Myanmar leader vows to crush resistance in rare speech

[Press center2] time:2023-06-10 15:20:42 source:ABC News author:Press center6 click:144order

The pageantry of Myanmar's annual military parade did little to mask the sinister message - the country's armed forces won't stop fighting those opposing their rule, whatever the cost.

A civil war has engulfed the country since a military coup in 2021.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, and more than a million have been displaced.

But General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military government, showed no signs of backing down in a rare speech.

The regime, he said, would deal decisively with what he described as "acts of terror" by armed resistance groups. And, he added, countries which have condemned his coup - supporters of terror, he branded them - were wrong and should join the military in shaping its own form of democracy.

It was a lavish parade, with Gen Min Aung Hlaing cutting a regal figure as he inspected the thousands of multi-coloured and impeccably-ordered troops in an open-top jeep - an unapologetic extravagance when so many Burmese people are enduring terrible economic hardship, but one which was meant to demonstrate a man in uncontested command of his army and country.

Armed Forces Day, which the parade commemorates, is a curiosity. It used to be called Resistance Day, in honour of the 1945 decision to resist the Japanese occupation. That must surely be an uncomfortable memory for an army which faces so much popular resistance to its rule today. It is, however, one of the few occasions when outsiders can hear the military commander speak.

Like so many other speeches by military leaders in Myanmar, this one too seemed stuck in the past. Gen Min Aung Hlaing ran through old grievances, real and perceived, blaming British imperialism and Japanese fascism, which he said had divided the people of Myanmar and pushed the armed forces to intervene repeatedly in its political life for the past 75 years.

There was Orwellian double-speak too, such as blaming Aung San Suu Kyi and her party for attempting to seize power through their resounding election victory in November 2020, when it was the men in uniform who actually seized power at the point of a gun, and at such catastrophic cost to the country.

The army and its supporters are still alone in calling that election fraudulent.

It is the soldiers, shouldering their duty with much sacrifice, who desire peace, Gen Min Aung Hlaing said - a jarring juxtaposition of reality for the thousands of Burmese who have suffered unspeakable brutalities at the hands of some of the same soldiers who marched with such well-drilled precision on Monday morning.

He also promised a return to democracy - saying elections will be held eventually and power handed over to "the winning party" - and invited the international community to join him in achieving this.

But with Ms Suu Kyi convicted on implausible charges, and locked up not far from where he was speaking, his version of democracy will be one where the military calls the shots. No civilian will be allowed to challenge its dominance as Ms Suu Kyi did for so long, and at the age of 77 she is unlikely to be allowed to play any significant role again.

International censure and sanctions have increasingly isolated Myanmar, but it retains the support of China and Russia, whose attaches attended the parade.

That support was visible in the form of Chinese and Russian aircraft and helicopters - Russian MI35 gunships, Chinese K8 ground attack aircraft and recently purchased FTC2000 jets - which have been terrorising populations in insurgent areas with air strikes, some less than 100km (62 miles) from the capital. They also showed multiple rocket launchers, a potentially devastating weapon if they choose to use them.

The message was clear: the army is strong, united, and able to impose its will on the country.

In many ways this feels like a return to the long years of suffocating repression under successive authoritarian regimes between 1962 and 2010 in Myanmar, with the military sticking to familiar themes from that time, of crushing internal enemies and defending the "three national causes", which put unity above everything else.

From the security of its fortified citadel, the military appears to believe that brute force, used on an increasingly exhausted population, will eventually cement their regime.

And with the economy in wretched shape since the coup, many Burmese people want a return to some kind of normality, on almost any terms.

(editor-in-charge:Press center2)

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