This story was built on partnership Pulitzer Center.
Naypyidaw / Yangon, Myanmar – Since the start of their military coup on February 1, Myanmar’s generals have remained largely out of the shadows, isolated in the country’s ghost capital, Nay Pyi Taw.
In a metaphorical and literal echo chamber in the now-vacated caverns halls of parliament with the help of yes-men surpluses, the generals have shut down the rest of the country for justifying the deadly crackdown on anti-coup protests.
So far, journalists outside Myanmar have also been strictly excluded. But in an unexpected move apparently intended to demonstrate military control of the growing desperate situation, a. Southeast Asia Globe On behalf of Al Jazeera, the reporter was invited to a week-long tour of Yangon and Nappido, including CNN, which ended in April.
The visit, hosted by controversial military PR man Ari Ben-Menas, provided insights into the vision and workings of a military government isolated from the majority of people across the country. During an hour-long conversation with the Globe on April 4, Brigadier General Zhao Min Tun no longer deviated from the military’s message of justice – to overthrow the country’s civilian government and use violence to consolidate power for the next two months.
He declined to give an accurate estimate of when the military, also known as Tatmad, would allow Myanmar to return to some civilian rule. He returned the first timeline of a year, insisting the military could extend his ongoing state of emergency for another two years.
“We are trying to stabilize the country within a year, but if we can’t, we have to extend it for another six months. And after that, six more months, but that’s it, “said Zhao Min-tun, referring to the maximum increase allowed by the 2008 constitution drafted by the military.
“So for a maximum of two years and beyond, we will invite international actors to observe a free and fair selection.”
In an attempt to justify the seizure of power as well as the violence against civilians, the army’s commander-in-chief and Myanmar’s de facto ruler, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has repeatedly called for electoral fraud in the November 7 election. . The Election Commission, however, said the allegations were baseless.
Zhao Min Tun told the Globe that all political parties would be allowed to stand in any of the upcoming elections. Asked if the now-stuck state councilor Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party would be included in the pledge, he declined to answer, saying it had won a landslide victory over the army’s political proxy in the November race.
Instead, the brigadier general pointed to an ongoing investigation into allegations filed by military defendants against the deposed state adviser, including alleged alleged import of registered walkie-talkies, bribery allegations and alleged breaches of COVID-19 security measures, both used in coups and attacks. Justify the current house arrest of.
“I have no comment on whether Aung San Suu Kyi will be released or whether she will be allowed to run in the next election, depending on what she has done in the past. If we find out that he did something wrong, he will be punished, “said Zhao Min-tun.
“Overall the NLDO is part of this ongoing interrogation but it may take time. For example, if someone commits murder, it will take time to determine if they are guilty. “
This kind of radical discourse was consistent in the message following the Tatmado coup. The military has claimed to represent democratic principles, and even its forces have imprisoned most of the popularly elected government and killed more than 550 civilians.
Fictional allegations and painted court trials were also at the heart of the military’s playbook, especially in its attempt to suppress longtime democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her party in Myanmar. Zhao Min Tun suggested that he would never be able to escape from Tatmada anytime soon.
Whether the NLD will take part or not, a new election has been widely condemned by the people of Myanmar, who have demanded that the November vote be honored and that Aung San Suu Kyi be released.
Blaming the protesters
In cities and suburbs across the country, citizens from different backgrounds rallied in support of the civil disobedience movement and millions of people filled the streets with hundreds of thousands of people protesting.
Security forces similarly rallied to stop the movement, firing on protesters and sometimes indiscriminately at homes and businesses. Many of those killed in anti-riot attacks by the army and police were in favor of the protests, including at least 446 children.
During the heavily observed foreign press tour, the military tried to impose blame on the protesters. Part of that effort is recruiting supporters from the Yangon region to speak to foreign journalists. The group read descriptions of attacks carried out by “violators” of heavily trained and neutral civilians, using the term to refer to anti-coup protesters.
Sayadao Yu Thiri Dhamma, a monk at the Wat Kwe Tao Pai monastery in a town north of Yangon, went to a news conference with his monk’s clothes and an eye patch coming out from behind dark sunglasses.
He said he was attacked by a group of 100 protesters after he was believed to be a Tatmada spy. The date of the attack is unclear, but he changed it to an undisclosed date in February as he spoke in mid-March.
“The protesters were shouting outside my monastery. When I told them to be quiet, they attacked me with catapults and accused me of being a military spy, “said U Thiri Dhamma.
