Junta Watch

Junta Watch: Russians Arrive in Myanmar to Buy Gems; EAOs Wooed; and More

By The Irrawaddy 22 October 2022

Junta deepens economic ties with Russia

Russian traders view pearl lots on sale at the gems emporium.

For the first time, the Myanmar military regime has invited Russian traders to a jade and gems emporium in Naypyitaw, as it seeks to earn hard currency by selling the country’s jewels.

Their unprecedented presence is a sign of junta chief Min Aung Hlaing’s growing dependence on Russia, as his crimes against Myanmar leave him increasingly isolated on the international stage. Min Aung Hlaing has been seeking closer economic cooperation with Russia, the largest arms supplier to the regime.

The ongoing emporium, which will be held until Oct. 25, is the fourth since Min Aung Hlaing seized power in a coup in February last year. Jade, gems and pearls are being sold at the emporium.

Previously, gemstones were sold to foreigners only in euros and US dollars. This time, however, the regime is allowing foreign buyers to use yuan and baht.

Last year’s April fair earned the regime over 33.5 billion kyats (US$18 million), according to junta-controlled media.

Foreign countries including the US and Britain have imposed sanctions against Myanmar’s gems industry, the regime’s main source of foreign currency. The civilian National Unity Government has also warned local gem companies that it would blacklist them and respond as necessary if they buy from the regime.

Min Aung Hlaing invites EAO leaders to serve him

Looking to kill two birds with one stone, Min Aung Hlaing has offered ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) a legislative incentive.

In an address to mark the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, the junta chief invited EAO leaders to field candidates for parliament, promising that separate legislative powers would be granted to their respective parliaments in order to respect ethnic rights.

Min Aung Hlaing is planning to hold an election next year, and expects to become the president then so that he can retain his grip on power as the legitimate elected leader of Myanmar. However, powerful EAOs, alongside the People’s Defense Force, are fighting the regime in many parts of the country.

If Min Aung Hlaing can successfully convince EAOs to join next year’s election, it will save him a lot trouble. He will be able to focus on crushing PDFs and will have a greater chance of holding the election as planned.

Min Aung Hlaing is confident of winning the election. He is replacing the current first-past-the-post electoral system with a proportional representation system to make sure a single party does not win a majority as the National League for Democracy did in the 2015 and 2020 general elections.

With 25 percent of seats guaranteed for the military by the army-drafted 2008 Constitution, Min Aung Hlaing only needs the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party and its allies to win 26 percent. And PR is now in place to help them do that.

To hold an election that allows proportional representation of all the ethnic groups is one of five stated objectives for Myanmar’s 75th Independence Day, which falls on Jan. 4, 2023.

Junta, Belarus forge ties as civilian casualties rise in Myanmar

Min Aung Hlaing accepts credentials from the Belarus ambassador to Myanmar at the SAC Office.

Myanmar’s military regime and one of its major arms suppliers, Belarus, are fostering diplomatic ties with the two countries appointing ambassadors recently.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing accepted credentials from Belarus Ambassador to Myanmar Uladzimir Baravikou at the Credentials Hall of the office of the regime’s administrative body, the State Administration Council, on Thursday.

The two discussed promotion of trade, cooperation in science and technology, and “further cooperation” in the defense sector, according to junta media.

On Sept. 30, Myanmar Ambassador to Belarus U Lwin Oo presented his credentials to the Belarus president. So, the regime’s ties with its major arms dealers Russia and Belarus are flourishing as it continues to kill Myanmar civilians with weapons provided by the two.

Like China and Russia, Belarus has shown support for the regime on the international stage. When the UN passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo against the Myanmar regime, Belarus was the only country that voted against it.

Neither Myanmar nor Belarus was invited to the funeral of Elizabeth II, which was attended by world leaders. Myanmar was not invited as Britain has downgraded its diplomatic relationship with the country since the coup. Belarus was excluded due to its involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

White elephant on its way to Min Aung Hlaing’s embrace

The white elephant calf and its mother.

“State leaders and pagoda trustees of Uppatasanti Pagoda in Naypyitaw are having the dwelling of white elephants at the pagoda extended to accommodate the white elephant being brought from Rakhine State, and donations are invited for [the] extension,” said the junta’s mouthpiece newspaper on Friday.

The regime started transporting the 3-month-old elephant calf from Rakhine’s Taungup to Naypyitaw some 10 days ago.

The calf in question was born in July in Taungup Township to a tamed pachyderm owned by the state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise, according to the junta.

Successive Myanmar military leaders have had obsessions with white elephants, and they tend to see the albino pachyderms as nature’s confirmation of their own greatness.

“There is no connection between white elephants and the development of the country. Elephants are animals whether they are white or black,” said prominent historian Dr. Than Tun.

Min Aung Hlaing has boasted that his white elephant possesses more of the requisite traits for white elephant status than eight previous specimens found during the time of the previous military regime led by his predecessor Than Shwe and U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, which can be interpreted as saying he is greater than his predecessors.

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