Military Chief Warns of Division Amid Army-Shwe Mann Row

By Lawi Weng 3 May 2016

RANGOON — Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, has warned military officers that there are people who wanted to sow seeds of division within the army, in a wide-ranging speech that included a call for soldiers to read more books and steer clear of cigarettes and betel nut.

Made on Monday to assembled officers at the Rangoon Regional Command, his statements come just a few days after the military upbraided the former general and ex-Speaker of Parliament Shwe Mann for remarks that were received as an implicit criticism of the armed forces and the former government that it backed.

“Some people’s assessment of the Tatmadaw’s [Burma Army] stance and goals with regards to this current political transition is inaccurate,” Min Aung Hlaing said. “They may destroy the unity and weaken the strength of the army. The top priority must be to keep the army united.”

“Unity is strength,” he said. “It is of vital importance to enhancing the country’s national defense.”

On April 23, Shwe Mann posted a message on his Facebook page in which he used terminology that distinguished a new intake of officers from veterans and long-serving members of the armed forces. The politician then went on to praise the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and imply that the previous military governments and their Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) successor had not worked for the benefit of the country.

“The remark, ‘It is the right time for our brothers to cooperate with much rejoicing [at the NLD’s 2015 election victory],’ shows that Shwe Mann ignores the fact that the Tatmadaw has repeatedly promised to cooperate with the government elected by the people,” a military response to Shwe Mann’s statement read.

“Therefore, we oppose the statement made by Shwe Mann … because it may cause people to misunderstand the efforts of past governments to serve the country,” the statement continued. “[Shwe Mann’s comments] obfuscate the stance of the Tatmadaw and consequently harm the ongoing national reconciliation efforts and may result in the disintegration of the Tatmadaw.”

Though he did not explicitly mention Shwe Mann, the senior-general’s comments on Monday cleaved closely to the sentiment of the official military statement.

“It was the support of the Tatmadaw that ensured the freedom and fairness before, during and after the second election [in 2015],” Min Aung Hlaing said. “I am very proud of what the Tatmadaw did at that time.”

An unofficial English-language translation of the full speech, including references to the value of being well-read and the moral pitfalls of smoking and chewing betel nut, can be read here.