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Myanmar’s military makes its annual parade of strength despite unprecedented battlefield losses

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BANGKOK (AP) — The head of Myanmar’s ruling military council marked Armed Forces Day on Wednesday with a speech claiming that the nation’s youth were being tricked into supporting the resistance against army rule, and that ethnic armed groups allied with the resistance engage in drug trafficking, natural resources smuggling and illegal gambling.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing spoke in the capital, Naypyitaw, where thousands of military personnel paraded in an annual show of strength, even as the army has suffered a series of unprecedented battlefield defeats that have tarnished their once invincible reputation.

Min Aung Hlaing touched on familiar themes, urging the international community not to support the resistance forces, whom he blamed for disturbing the process for planned but not yet scheduled elections. Earlier this month, he told Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency that elections might be held in parts of the country that are peaceful and stable.

Many Western nations have applied sanctions against Myanmar’s ruling generals because of their 2021 seizure of power and brutal suppression of opposition. Military offensives since then have displaced more than 2 million people, according to the United Nations.

Min Aung Hlaing said it is “disheartening to witness youths becoming scapegoats of insurgents, misled by false narrative propaganda through media sabotage.” He also accused unnamed ethnic armed groups of “destroying the path towards forming a union based on democratic values and federalism.”

The army in 2021 overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, whom it accused of winning the 2020 election through massive voter fraud, presenting what it said was evidence disputed by independent poll watching groups.

The military’s suppression of protests against its takeover triggered nationwide armed resistance. Thousands of young people fled to jungles and mountains in remote border areas and made common cause with ethnic guerrilla forces battle-hardened by decades of combat with the army in pursuit of autonomy.

Over the past five months, Min Aung Hlaing’s army has been routed in northern Shan state, is conceding swathes of territory in Rakhine state in the west and is under growing attack in other regions.

As losses have risen and morale has plummeted, authorities activated a conscription law in a bid to strengthen their position.

Both the military and some of the ethnic minority groups with strongholds in border regions have been accused of having links to illegal activities such as drug production and offering protection to casino complexes that have served as centers for carrying out illegal scams online.

The parade marking this year’s 79th Armed Forces Day was held in the sunset hours for the first time since Naypyitaw became the capital in 2006. Previously, it was held at sunrise. Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson for the ruling military council, explained that the change was due to the unusually hot weather caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

Armed Forces Day marks the day in 1945 when the army of Myanmar, then known as Burma, began its fight against occupying Japanese forces who had taken over after driving out the British.

Statements by the British and Canadian embassies marking Armed Forces Day, noted that civilians across the country are being targeted in attacks by the military that include airstrikes on homes, schools, health care facilities and places of worship.

Canada in its statement urged all countries to “immediately stop the sale or transfer of arms, military equipment, dual-use equipment, aviation fuel and technical military assistance to Myanmar.”

By GRANT PECK
Associated Press

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