Written Interview by the Asahi Shimbun of His Excellency Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services of Myanmar:Questions and Answers

The full text of question and answer section between the replies of Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to questions raised by Asahi

Shimbun of Japan was mentioned as follow:-

Questions on general election

Que:  The general election will be held on 8 November. What is the basic attitude of the military toward this election? Will the military fully support the USDP?

Ans:   Even during the time of the military government, free and fair elections were successfully held in 1990, with a voter turnout of over 72%. It was the Myanmar Defence Services (the “Tatmadaw”) which layout the path for the current multiparty democratic system in Myanmar.

I frequently said that free and fair elections are the foundations of a multi-party democratic system. In 2010, the Myanmar Defence Services were able to ensure that free and fair elections were held.In 2015, the Union Election Commission led by U Tin Aye held elections that were free and fair. This is why National League for Democracy (NLD), which was the opposition party at the time, was able to form a new government in 2016. In March 2016, that new government established the current Union Election Commission led by U Hla Thein. Given that the current Union Election Commission has had ample time to prepare for the 2020 general elections, it must ensure that the 2020 elections are free and fair. Regarding the issue of the Tatmadaw’s views on any political party, that party’s goals and strategies will be the determining factor. The Tatmadaw is ready and willing to cooperate with all parties who adhere to safeguarding the Our Three Main National Causes non-disintegration of the Union,the non-disintegration of national solidarity and the perpetuation of sovereignty.

Que:  The USDP has been demanding the postponement of the election because of COVID-19, but UEC decided to go ahead the election as scheduled. How about your opinion about this issue?

Ans:  Myanmar saw its first confirmed outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The spread of COVID-19 appeared to have been relatively limited until the end of August. However, in September, we saw the cases start to increase. For example, in August Myanmar had 882 confirmed cumulative cases, 354 fully recovered and 6 total coronavirus deaths. Following this, the second wave of COVID-19 infections is becoming uncontrollable. The COVID-19 pandemic is dangerous for all human beings, and we need to follow the guidelines set by the World Health Organization as well as Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sports, such as social distancing and so on. Developing countries need to implement disease prevention and control measures among their citizens to a level similar to that in developed countries such as Japan, Singapore and Republic of Korea, in order to minimize the risks from this pandemic. In Myanmar, the general elections are held three months before the new government is scheduled to be formed. This allows ample time for the Union Election Commission to resolve issued and for the winning party to form a new government in the post-election period. There is enough time for preparations and it could also be used as substitution time for the election. This time is well enough. In the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, my view is that part of this period should be devoted to implementing and stepping up strict COVID-19 prevention and control measures so that the COVID-19 situation comes under control to a certain extent. Only then we can hold the elections. For example, they could postpone the elections to December.

Nothing is more important than human lives. However, they have decided that elections will be held on 8 November 2020, so I have no further comments on this.

Que:  As of today, it is reported that the NLD is advancing to the USDP. How do you analyze the current situation of the USDP?

Ans:  Not only the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but other parties such as the People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) and Union Betterment Party (UBP) are also being active. Whether one party will do better than another does not provide a complete picture of the national situation. All parties are expected to make progress to a certain extent.

Que:  How do you evaluate the NLD’s administration over the last five years? What are the most positive and negative aspects of the NLD?

Ans:  The NLD-led government is trying to do its best, and my views on its success or lack thereof are basically the same as those of the world and Myanmar citizens.

Questions on Constitutional Amendment

Que:  Under the current constitution, only 75 percent of seats in parliament are up for election, while 25 percent of seats in both the upper and lower houses are reserved for serving military appointees. In this point, NLD has pledged to amend the Constitution as saying it is not democratic. What do you think about this point? In this year, military lawmakers once opposed the proposal of amendment in the parliament. What do the military think about the necessity of amending this clause?

Ans:  Myanmar’s political system is moving towards a multi-party democratic system. From 1962 to 2011 a period of nearly 50 years Myanmar used a centralized system of government. For a multi-party democratic system to fully work, we need political stability and security of the Union. At present, do we have such a situation? Chapter 1 and Chapter 8 of the 2008 Constitution clearly set out the guarantees peace and security for our citizens. Of course, there may be some people who disagree with this view. The Tatmadaw’s participation in 25 percent of Hluttaw seats is to work towards this goal. The participation of the Tatmadaw had not impeded the legislative processes. There are many laws that can be passed without requiring the support of the Tatmadaw representatives in the Hluttaw. Yet, over these past four years, how many laws have been passed that benefit the citizens? The reason why the Tatmadaw now has 25% participation in the Hluttaw is because of Myanmar’s unique situation of armed conflict, ongoing peace negotiations with armed groups, and the fact that our systems are still not fully mature.

Que:  If the NLD wins the general election, it can be interpreted that people are supporting the constitutional amendment. Is it possible for the military to accept the constitutional amendment in response to public opinion?

Ans:  With regard to amendment of the Constitution, the due process is set out in Chapter 12 of the 2008 Constitution.

Questions on peace process with ethnic minorities

Que: How do you evaluate the current situation of peace talks with ethnic minority armed groups? What do you think about the reason why the negotiations are not proceeding well? It has been pointed out that the strong stance of the military is hindering peace process. How do you think?

