Junta Watch

Junta Watch: Regime Finds a Friend on Global Stage; Min Aung Hlaing Goes Bananas (Again); and More

By The Irrawaddy 11 March 2023

Bad company is better than none 

Myanmar ambassador to China U Tin Maung Swe and his Guinea-Bissau counterpart Antonio Serifo Embalo sign a joint statement to establish diplomatic ties at the Myanmar Embassy in Beijing on March 6.

Faced with growing diplomatic isolation since the coup, the military regime is desperate to show people both inside and outside Myanmar that it is not a pariah. On Monday, it resorted to establishing diplomatic relations with Africa’s Guinea-Bissau, one of the poorest countries in the world and notorious for coups and drug trafficking.

Myanmar Ambassador to China U Tin Maung Swe inked a joint statement with his Guinea-Bissau counterpart Antonio Serifo Embalo to seal the diplomatic friendship with the tiny former Portuguese colony of around two million people.

The junta boasted that Guinea-Bissau is the 126th country with which Myanmar has established diplomatic ties. The move will come as no surprise to Myanmar’s people, who are well aware of the condemnation and sanctions piled on the regime by governments around the world.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is the only government leader to visit Myanmar since the coup. And his was clearly not a goodwill visit to meet the junta chief.

No surprise, then, that Min Aung Hlaing was all too happy to receive Rustam Minnikhanov, the head of Tatarstan, when he visited Myanmar in April last year. Junta media referred to Minnikhanov as the “President” of Tatarstan – an obscure autonomous region of Russia with fewer than 4 million people – in their reports and newscasts.

Bananas for soldiers

Since his putsch, Min Aung Hlaing has from time to time preached the nutritional benefits of bananas. When he met officers and other soldiers from local battalions in Shan State’s Kalaw earlier this week, he did so again, saying the regime is mass-producing tissue-culture bananas to boost the health and nutrition of military personnel and their families.

On Min Aung Hlaing’s orders, the military launched an ambitious banana plantation project a few months after the coup.

In September 2021, junta spokesman Maj-General Zaw Min Tun announced the entire military had adopted the tissue-culture method to grow ‘pgee gyan’ bananas thanks to a breakthrough by its lab and research unit. The military could now grow tens of thousands of saplings of the same size, the spokesman added.

An economist pointed out that the banana project contradicts plans to create a market economy and would lead to monopolization and corruption seen in other military-run businesses.

But Min Aung Hlaing is interested in feeding his military as cheaply as possible as it fights what the UN rights office calls a ‘war against its own people’ on multiple fronts across the country. With agriculture also devastated by the junta’s campaign of artillery, air and arson attacks on villages and towns, Min Aung Hlaing has generously offered to provide banana saplings at reasonable prices for cultivation by departments at regional, state, district and township levels.

Lessons on morality from murderer generals

The opening of a summer school at police headquarters in Naypyitaw.

Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing called for the opening of summer schools for children of military personnel when he met troops in Kalaw on Monday.

Two days later, home affairs minister Lieutenant-General Soe Htut and his deputy, Major-General Zin Min Htet, opened a summer school at police headquarters in Naypyitaw.

Officially referred to as training (for children) to become polite and well-behaved, such schools teach children basic Buddhist principles and civics during the summer holidays.

The hypocrisy of these two generals and others is as perverse as it is brazen. Both preside over a brutal campaign targeting innocent civilians – who are being beheaded in villages and tortured to death in detention centers – while at the same time overseeing the teaching of morals and scruples to children.

The horrors have not gone unnoticed by the wider world. The European Union recently targeted Maj-General Zin Min Htet, who doubles as police chief, with sanctions for leading a campaign of sexual assault against women and girls.