Myanmar’s junta air force chief, General Tun Aung, has been appointed chair of the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference (AACC) while directing a brutal aerial bombing campaign against civilians at home.
The chair rotated to Myanmar at a meeting of the 19th AACC in Laos, held amid regime airstrikes that are killing a growing number of civilians including children, triggering global condemnation.
Targets of junta airstrikes in recent weeks include a school in Let Yet Kone Village, Depayin Township in Sagaing, where at least 12 people including seven children were killed, and a concert held by the Kachin Independence Organization in Hpakant, Kachin State on October 23, where around 80 people were killed.
General Tun Aung led the junta delegation attending the 19th AACC in Laos on Friday (Nov. 4).
Junta-controlled state media said on Tuesday that Tun Aung also met with the air force chiefs of Laos, Brunei and Thailand on Nov. 3 to discuss strengthening cooperation, including to combat “terrorism”.
The junta uses the word terrorism to describe armed resistance to its military rule in Myanmar.
On Nov. 4, the Laos air force chief transferred the ASEAN Air Chief Conference chair to Myanmar for the 20th AACC in 2023, the junta announced.
Tun Aung was promoted from chief of staff to air force chief in January, replacing General Maung Maung Kyaw. Under his command, the air force has escalated its brutal campaign against Myanmar’s people, inflicting heavier civilian casualties and damage and even crossing the border into Bangladesh and Thailand on bombing missions.
“General Tun Aung must be held accountable for his crimes under international law, not emboldened to step up his slaughter of civilians,” rights group Justice for Myanmar (JFM) said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“ASEAN appointed General Tun Aung knowing that he and the junta he represents are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. ASEAN is therefore actively aiding and abetting those international crimes,” the statement added.
JFM also pointed out that the Myanmar junta remains co-chair of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Plus Experts’ Working Group on counterterrorism.
JFM said that as co-chair of the regional bloc’s working group, the junta posts disinformation and propaganda on the group’s website.
These posts label Myanmar’s shadow civilian government and democratic institutions – the National Unity Government (NUG), Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) – as “terrorist”, a designation that the junta, which is a terrorist organization under Myanmar and international law, uses as a pretext for its ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity, JFM said. The posts also espoused the military’s false claims that the 2020 general election was marred by fraud.
The NUG and its parliamentary CRPH were formed by elected lawmakers of the National League for Democracy and their ethnic allies in the wake of the Feb. 1 2021 coup.
The junta will lead the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference next year, overseeing a series of interactions between the region’s air forces and hosting the next ASEAN counterterrorism meeting via video from December 5-6, JFM said.
“It is unacceptable that ASEAN and its partners see it as appropriate to allow the junta to lead regional defense bodies, providing it with legitimacy, support and platforms for its disinformation and propaganda,” JFM spokesperson Yadanar Maung said.
JFM said the junta’s roles as chair of the ASEAN Air Chiefs Conference and co-chair of ADMM’s counterterrorism group must be revoked. It should also be deprived of control over the counterterrorism working group’s website and excluded from all ASEAN meetings and activities, the group added.