Junta Watch

Junta Watch: ‘What Defections?’ Says Regime No. 2; ASEAN Envoy Throws His Hands Up, and More

By The Irrawaddy 26 March 2022

Soe Win dismisses military desertions as fake news

Deputy Vice Senior General Soe Win

Deputy junta leader Soe Win tried to downplay the impact of desertions on Myanmar’s military as he met officers, other ranks and their families at a local battalion in Shan State’s Kalaw on March 18.

As many as 8,000 soldiers including battalion commanders and police had deserted the regime by December last year after witnessing the violence the regime used on its people, according to People’s Soldiers and People’s Embrace, groups formed by striking military officers. More soldiers are waiting for opportunities to desert.

But Soe Win said the deserters fled the army for fear of possible punishment after breaking laws. Certain countries and local terrorist groups have however described them as democracy heroes in their attempt to incite mutiny through a media campaign of misinformation, he said. In February, he traveled to restive Kayah State and urged striking government employees to return to their offices. Meanwhile, Australia is issuing protection visas to Myanmar military defectors.

ASEAN special envoy admits complexity of Myanmar issue

ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn (left) meets Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw on March 21, 2022. / Cncds

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s special envoy to Myanmar, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, met junta leader Min Aung Hlaing during his March 21-23 visit.

In his first Myanmar visit, he urged the regime to release political prisoners including Australian economist Sean Turnell. He also called on concerned parties to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force.

Min Aung Hlaing repeated his narrative that he was forced to take over because of electoral fraud in the 2020 general elections, and insisted he is doing what it takes to protect the lives and property of Myanmar people against resistance groups, which he called terrorists.

Daw Su Su Lwin, the wife of former president U Htin Kyaw and a lawmaker of the National League for Democracy, canceled a meeting with the ASEAN special envoy, citing health problems.

However, U Ko Ko Gyi, one of the prominent 88 Generation student leaders and People’s Party chairman who has recently come under fire for growing close to the regime since the coup, held talks with the special envoy.

The envoy said at a press conference at Phnom Penh Airport on March 23 after concluding his three-day official visit that the Myanmar issue is complicated and will take time to settle. He said it is unlikely that the issue will be settled during Cambodia’s one-year ASEAN chairmanship.

Military mouthpiece accuses NLD of manipulating social media for electoral victory

NLD supporters attend an election campaign rally in Yangon in 2015. / The Irrawaddy

In its latest attempt to smear the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar military has accused the NLD government of adopting the tactic of dominating social media to secure its electoral victories.

An editorial published in the March 19 issue of the military mouthpiece Myawady Daily alleged that before the 2015 general election, the NLD, with the support of certain countries, mobilized activists, journalists and social influencers to spread propaganda on social media to make it appear that the whole country supported the NLD.

Because of the NLD’s control of social media, people were unaware that only 12 million out of 26 million voters in 2015 supported the NLD and 12 million others did not support it, argued the editorial, without providing any evidence for its claim. In fact the NLD won 78.96 percent of votes in 2015.

The editorial continued to argue that the NLD, after it took office, acted on the advice of its foreign advisers and controlled social media like Facebook by spending more than 6 billion kyats (US$3.4 million). The “manipulation” it referred to was in fact the social media monitoring team formed with presidential funds in 2018 to monitor hate speech, misinformation and fake news aimed at inciting hatred and violence. The military mouthpiece has been busy slandering Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party since the coup.

Military admits killing Rohingya, denies genocide

A police officer passes by a torched Rohingya residence in southern Maungdaw in Rakhine State in September 2017. / The Irrawadddy

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun has denied the Myanmar military committed genocide against stateless Rohingya people in Rakhine State.

At the regime’s press conference on Thursday, the spokesman said the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) as an institution did not commit genocide against the Rohingya, but individual soldiers or individual groups of soldiers might have killed some Rohingya people, he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on March 21 that Myanmar’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its violence against the Rohingya minority in northern Rakhine State. Beyond the Holocaust, the United States has concluded that genocide has been committed eight times, most recently by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya, said Blinken at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The following day, the junta’s Foreign Ministry released a statement “strongly objecting [to] and categorically rejecting” Blinken’s remarks.

Myanmar’s army launched a military operation in 2017 that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya from their homes and into neighboring Bangladesh. In 2021, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup. Bangladesh welcomed Blinken’s remark, saying that it would expedite Rohingya repatriation.

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