shan State—the  second time the junta leader has engaged in the ritual in less than a week, after doing the same at a pagoda in Pwintbyu Township in Magwe Region on Feb. 10.

Myanmar people are all too aware that Min Aung Hlaing’s motivation for placing the Hti umbrellas is not Buddhist piety, but his belief that the act serves as a magic ritual that will help him conquer his enemies and maintain his grip on power for a long time.

As in previous ceremonies, Min Aung Hlaing was accompanied by his family members in Kengtung. U Kovida, who is widely believed to be the coup leader’s astrological adviser, was also present, supervising the consecration ceremony.

Commonly known as Vasipake Sayadaw for his vows of silence, the monk has been accused of advising the coup leader to tell security forces to shoot protesters in the head. Most of the anti-regime protesters killed in the early days of the junta crackdown had bullet wounds to the head.

Min Aung Hlaing has been his follower since 2006, when the general was serving as the commander of the Myanmar military’s Triangle Region, which oversees eastern Shan State.

Bhaddanta Dhamma Siri, known as “Two Dragon Sayadaw” after his monastery, also attended the ceremony. The monk was the first to receive the religious title Abhidhaja Maha Rahta Guru—one of the highest in Myanmar—after the coup last year.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing rings the “Peace and Prosperity” Bell at the Thatta Thattaha Maha Bodhi Pagoda being built by U Kovida.

After the ceremony, Min Aung Hlaing visited the construction site of the Thatta Thattaha Maha Bodhi Pagoda being built by U Kovida. There he rang a “Peace and Prosperity” bell, even as the country spirals into poverty and civil war because of his coup.

Accompanied by U Kovida, Min Aung Hlaing inspects regional development works in Kengtung on Feb. 16, 2022.

Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to eastern Shan State, the home of Bhaddanta Dhamma Siri and U Kovida, was his second since last year’s coup. U Kovida accompanied the coup leader throughout his latest trip to Kengtung, according to junta-controlled TV.

Junta boss’ obsession with denigrating NLD continues

Min Aung Hlaing meets military personnel and their families in Mongkhat on Feb. 16, 2022.

Min Aung Hlaing met military personnel and their families at Mongkhat in the military’s Triangle Region Command in Shan State on Wednesday. As usual, the junta leader spoke ill of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, in an attempt to instill anti-NLD sentiment among military personnel.

At Wednesday’s meeting, he also pointed to the party’s alleged shortcomings as justification for his coup. Before the NLD came to office, he claimed, it urged ethnic armed organizations not to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. The peace process achieved little progress under the NLD government, he said.

He further alleged that the country suffered a huge trade deficit because the NLD government failed to encourage domestic production, and that the NLD government unnecessarily halted projects implemented with foreign loans, causing the country to suffer losses. It also took massive loans from foreign countries, which imposed a heavy burden on the country, he added.

Over the past year, Min Aung Hlaing has changed laws promulgated under the NLD government, resumed projects suspended by it, changed the name of a Mon State bridge built during the NLD administration, and released firebrand nationalist monk U Wirathu, who was charged for defamation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government.

Another ASEAN meeting proceeds without Myanmar

A screengrab of Myanmar junta-appointed Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin / AFP

Regime Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin was excluded from the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting this week because of a disagreement within the bloc over Myanmar’s lack of cooperation in implementing last year’s Five-Point Consensus.

Last October, the disagreement kept coup leader Min Aung Hlaing from participating in a virtual meeting of ASEAN leaders.

Cambodia, the current ASEAN chair, said earlier this month that members of the regional group had failed to reach a consensus on inviting U Wunna Maung Lwin to its meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

On Monday, the regime’s Foreign Ministry said it would not participate in the meetings because the regime was only invited to send a non-political representative instead of its chief diplomat.

During the meeting, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, ASEAN’s new special envoy to the country, said he planned to visit Myanmar in March and meet with top junta officials. He called on the country’s military junta to allow him to meet a shadow National Unity Government representative, in an effort to break a deadlock between the military and opponents of the coup.

The NUG is dominated by lawmakers from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted NLD, and is working to overthrow the junta.

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