“In Yangon, it’s not just one monastery, there are three more monasteries that were attacked by terrorists.”
As U Thiri Dhamma used the word “terrorist”, translators and defense ministers interconnected to correct him because he probably turned the script off. He meant “violator”, they explained, but his English was not good.
Le Le Naing Kiao, a self-described musician known from the military family, said he was also identified as a spy, with posters calling him his traitor stuck in a lamp post in his neighborhood. His house was also vandalized. He said he had to go into hiding for his safety.
“My family is a military family and so I support the military and accept the coup. But most of the people around me support the NLD and say they want to kill me, “said Le Le Ning Q. “These people want to destroy the nation.”
Although some of the violent tactics used by the protesters were retaliatory, the military coup against the anti-coup movement has failed comparatively more than the indiscriminate killings and attacks by soldiers on the other side of the barricade.
The press trip itself reveals the brutality of these crimes. Immediately after visiting journalists in two Yangon markets on April 4, 11 people were arrested for allegedly talking to foreign journalists in some other way. Eight of those who exchanged views directly with the tour have been released.
They insisted they knew the risk of speaking out against the military to foreign journalists, but they wanted to ensure that the truths and stories of their violent protesters would be recorded and shared.
A young man and a woman working in a shop in the market took a three-finger salute and stepped into the street. They have asked to remain anonymous to protect their safety.
“I cannot accept a military coup. They are shooting a lot of people in Myanmar. Every day I see on Facebook that the police and soldiers are killing people, ”the woman said.
Some members of the security forces even described the use of force against peaceful protesters to visiting journalists. Police Captain Tun Min and Second Lieutenant Jay Yesh are part of a security force patrolling North Okkalapa, one of the cities in northern Yangon, under martial law. Speaking to The Globe, they acknowledged that the protests they witnessed were nonviolent, and yet they used heavy-handed methods to control the protesters.
“We were stopping the violators. Sometimes I’ve seen raids and roadblocks and littered the streets but that’s exactly it. As far as I can see the protesters were not violent but we still use the word grenade, ”a male translator said.
‘We do not blame them for their condemnation’
The use of lethal force by the military has earned a living from international partners investing in Myanmar’s current democratic transition. The coup marked the beginning of a new round of foreign trade sanctions aimed at military statistics and Tatmado-owned businesses, not to mention diplomat Angus.
Returning to Naypyidaw, Zhao Min-tun addressed strong criticism of the use of force by security forces against the protesters, as well as widespread opposition to the coup. He dismissed international blockbacks as a simple matter of dissent.
“Yes, we know that condemnation has come from the West, but condemnation is their own judgment. We have embassies and ambassadors in our country and we have diplomacy in their country, ”the brigadier general said through a translator.
“We don’t want to blame them for their condemnation. We accept that, but it doesn’t matter to us.”
The dismissal of Jav Min Tun was at odds with the harsh tone of foreign reprimands in this latest chapter of military rule in Myanmar, some of which came from non-Western powers such as Japan and South Korea.
Overall, Tatomada denied any wrongdoing while reiterating the promise of holding new elections in some undisclosed locations in the future.
The Brigadier General said, “All the steps we have taken are in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.” “We will never be able to break the democratic system of governance in Myanmar.”
The two-month-long search for the results of the November 8 election has resulted in the number of protesters killed by its members since the military coup, and the ballot box has fled. According to the military, the current death toll is 248, with less than half of the deaths confirmed by independent media and international rights groups in Myanmar.
Min Aung Hlaing made little comment on the death toll or any plans for the military.
Zhao Min Tun, taking a break from recent interview allegations, said that 10.4 million votes from past elections were either missing or false – a number ignored by independent election observers investigating.
What the military is concerned about is the committee representing the Paidangsu Halta (CRPH), a caretaker government made up of representatives elected in the November election. When the CRPH, as well as the International Committee, were called upon to recognize Myanmar as a legitimate government, the Brigadier General responded quickly and did not stand by his word of mouth.
“More than 15 political parties do not support the CRPH. When you try and discuss CRPH, they are simply an online government. They are illegal and there is no way to talk about them, ”said Zhao Min Tun.
“We [the military] There is so much experience in how to deal with such organizations, “he said, referring to organizations formed in 1962 and 1966 to oppose previous military coups.
In both cases, the military responded with widespread violence.
This story has been co-published Southeast Asia Globe And Al Jazeera