Myanmar’s military regime barred family members of cadets graduating from the Defense Services Academy (DSA) from attending Tuesday’s graduation ceremony amid security concerns.
Regime leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attended the graduation parade and gave a speech to the officers of the 63rd intake of the DSA in the hill station town of Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay Region.
Normally, the annual ceremony is a bustling event, with parents of the graduating officers, who have just completed their four-year courses, invited to attend and see their children parade in crisp white uniforms. Furthermore, it is a showcase for the military, which invites foreign military attaches and shows off its new generation of officers before they join their assigned battalions in the army, navy and air force.
However, the vibe at the ceremony on Tuesday was vastly different from previous years. In footage aired by military-run Myawady TV, the parade pavilion—which is normally teeming with military top brass, their wives, military attaches and family members of the cadets during the ceremony—can be seen with only some high-ranking generals and government officials with their subordinates in masks, with not a foreign military attaché nor any family members of the cadets in sight.
Military sources said it was the second time that family members of the cadets were not allowed to attend the graduation.
“Last year, parents of military officers were not allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But this year, they were barred for security reasons,” one of the sources said.
According to the state-run newspapers, guests including family members and foreign attachés were invited to the ceremony until 2019. But they were not mentioned in guest lists published by the papers on Wednesday. Last year, live footage of the graduation of more than 600 officers aired by the military information team also showed them to be absent.
The number of cadets graduating this year is unknown. However, judging from the footage aired by Myawady on Tuesday night, it could not be less than the previous year.
This year’s exclusion of the family members from the guest list is hardly due to the junta’s fear of the spread of COVID-19, however. Stay-at-home orders for Pyin Oo Lwin, where the DSA is located, were lifted on Nov. 20 by the regime, which is now relaxing some pandemic-related protocols. At the same time, Myanmar’s nationwide detection of the coronavirus has dropped to around 2 percent of those tested in recent weeks.
Tuesday’s graduation ceremony comes as the regime has been struggling for months to control the country in the face of civilian resistance—including deadly armed guerrilla warfare in urban and rural areas—following its brutal crackdowns on protesters. Rarely a day goes by without attacks on regime targets.
A retired military officer said the military seems to be struggling to deal with the current chaotic situation.
“Even the military chief wants to be on the safe side, I think,” he said, referring to the family members’ exclusion from the graduation ceremony.
The graduation ceremony on Tuesday notwithstanding, the regime is struggling to find new recruits for the next intakes.
In a rare move, the junta in September extended the deadline for applications to the military academies (the DSA, Defence Science and Technology Academy and Defence Services Medical Academy) for the second time, after the deadline was initially extended in August.
Many, including defectors from the army, said at the time that the steep fall in applicants was a consequence of the coup, referring to the military’s subsequent lethal crackdowns on the Myanmar people, as well as the looting and destruction of civilians’ property.
“There used to be many young people who wanted to become military officers and heroes. But now no one wants to join the military because of the coup,” said Captain Lin Htet Aung, one of the deserters.
The DSA was founded in 1954, six years after Myanmar gained its independence from the British, offering four-year bachelor’s degrees. Under dictator Than Shwe, the medical and technology academies were added.
Meanwhile, Pyin Oo Lwin is suffering as a result of the ban.
Normally at this time of year, the town is busy with visitors, including family members who flock there to attend their children’s graduation. They typically visit places around town, shopping and spending money, a restaurant owner said.
“When they came, we were happy because sales at our restaurant were good,” he said.
You may also like these stories: