Junta Watch: Myanmar Coup Leader Seeks Divine Assistance; Picking a Fight With the UN and More

By The Irrawaddy 25 December 2021

Is nothing sacred? Pagodas as propaganda

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing (left), Vasipake Sayadaw (in woolen hat, second from right) and Min Aung Hlaing’s son Aung Pyae Sone (third from right) place the new diamond orb at Kyaik Devi pagoda on Dec. 18 / Cincds

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, his wife Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, their daughter Khin Thiri Thet Mon, their son Aung Pyae Sone and his wife Myo Yadana Htike on Dec. 18 attended a ceremony marking the renovation of the centuries-old Kyaik Devi pagoda in Hlegu Township on the outskirts of Yangon Region.

Two Buddhist monks were on hand to consecrate the pagoda. One of them, Vasipake Sayadaw, hails from Kengtung in eastern Shan State and is famous for his vows of silence. He is widely believed to be the coup leader’s astrological adviser.

The other, Dammasuta Chekinda, has barely appeared in public since the coup, though previously he was known for leading humanitarian relief efforts, including the COVID-19 control campaign. The Yangon monk is also renowned for his summer school programs, in which he teaches teenagers Buddhism and other subjects like civics, attracting hundreds of youngsters annually.

The pagoda was built by a Mon King centuries ago, and successively renovated by Mon and Bamar kings. Given the presence of his astrological adviser, and the nature of the event, Myanmar people naturally concluded that the aim of the ceremony, and the general’s efforts to breathe new life into the historic temple, was nothing more than to seek divine blessings to sustain Min Aung Hlaing’s rule.

One year before his coup, the military chief placed the “Hti” umbrella atop Bagan’s 12th-century Htilominlo Temple—a move driven by his desire to win the country’s presidency in 2021. Traditionally, it is believed that rulers who make offerings to the pagoda will receive divine blessings and enjoy long reigns. Vasipake Sayadaw was also at the ceremony, supervising Min Aung Hlaing as he placed the Hti atop the pagoda.

Additionally, Min Aung Hlaing is building a giant statue in Naypyitaw, which the regime says will be the world’s largest sitting Buddha statue.

Perhaps Min Aung Hlaing, whose regime has killed more than 1,300 peaceful protesters since the coup, is attempting to convey a positive image of the junta as he strives to win the hearts and minds of the country’s religious majority. Whatever his motive for renovating and build pagodas, clearly it can’t be a good omen for him that just as he was placing the new diamond orb atop Kyaik Devi pagoda, his military was suffering casualties in fierce clashes in Karen State. Sadly for the general, despite the colorful photos and footage of the ceremony published and broadcast on junta-controlled media, no one gives a shit.

A desperate attempt to control the flow of arms

On Dec. 19, the regime urged the public to hand over by Dec. 31 any arms and ammunition belonging to the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) and People’s Defense Force (PDF) groups that they may be storing in their homes or apartments, warning it would take punitive action under existing laws against those who fail to do so.

The warning comes as the Myanmar military continues to sustain heavy casualties in clashes with the ethnic Kokang armed group the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in northern Shan State, as well as with the Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, and various other ethnic armed forces and PDF groups in Chin, Kayah and Karen states and Sagaing and Magwe regions.

Overwhelmed and seemingly at its wits’ end, the regime is rushing to issue such warnings to prevent things from getting worse in Yangon and other major cities where security forces are still targeted in frequent explosions and shootings, despite tightened checks and crackdowns. In September, the junta warned against renting houses and apartments to resistance fighters, saying the properties would be seized if landlords failed to report to authorities about tenants who commit acts of terror.

Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to think that people would voluntarily and happily hand over weapons to the regime in response to such a warning? Anyone with any common sense knows they are sure to land in hot water once they hand over the weapons—so why bother?

Regime leaders seek revenge on the UN (seriously…)

Christine Schraner Burgener, UN Special Envoy for Myanmar, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Myanmar in February 2019. / UN

Since the coup, Myanmar’s top generals have been subjected to sanctions by a number of Western countries. In June, the UN General Assembly called for a stop to the flow of arms to Myanmar.

The relationship between the international body and the regime has been badly strained since the takeover, with the former continuously condemning the regime’s violence against its own people, and the latter dismissing the accusations as groundless and strongly opposing the UN’s punitive actions.

On Dec. 20, the regime, apparently having decided that two can play at the sanctions game, sought to exact some revenge by announcing it had shut down the office of the UN’s Special Envoy for the country, reasoning that the term of envoy Christine Schraner Burgener had ended.

Although Swiss diplomat Schraner Burgener’s term ended in October, the mission is ongoing. In the same month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed another diplomat, Noeleen Heyzer, as Schraner Burgener’s successor.

The position of UN Special Envoy was created in 2018, mainly in response to the Rohingya crisis in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, in partnership with the then NLD government. The envoy’s office in Naypyitaw was opened in December of the same year.

On Dec. 16, the regime’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its objection to the adoption the previous month of a resolution titled “Situation of Human Rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” at the Third Committee of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly.

Junta can’t stand the sight of ousted NLD leaders’ titles

The Myanmar Press Council’s new members take oaths before coup leader Min Aung Hlaing on Nov. 24 in Naypyitaw (not in picture).

It seems the regime is upset with local media outlets’ continued use of ousted NLD government leaders’ ranks and positions when referring to them in news stories.

The generals’ displeasure came to light when the new Myanmar Press Council, whose members were sworn in before coup leader Min Aung Hlaing last month, asked local media outlets on Dec. 22 to stop using the titles and positions of individuals who served in the NLD’s ousted government.

Needless to say, the ban targets usages such as “State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi” and “President U Win Myint.”

The ban is hardly surprising from the new council, whose chair is a former lieutenant colonel and whose vice chair is a former captain from the Public Relations and Psychological Warfare Department of the Defense Ministry. The council said it would not intervene to help journalists who face legal consequences for continuing to use such titles.

With a deliberate lack of deference, former military regimes bluntly referred to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as “Suu Kyi” in propaganda pieces published in state-run newspapers.

Since the Feb. 1 coup, the regime has revoked the licenses of five local media agencies, and detained dozens of journalists and charged them with incitement, high treason and terrorism. Currently, around 50 journalists remain in detention, and media organizations are struggling to report the news as press freedoms are steadily eroded in the country.

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