RANGOON —President U Htin Kyaw faced criticism after presenting awards for bravery to members of Burma’s military on Jan. 4, which marked the 69th anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain.
In total, the President awarded the honorific titles of “Thiha Thura” and “Thura” to 15 soldiers in the ceremony in Naypyidaw, which is an annual event. In total, 400 soldiers received various recognitions from the state.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported that in President U Htin Kyaw’s speech he said that in building “a peaceful and modern federal democratic Union, it is a great virtue to honor those who are well worth honoring for their extraordinary contribution, remarkably more than others, for the security of the nation, rule of law, peace and stability of the area and nation-building sector.”
However, critics expressed concern that such a statement made during an ongoing government peace process with ethnic armed organizations could lead to misunderstandings.
“It seems that by giving an award for being a hero to someone who the other side recognizes as the enemy, it could create bitterness. […] This is a time to be sensitive,” said Aung Myo Min, human rights activist and director of Equality Myanmar.
In the past, ex-President U Thein Sein allocated the awards, but witnessing U Htin Kyaw in this role, President of the democratically elected National League for Democracy government, was unsettling to some.
“It is not suitable to give award to the army for fighting with the ethnic people while the government is engaging in the peace process with ethnic armed forces,” said Maung Maung Soe, an ethnic affairs analyst.“This problem will continue to exist unless the Constitution is amended,” he added, pointing out that neither the President nor the Parliament had the power to stop the Burma Army from fighting.
Vice chairman of the ethnic armed alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) Nai Hong Sar said that he feared fighting would intensify following the recognition given to the Tatmadaw.
“They intend to boost morale for their army,” he said, when asked about the military awards presented by President U Htin Kyaw. “This will not lead us to have peace—it will lead to more fighting. To us, it looks like they want to create a bigger conflict. They came to fight our ethnic people; we were not the people who made the problems.”
Despite political reforms and peace talks, fighting continued throughout 2016 with Kachin, Shan, Ta’ang, Arakanese and Kokang ethnic armed organizations. This was not mentioned in the year’s report from the Ministry of Defense.