Ans:  It was during President U Thein Sein’s time that we achieved the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). This NCA has been signed by both the Commander in- Chief of Defence Services and the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services. The NCA is the basis for achieving eternal peace, and we therefore have to make this foundation strong. Demands by armed groups through armed confrontations cannot be the way forward in a democratic system. If there are disagreements, consultations and negotiations should be the answer, not armed confrontations.

Que:  Are there any disagreements or difference of opinion between the Tatmadaw and NLD government on the negotiation of peace process? If so, what is the problem?

Ans:  This question is already answered above. The NLD government’s past statements on this issue show whether the NLD has a difference in opinion with us or not.

Que:  Japanese government also has been cooperating with peace talk process. How do you evaluate the role of Japan?

Ans:  Japan helped us in achieving independence from British colonial rules. Our country had internal armed conflicts just after regaining independence mainly due to the legacies and systems left by the colonialists. On the other hand, at the end of the Second World War, Japan was able to successfully rebuild the country and put in place a democratic system. In Myanmar’s post-independence period, our rebuilding tasks have been heavily constrained by armed conflict and our progress has been slow. We are still moving towards a democratic system. Each country has its own way of achieving this. Japan is supporting Myanmar’s peace process, and we can assume that this is to help us and expand cooperation between our two countries. On our part, we will always try our best to move forward in the right direction to achieve sustainable peace.

Questions on Rakhine issue

Que: The international community is harshly criticizing you and the military due to the persecution of Muslim people. The ICC (International Criminal Court) is reportedly preparing for prosecute you and other military executives. And court process is going on at the ICJ (International Court of Justice) also. What do you think about the opinion of international community?

Ans: The international community is putting pressure on us for political reasons. If we look at the actual situation, it is not so complicated. Our official records recognize only 135 indigenous ethnic groups. Bengalis or Rohingyas are not among these indigenous groups. The term Rohingya has been formulated by the same people to distinguish themselves from Bengali. While we do not object to the Bengali people living inside Myanmar’s territories in accord with the international codes, the issue of their citizenship, the definition of indigenous people, and the rights of citizens and indigenous people are solely matters for domestic law, as in every other sovereign country.

Myanmar is proceeding in accordance with our existing national laws in addressing these issues, and we cannot accept international interventions in this matter. If this were Japan, you would also object it. We are a small and poor developing country and the international community is using massive resources financial, human, and material to apply pressure on us.

Que:  Myanmar government insists that if there is a criminal behavior by the military, it could be resolved inside the country through the due process. However, international community has raised questions about the self-cleaning ability of the Myanmar government, pointing out the example that convicted soldiers were released in a short period of time. What do you think about it?

Ans:  The Myanmar Defence Services are mandated to protect the country. We must look at this issue taking the intention of our Defence Services into account. Every citizen loves his/her country. We have to take action within the law, but not undermine our troops’ commitment to defending the country. This was a case of our troops defending our sovereign territory against transnational terrorist forces, which were formed by ARSA, together with some Bengali extremists who are not Myanmar citizens. Such external threats, attacks and killing of transnational terrorism cannot be handled by negotiations around the peace process table, unlike the conflict with our ethnic armed organizations. During the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars, the United States military treated its troops leniently. Within our Myanmar Defence Services, we take appropriate punishment according to our laws against officers and troops who commit violence against civilians, even during counter-terrorism operations.

Que:  How do you think about the attitude of NLD government to Rakhine issue: Is there any difference or conflict with military side?

Ans:  It can be assumed that the NLD is cleverly managing this issue so as not to affect their political image. The key point here is that we cannot let national sovereignty and national unity be compromised in any way. The Myanmar Defence Services is committed to our national interest, and to protect the Our Three Main National Causes without harming national characteristics.

Que:  What is the key to solve the Rakhine Issue, including the repatriation: of refugees in Bangladesh?

Ans:  The citizenship process in Myanmar is subject to our existing law, which is our 1982 Citizenship Law.Such issue will be undergone in accord with the existing laws. Buthidaung and Maungtaw townships in Rakhine State were the scene of conflicts in 2012, 2016 and 2017. Those conflicts were initiated by ARSA terrorists and extremist Bengalis. Those affected by this violence were other Bengalis, and indigenous peoples such as Rakhine, Mro, Khamee and Thet communities who were killed by ARSA and extremist Bengalis. Entire villages were displaced. Also killed were Bengalis of the Hindu faith.

The conflicts led to displacement of Muslim Bengalis, some to Sittway, but most into Bangladesh, being sure that Bangladesh would protect them and that Bangladesh already has several of the same race. On the Myanmar side, the displaced people are being provided with protection and shelter. Myanmar has not refused the return of those who fled and is in discussions with Bangladesh.

The repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh is taking time, due to various causes. It is important to view this in a balanced manner.

Question on future career

Que:  Some newspaper shave reported that you will retire from the commander-in-chief next year. Actually, when will it be a timing of retirement? What is your vision of political career after retirement?

Ans:  Whether as a soldier or as a private individual, I will continue to work, according to national law.I would like to use my work experience in the service of Myanmar and its people. I will also work in accordance with our Constitution,which confers me with the full rights and opportunities of a Myanmar citizen.

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