Commentary

Hell Hounds Are Loose in Myanmar; Who Can Stop Them? 

By Aung Zaw 20 June 2022

The debate over what to call the Myanmar military—while it might seem of secondary importance—is in fact timely and appropriate, as every day brings reports of fresh brutality and atrocities committed by the regime against its own noncombatant civilians. 

Further evidence of such atrocities came to light last week when Radio Free Asia published images and video demonstrating that the military continues to commit crimes in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region, in the country’s northwest.

“For us, we even killed a lot by slitting their throats,” a young soldier says as he describes a killing operation in a video obtained by RFA. 

One needs a strong stomach to listen to the gruesome details so casually described in the video, and to view the photos, which should also serve as a reminder that the military has long been committing these abuses in the ethnic states. 

The remains of Min Tan Village in Sagaing’s Myaung Township after a raid by junta troops in May.

Ironically, a few days before RFA exposed the atrocities, the deputy junta chief Soe Win said military personnel had been given instruction in human rights and protecting civilians.

The video not only provides solid proof of the regime’s lies, but also serves as the latest visual testament to the junta’s brutality against its own civilians.

It shows, yet again, what murderous commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and his barbarian thugs are capable of when let loose upon the people. 

The Myanmar military fosters a culture of extreme brutality and the fact is, officers and soldiers know they have license to commit such atrocities and war crimes and walk away scot-free. 

But who can stop them?

The military is completely undeterred by the condemnation such atrocities bring upon it. Not even the regime’s apologists—Chinese, Japanese or Thai—come out to defend Min Aung Hlaing and his thuggish army. The military today is a disgraced institution that lacks any moral authority to rule the country, and the coup has failed. If these allies of the military dared to defend its actions they would be tainted by association with it, seen as birds of a feather. 

I say to them: If you have a conscience there is only one way for you to refer to the Myanmar military—as the bunch of thugs that they are. The Myanmar people will applaud you if you do. 

But if you choose to continue with your lies, urging that the best course of action is to negotiate with the murderous regime, then you are no better than the psychopaths you support; I suggest you seek psychiatric help: You have a problem. 

So, which side you are on? China and Japan—or whoever: Do you back the mindless Myanmar generals?

It goes without saying that Russia—the supplier of arms and provider of annual training to Myanmar officers—has no qualms, as it has been committing the same war crimes in Ukraine, but on an even larger scale. 

The public will still be digesting the latest images from Sagaing Region even as the regime’s Defense Minister General Mya Tun Oo represents Myanmar at the 16th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

Perversely, a number of resolutions are expected to be adopted at the meeting promoting cooperation and enhancing the role of the region’s militaries in responding to deadly diseases and peacekeeping.

So the regime’s defense minister, who has direct knowledge of the Myanmar army’s operations in the country, will sign a document on the military’s role in peacekeeping?

It’s worth repeating: the video and images brought to light last week offer concrete evidence that the regime’s military is inflicting brutal atrocities on its own people.

Regime chief Min Aung Hlaing during the Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw in March 2022.

These young soldiers behaved like a group of murderous gangsters and thugs, but one thing is clear—they did so with license, and in response to commands and orders, from their superior officers. Recall the Myanmar military’s famous official motto: “One Blood, One Voice, One Command.” 

In Sagaing Region, senior military officers and commanders have given orders to burn down villages and execute their residents. In the past, when the regime faced allegations of war crimes it usually found a scapegoat for the offense, prosecuted them and quietly released them later.

What all of this shows is that the regime has no authority—legal, moral or otherwise—to govern the country, whose citizens feel a universal revulsion toward the military and the coup leader.

Myanmar will need a professional military in the future, but it has no use for the current one. 

Which raises an important question: What do we call the present military? By its traditional name, the Tatmadaw (which translates as Royal Armed Forces)? Or should we refer to it as the “Sit-tat” army? (Since the coup, Myanmar citizens and activists have taken to referring to it as “Sit-kwe”—or by its acronym, “Sa-Ka”—meaning “dog soldiers”. But while I share the feelings and emotions of the Myanmar people on this, to call the soldiers dogs…? I feel it’s not right. Personally, I see this as a real insult to dogs. (I owned a handsome and intelligent Labrador named Choco who would have been very upset to learn of this.)

The Myanmar military today is no longer a unifying force in the country—instead, it is a source of division, destruction and conflict. 

Thus, calling it the Tatmadaw is to bring the term into disgrace.  

Amid the ongoing revolution against Min Aung Hlaing and his army, regional and international governments and institutions and, more importantly, the Myanmar people will have to work hard to establish a professional military that respects human rights and human dignity, while protecting the country. However, that institution must be a servant of an elected government and all Myanmar citizens—and never again wage war against its own people. Let that be our goal.

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