After being held under house arrest for the better part of two decades by the Burmese military, opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi made her first appearance at the country’s Armed Forces Day celebrations in Naypyidaw.
According to National League for Democracy (NLD) MP Min Thu, Suu Kyi attended the ceremony in Naypyidaw after receiving an invitation from the Commander-in-Chief of Burma’s armed forces Min Aung Hlaing.
“[Her attendance] also aims to encourage the Tatmadaw to transform into a [military force] admired by the people,” said Min Thu.
However, NLD patron Tin Oo said the Lady still regards the holiday as Resistance Day – the original name of the day celebrating the Tatmadaw’s fight against Japan’s occupation of Burma during World War Two.
The name of the holiday was later changed to Armed Forces Day by General Ne Win, who led a coup in 1962 that led to five decades of military rule in the country.
“Today is the Resistance Day – not the Armed Forces Day. Maybe she attended it because she was invited when she was there – but she regards it as the Resistance Day,” said Tin Oo.
The NLD patron went on to add that the commander-in-chief’s speech differed in tone from any given in past years by military leaders.
“This was the first time General Aung San was mentioned [in the commander-in-chief’s speech] as the architecture of Burma’s independence, leader of the ethnic groups and the father of the Tatmadaw – so that was something unique,” said Tin Oo
More than 6,000 military troops assembled on Naypyidaw’s parade grounds this morning where they were reviewed by senior Tatmadaw and government officials.
As the soldiers marched in precise columns near the presidential palace, tanks, armed personnel carriers and helicopter gunships accompanied them, as Russian-made jets passed low overhead in a show of force.
Wednesday also marked the first day that the commander-in-chief was called by his new rank, senior general – a position that was last held by the notorious junta-strongman Than Shwe.
Anthony Davis, security analyst at IHS-Jane’s, described the promotion as “hardly suprising”.
“Over the past two years his place-man Min Aung Hlaing has assumed an increasingly prominent role both domestically and in terms of Tatmadaw interaction with the foreign military community,” said Davis.
“He is evidently seen by the Old Man (Than Shwe) and those around him as a reliable and loyal successor, a steady hand who will protect their interests and at the same time keep Burma on the path laid out in their road-map. Min Aung Hlaing is not likely to spring any policy surprises.”
As the new senior general took the podium on Naypyidaw’s parade grounds, Min Aung Hlaing reaffirmed the military’s commitment to reforms and said the armed forces would remain engaged in the country’s political landscape.
In accordance with the 2008 military-backed constitution, the country’s armed forces control 25 percent of Burma’s parliamentary seats.
The commander-in-chief then went on to defend the Tatmadaw, which has largely been regarded as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of human rights abuses.
“We are a military force that exceptionally adheres to not only civil and martial laws and regulations, but also the Geneva Convention. Since we are educating our Tatmadaw men to acknowledge and adhere to the Geneva Convention, our Tatmadaw had never committed any war crimes and soldiers who [committed war crimes] were effectively taken action upon under the military regulations,” said Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
During the speech, the commander-in-chief noted that the military has remained committed to defending the country’s citizens and said the Tatmadaw, has “never held a grudge” against any of the country’s myriad ethnic groups.
“Thus I would like to state here there was no genocide in the history of the Tatmadaw,” said the senior general.
While Burma has begun to inch its way back into the international community after a civilian government took the country’s reins of power two years ago, human rights groups continue to report on extensive abuses committed by the military.
Following the collapse of a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army in 2011, the Tatmadaw has been accused of razing villages, using civilians as porters and sexually assaulting women during its two year offensive against the Kachin rebels in the country’s far north.
-Additional reporting provided by Shwe Aung and David Stout.