Thousands of people rallied in front of Yangon’s City Hall in a show of support for the Tatmadaw on Sunday, with participants waving national flags and military banners at a gathering with little precedent in a country formerly ruled by an oppressive junta.
The rally was organised by the “Tatmadaw Admirers Group,” concluding downtown after a march that began at Shwedagon Pagoda.
The prominent monk Myingyan Sayadaw, former lawmaker “Bullet” Hla Swe of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, singer Li Li Naing Kyaw and beauty queen Shwe Eain Si delivered speeches to the crowd.
The rally was held in support of Burma’s military, an institution increasingly embattled on the international stage but which has found growing support at home for its counter-insurgency campaign in northern Rakhine State. Demonstrators said they also organised the event to thank military personnel for carrying out their duties in conflict-torn parts of the country.
The crowd also demanded that President Htin Kyaw condemn international pressure on the Tatmadaw and issue clear guidance on resolving the situation in Rakhine State, where the military has waged a counter-offensive against Rohingya militants who attacked several police posts on 25 August.
The harsh military crackdown that followed those attacks has been the source of intense international scrutiny in the months since, with the UN human rights chief calling it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from northern Rakhine State across the border into Bangladesh since August, leading to a mounting humanitarian crisis there.
Burma’s government and military deny that any large-scale abuses have been perpetrated by security forces in Arakan State, and a UN fact-finding mission to probe the rights allegations — one component of the growing international pressure — has been denied entry into the country.
With additional reporting by Ei Ma Ma Mon