Myanmar Military Asks Govt to Punish Minister for Police Remark

By Htet Naing Zaw 4 February 2020

NAYPYITAW—A Myanmar military spokesperson has called on the government to take action against Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture U Aung Ko for his statement suggesting that high-profile nationalist fugitives remain at large because the government does not have authority over the military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees the police force.

“I would like to ask [the government] to respond to and take action against such statements by a minister who is under the control of the government,” military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said at a military press conference in Naypyitaw on Monday.

He called U Aung Ko’s statement baseless and said that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, would file a complaint with the government according to legal procedures.

Speaking at an interfaith event in Yangon last month, Minister U Aung Ko suggested the fugitives would have been arrested if the Home Affairs Ministry was under the control of the civilian government.

“Some ask whether the Home Affairs Ministry is really under the control of the government or not,” he reportedly said. “But it is not the government that closely supervises Myanmar’s police force. Everyone knows which organization [controls the police].”

U Aung Ko was referring to U Wirathu, a firebrand nationalist monk, and ultranationalist U Hla Swe. U Wirathu has been on the run since May 2019 after officials issued a warrant for his arrest under Article 124 (a) of the Penal Code for his attempt to incite disaffection and disloyalty towards the government.

Nationalist U Hla Swe has been on the run since August 2019 after he was charged with sedition under Article 124 (a) for making comments that the court deemed defamatory to government leaders.

Government spokesperson U Zaw Htay has told reporters that police have promised to arrest the two.

“[U Aung Ko] said that everyone knows U Wirathu and U Hla Swe have run away. He said this without evidence and in violation of the law in order to cause misunderstanding,” said Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun.

Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun added that under the 2008 Constitution, the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services nominates the Home Affairs Minister but the government has full authority over him as well as Myanmar’s police force.

“[U Aung Ko] should learn what is being done on the ground regarding Myanmar’s police force. I would say it is not good to make those statements only in order to defame an organization,” said the military spokesman.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach U Aung Ko, who is currently with Vice President Henry Van Thio attending the Peace, Security and Human Development Summit in South Korea.

Former Lower House lawmaker U Ye Htun said that while the heads of the Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defense ministries are nominated by the chief of the military, they are still accountable to the government.

“The government must be able to effectively handle any ministry. It appears that the government dares not exercise [its authority] as provided by the Constitution and is restricted by its concerns for military-civil relations,” U Ye Htun said.

U Aung Ko retired from the military as a brigadier general and was then elected to the Lower House of the Union Parliament in 2010 as a member of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. He then became minister of religious affairs and culture under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government and has close ties to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of state.

U Aung Ko received warnings from government leaders after he called Islam an extremist religion of “Bengalis,” in reference to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, during the funeral of a prominent Buddhist monk in Karen State in November 2018.

In May 2017, hundreds of nationalists and Buddhist monks along with thousands of their supporters called for the minister’s resignation in a protest in Naypyitaw, accusing the minister of favoring Islam over Buddhism.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko