July 7, 2023

Junta Watch: Min Aung Hlaing Orders Budget Cuts to Fuel War Machine; Anger at East Timor Over NUG Invite; and More  

The Irrawaddy

Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing repeatedly instructed his regime’s ministries to tighten their belts at a June 30 cabinet meeting on ‘boosting the national economy’, even though he has spent the largest proportion of national budget on military expenditures to retain his grip on power.

Min Aung Hlaing urged his ministers to reduce expenditure out of ‘love for the motherland’. Both the junta chief and his deputy, Soe Win, often preach economic abstinence at cabinet meetings.

It is not clear how the ministries have managed to reduce their expenditures so that money can be diverted to the junta’s war on civilian and armed opponents. But the US-sanctioned former National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Daw Thet Thet Khine, who serves as regime’s social welfare minister, has cut the state pension by half from 120,000 kyats (around US$ 50) per year to 60,000 kyats.

Launched in 2017-18 under the NLD government, the pension scheme covers elderly citizens aged 85 and above.

Min Aung Hlaing is no doubt cheering Thet Thet Khine for the cut since it harms the initiative launched under the ousted civilian government while also freeing up extra military budget for the regime.

Regime spurned by SE Asian govt

The junta’s foreign ministry summoned East Timor’s chargé d’affaires to Naypyitaw on Wednesday after the fellow Southeast Asian nation invited Myanmar’s civilian National Unity Government to the swearing-in of its new government on July 1.

U Chan Aye, permanent secretary of the junta’s foreign ministry, told the Timorese diplomat that the NUG is a terrorist organization, and invitation to or communication with NUG representatives “abets terrorism and encourages violence in the country, and infringes international agreements related to combating terrorism.”

He called on the East Timor government to refrain from making any form of contact with such ‘terrorist groups’ and their representatives.

Regime anger over the East Timor government’s invitation came as no surprise.

On June 23, director-general Zaw Phyo Win, the son-in-law of former military dictator Than Shwe, signed the condolence book at the East Timor Embassy in Yangon following the demise of the Timorese prime minister’s wife.

But when the new East Timor government was sworn in a week later, a Myanmar regime desperate for diplomatic recognition was spurned and the NUG invited instead. NUG foreign minister Daw Zin Mar Aung attended the swearing-in and met with the president of East Timor, who even accepted a portrait of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from her.

Defending the indefensible

As the United Nations Human Rights Council convened in Geneva to discuss human rights violations by Myanmar’s military regime, junta-appointed foreign minister Than Swe gave a diplomatic briefing on recent national developments in Yangon on Thursday.

Military graduate Than Swe, who was Myanmar’s ambassador to the US under U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, repeated what he said at Thai-sponsored informal talks held in June, defending the military regime, blaming the People’s Defense Force, and insisting the Myanmar military does not use disproportionate force but strictly follows Vienna Convention rules of engagement.

However, his statement coincided with a junta warplane dropping bombs on a camp for internally displaced people in Kayah State’s Hpruso, its artillery strike in Sagaing Region’s Wetlet Township that left seven civilians dead, and routine arson attacks on villages in the same region’s Khin-U Township. Meantime, the regime also threatened to bomb an independent school in Kachin State’s Hpakant, accusing it of being run by the civilian National Unity Government.

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