Myanmar’s coup leader Min Aung Hlaing has pledged to deal decisively with “terrorists” fighting against his rule as the military put on an annual show of strength for Armed Forces Day.
The senior general delivered his remarks on Monday after soldiers marched in formation through a parade ground in the capital, Naypyidaw, backed by armoured vehicles, missiles and artillery as well as fighter jets and helicopters flying overhead.
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Myanmar’s military has been accused of indiscriminate killings of civilians as it engages in major offensives to suppress the armed resistance opposed to its takeover of the government two years ago.
In his speech, Min Aung Hlaing said those who condemned his military government demonstrated indifference to the violence committed by its opponents.
Armed Forces Day marks the anniversary of the start of a 1945 uprising by the army against occupying Japanese forces. The country then called Burma attained independence from colonial power Britain in 1948 and has been ruled by a succession of military governments for most of the years since.
On February 1, 2021, the military toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, prompting peaceful protests that security forces suppressed with bloody violence that escalated since then and has been been characterised by United Nations experts and others as a civil war.
Opposition to military rule is led by a self-styled National Unity Government (NUG) of elected legislators who were denied their seats by the army and stakes a claim to being the country’s legitimate administration.
Its armed wing, the loosely organised People’s Defense Forces (PDF) along with their armed ethnic minority allies, regularly attacks military columns, bases and outposts.
At the same time, the army and air force are hitting villages with artillery and air raids, often causing civilian casualties and being accused of other brutal human rights abuses. Their offences have displaced more than a million people, causing a humanitarian crisis.
His government has declared major resistance organisations to be terrorist groups, and anyone associated with them is subject to harsh punishment.
“The terror acts of the NUG and its lackey so-called PDFs are needed to be tackled for good and all,” Min Aung Hlaing said in his speech.
“The [military] and the government also need to take action against this terrorist group, trying to devastate the country and killing the people.”
While Min Aung Hlaing said the actions of his military were necessary to achieve peace, his government is keen to dismiss allegations of human rights abuses by pointing at the violence carried out by its opponents.
After security forces arrested, tortured and killed activists in the cities, urban guerrilla groups responded with bombings and assassinations of targets said to be linked to the military. On Friday, a veteran corporate lawyer accused of being a military crony was shot dead in the country’s biggest city, Yangon.
There were scattered protests reported against the military’s celebration.
Independent online media reported that explosions took place in at least three areas of the country’s biggest city, Yangon on Monday morning.
Yangon Revolution Force, a pro-democracy activist group, announced it had protested Armed Forces Day by performing a ritual at a Buddhist pagoda putting a curse on Min Aung Hlaing. The military’s leaders, like many people in Myanmar, are known to be highly superstitious.
In the Sagaing region in the northwest, a stronghold of armed resistance, people held small protests against Armed Forces Day.
“The situation is quite desperate,” said Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Naypyidaw. “A spokesperson for the military has told us that the army only controls two-thirds of the country. He can see that the elections that were supposed to go ahead later this year will be very difficult because they’re still trying to get control of their fighting in the east, west and north, even in the centre of Myanmar.”
Cheng added, “Western sanctions are also starting to bite, and I think that is putting the generals in charge in a difficult position… But at this stage, there seems little sign that they are willing to loosen their grip on the country.”