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Beyond the Headlines: Myanmar junta chief marks Armed Forces Day with vow to crush resistance

Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing marked Armed Forces Day on March 27 with a speech vowing to take decisive action against groups seeking the ouster of his regime.

Speaking against the backdrop of a display of military might in the junta’s capital, Naypyitaw, the senior general accused the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and its armed wing, the People’s Defence Forces (PDF), as well as their ethnic allies, of committing acts of “terrorism” as part of a “conspiracy for the devastation of the country.”

“The terror acts of NUG and its lackey so-called PDFs are needed to be tackled for good and all,” he said, according to an official translation of his remarks.

After his speech, Min Aung Hlaing paid his respects to several retired generals, including Thein Sein, the former president whose quasi-civilian administration led to a decade-long loosening of the military’s grip on power. A day earlier, the junta chief and his wife also met with relatives of Ne Win, the late dictator who ushered in Myanmar’s era of military rule in 1962.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing salutes retired general and former president Thein Sein at a ceremony marking Armed Forces Day on March 27 (PopularNews)

But even as he sought to project an image of military strength and unity, his forces continued to come under attack. On Monday, a coalition of resistance groups raided a police outpost in Nyaung Kone, a village in Mandalay Region’s Pyawbwe Township located about 100km northwest of Naypyitaw.

An officer of the Central Revolution Coalition—People’s Liberation Army, the group that carried out the raid, said that it was timed to coincide with the ceremony in Naypyitaw as a sign of the strength and readiness of the revolutionary forces.

The attack was only the latest in a series of incidents over the past week targeting junta personnel. 

On Friday, two explosions were reported at Yangon’s Insein Prison, resulting in a brief exchange of fire and tightened security at the notorious detention centre, where many regime opponents have been detained since the February 2021 coup.

The main entrance to Insein Prison, seen from inside (Myanmar Now)

There was also a series of explosions near a police station in Mandalay’s Aungmyaythazan Township on the same day. It was believed that regime forces deliberately set off the blasts after discovering explosives planted there by an unknown group.

Two days earlier, two separate attacks in Mandalay left two local regime administrators and a policeman dead. AST-MDY, an alliance of Mandalay-based urban guerrilla groups, claimed responsibility for both incidents.

The first attack occurred in Aungmyaythazan Township, where 100-household administrators Soe Naing and Win Ko were shot dead at a teashop on the morning of March 22. The second took place at around noon at a courthouse in Amarapura Township, where an explosion killed one policeman on guard duty and injured another.

AST-MDY also attacked the transportation department’s office in Chanayethazan Township with explosives on March 20, injuring four staff members.

Sanctions

On March 27, the UK announced another round of sanctions against a Myanmar company and two individuals who supply the Myanmar regime with military equipment and other restricted goods and technology through their businesses.

Those targeted in the latest UK sanctions are Shoon Energy Pte Ltd and its director and shareholder Khin Phyu Win, and Tun Min Latt, who is the director of Star Sapphire Trading Company, which was previously sanctioned by the UK.

The statement by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office said that Shoon Energy Pte is profiting from the supply of aviation fuel to Myanmar’s air force. On the other hand, Tun Min Latt’s Star Sapphire Trading supplied the regime with military equipment.

The businessman and his company along with his spouse Win Min Soe were also included in the US government’s sanctions announced on March 24. The moves by the UK and the US came six months after Tun Min Latt’s arrest in Thailand on charges of narcotics trafficking and money laundering.

The US Department of Treasury said in a statement that the individuals helped enable the Myanmar regime’s atrocities against civilians. The others targeted in the latest US sanctions were Asia Sun Group, Asia Sun Trading, and Cargo Link Petroleum Logistics, which the US government described as the three Myanmar-based companies that have helped the junta acquire jet fuel.

Pro-democracy activists have long called for efforts to deny the regime access to jet fuel as a means of limiting its ability to carry out indiscriminate airstrikes that have resulted in heavy civilian casualties.

Refugees

Myanmar’s junta has announced plans to accept 1,500 ethnic Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh as part of a controversial repatriation project that could be launched as early as next month, according to pro-junta media reports.

The program, which aims to bring the refugees to 15 newly constructed villages in Rakhine State, comes more than five years after hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape military “clearance operations” widely described as part of a genocidal campaign.

A Rohingya family arrives for a meeting with the Myanmar officials in Teknaf on March 15, 2023. – Myanmar officials were meeting with Rohingya refugees on March 15 in what Bangladeshi authorities said was the revival of a long-stalled effort to return the persecuted minority to their homeland. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

Asked about concerns for the safety of refugees who have agreed to take part in the project, junta spokesperson Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun claimed in an interview with international news outlet Al Jazeera that the regime “guarantees their security.”

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR had facilitated a trip by regime officials to refugee camps in Bangladesh, despite the agency’s own position that the situation in Myanmar remains too unsafe for the return of refugees.

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