Junta Watch: Regime Leader Repeats His Predecessor’s Palm Oil Folly, and More
By The Irrawaddy 22 January 2022
Min Aung Hlaing inherits Than Shwe’s dream
Former Myanmar military dictator Than Shwe once dreamed of turning Tanintharyi into the “oil pot” of Myanmar in an attempt to ensure domestic edible oil sufficiency.
Consequently, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land were put under oil palm cultivation in Tanintharyi under his guidance. Thanks to a resulting increase in consumption of the saturated fat-rich oil produced from oil palms, many Myanmar people have developed heart problems and suffered strokes, while valuable forests and vacant land were wasted on the project.
Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing called for continued efforts to realize his predecessor’s dream as he visited an oil palm cultivation project last Saturday in Tanintharyi’s Bokepyin.
Perhaps he wants to revive the project as an ego trip. But obviously his immediate goal in increasing domestic oil production is simply to create some breathing space, however small, for his cash-strapped regime by spending fewer US dollars on imports.
A crow who thinks herself a peacock
Daw Thet Thet Khaing, the junta-appointed social welfare minister, attracted lots of scorn and sneering on social media earlier this week when she appeared in Kachin State clad in traditional Kachin dress.
As a former outspoken parliamentarian from the National League for Democracy, whose government the military ousted last February, Daw Thet Thet Khaing is one of the most controversial figures in the regime and has frequently come under fire since she accepted the ministerial position.
This time, people are accusing her of copying detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who also dressed in Kachin traditional dress during her visits to the northern Myanmar state. Netizens posted photos of the two, showing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi looking decorous and elegant in her Kachin dress, juxtaposed with Daw Thet Thet Khaing looking visibly awkward and sloppy in the same outfit and a black facial mask.
Daw Thet Thet Khaing left the NLD in 2019 following a row with the party leadership. She then established the People’s Pioneer Party in the same year and dedicated herself to finding fault with her former party. She has since sided with Myanmar’s military and was rewarded with the Social Welfare portfolio after the February coup last year.
Explosions took place at a construction site and jewelry shop run by her family soon after she became a minister in the military regime. On Jan. 4, Myanmar’s Independence Day, her husband was awarded an honorary title by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.
High-profile monk receives donations from killers
Sitagu Sayadaw, one of the favorite monks of coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, received donations from the commander of the Myanmar military’s Southern Command at his Buddhist missionary university in Taungoo on Monday.
Once highly venerated by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, the monk, who is also known as Ashin Nyanissara, has fallen into disgrace in the eyes of his former followers since the February coup due to his ties with the coup leader.
While many young Buddhist monks were taking to the streets nearly every day in response to the coup in February last year, Sitagu Sayadaw never failed to receive Min Aung Hlaing and his wife at his monastery at Sagaing Hill. When Min Aung Hlaing took blessings from Myanmar’s senior monks for his construction of the world’s largest Buddha statue in Naypyitaw last March, Sitagu Sayadaw was there. By the time the monk gave his blessings to Min Aung Hlaing in late March, five dozen protesters had already been killed by the junta since February.
The monk accompanied the junta’s No. 2 man Vice Senior Soe Win as he traveled to Russia last September to supervise the construction of a pagoda in Moscow. He stayed for four months at the Myanma Theravada Buddha Vihara Monastery in Moscow, to which Min Aung Hlaing and his wife, among others, are donors.
He reportedly returned to Myanmar in December. His first public appearance since then was in an online Dhamma talk organized by the junta to mark the New Year, and the second was when he received donations from a military commander this week.
The 85-year-old monk also has close ties to U Kovida, Min Aung Hlaing’s astrological adviser, and Ashin Chekinda, who also has a close relationship with the coup leader.
USDP-linked monk funds junta
Natsin Taya Sayadaw and his disciples donated 30 million kyats (about US$16,840) to Myanmar’s military on Wednesday to use in its works to “protect the Burmese race and Buddhism.”
The donation was accepted by the commander of Naypyitaw Command in Myanmar’s capital.
A spiritual adviser to the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) leadership, the Buddhist monk from Yangon’s Thanlyin Township is a member of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, a nationalist group better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha.
When Natsin Taya Sayadaw donated free food during the campaign period ahead of the 2015 general election in Ayeyarwady Region’s Myaungmya together with then ministers of the USDP government, a group of men distributed pamphlets bearing the Ma Ba Tha logo claiming that the country and Buddhism would be at risk if voters chose Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.
The USDP denied distributing such pamphlets at the event, but then-Immigration Minister U Khin Yi (who also holds the same post in the current regime) and then-Sports Minister U Tint Hsan, who would contest the poll from Myaungmya, were in attendance along with USDP vice chair U Htay Oo.
Ma Ba Tha successfully lobbied former president U Thein Sein to approve a controversial set of four laws on race and religion that imposed restrictions on interfaith marriage, birth spacing, polygamy and conversion, believed to be targeted at Muslims. The laws were approved in 2015.
Former Ma Ba Tha chair Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa, who has a close relationship with coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, is Natsin Taya Sayadaw’s mentor.
You may also like these stories: