Myanmar Junta Chief Visit to Moscow Seen as Shoring of Support Amid Condemnation For Coup

Observers say Min Aung Hlaing hoped to obtain recognition and a new channel for securing arms.

Myanmar Junta Chief Visit to Moscow Seen as Shoring of Support Amid Condemnation For Coup

A visit by Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to Russia this week is likely part of a bid to secure recognition and military equipment from Moscow amid widespread international condemnation of his overthrow of the democratically elected government, analysts said Wednesday.

Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Moscow on June 20 to attend a three-day international security conference, marking his second trip abroad since he ordered Myanmar’s military to orchestrate a takeover of the Southeast Asian nation on Feb. 1.

The junta alleges that a landslide victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the country’s November 2020 elections was the result of voter fraud. But it has yet to provide evidence for its claims and has responded to mass protests against the coup with violent crackdowns that have claimed at least 877 lives and resulted in more than 5,000 arrests.

Despite facing criticism of his rule at home and abroad, Min Aung Hlaing told a news conference in Moscow that the military under his control is working to reform what he called a “degraded” democracy in Myanmar.

On Tuesday, the junta leader met with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who called Myanmar “a time-tested strategic partner and a reliable ally” and praised Min Aung Hlaing for improving the country’s military. Shoigu said Russia plans to expand ties with Myanmar, with a particular focus on “cooperation in the military and military-technical field.”

Shoigu and Min Aung Hlaing last met during a January visit by the Russian minister to Myanmar, 10 days before the coup. At the time, observers questioned why Shoigu would hold private talks with the military chief without meeting with then State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi or President Win Myint, who were re-elected for a second term in November.

Min Aung Hlaing’s trip to Moscow follows a visit he made to Jakarta, Indonesia in April to attend an emergency summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called in response to ongoing violence in Myanmar—one of the bloc’s members. At the conclusion of that summit, he agreed to a framework that would end the bloodshed in his country, but few of the measures have since been implemented.

Asked why the junta chief would attend a security conference in Russia when his country is mired in chaos, Thein Tun Oo, the executive director of the pro-military Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the visit was to “build diplomatic relations” and had nothing to do with the current situation in Myanmar.

“Military cooperation with Russia is a really important international issue, especially for peace in the Asia-Pacific region, which will be important to Myanmar in the future,” he said.

“Myanmar and Russia are also strategic partners in military cooperation for the region. This is an international concern, and our internal affairs are not that important.”

Thein Tun Oo noted that Myanmar and Russia have signed a military alliance agreement and suggested that Min Aung Hlaing’s visit would further economic and security cooperation between the two nations going forward.

Successive military regimes in Myanmar have enjoyed long-standing relations with Russia and the former Soviet Union. Defense cooperation has notably increased in recent years, with Russia providing various kinds of military training to the junta, scholarships for thousands of soldiers to attend Russian universities, and arms sales.

In search of support

However, other analysts suggested that the junta chief was likely on a mission to shore up what little international support he can gather for his unpopular regime.

The U.S. and the EU have recently imposed visa bans on high-ranking members of Myanmar’s military—including Min Aung Hlaing—citing human rights abuses in the country, while the U.N. General Assembly recently condemned the coup and adopted a resolution on prevented the flow of arms to the junta.

“At a time when the United Nations has decided to curb the flow of arms and many countries are putting pressure on the junta, I see [Min Aung Hlaing] trying to build better ties with and obtain more support from China and Russia, which already have given him much support,” said Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a political and human rights researcher.

“He’s not thinking of protocols or anything, but to get continued support from them,” he said, adding that the other aim is likely “to restore a path for the flow of arms.”

Political analyst Than Soe Naing said Min Aung Hlaing personally attended the meeting in Russia—usually attended by defense ministers—because he sought international recognition.

“Actually, this is not a meeting for heads of state, it is a meeting of defense ministers,” he said.

“When the chief of the regime attends instead of the defense minister, it means he’s seeking international recognition. He wants this recognition so badly that he had to attend a meeting of ministers—a level lower than his.”

The analyst added that Min Aung Hlaing has been relying heavily on China for military assistance since taking power, and likely hoped to obtain a channel for equipment from Russia as well.

Attempts by RFA to reach Zin Mar Aung, the foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), for comment on the visit went unanswered Wednesday.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

Prison food lacks nutrition, and authorities should allow prisoners' families to visit, one rights group says.

Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

The wives of two political prisoners held in Cambodian jails are fearing for their husbands’ health after seeing them in failing health during recent visits, the women said, blaming prison authorities for failing to provide the men with adequate food.

Tek Sok Lorn, the wife of jailed opposition activist Prov Chantheun, said she was shocked at her husband’s appearance when she saw him through a glass partition at the Mort Khmung prison in Tbong Khmum province.

Her husband was thin, pale, and exhausted, and looked sadly at her through hollow eyes, Tek Sok Lorn told RFA on Wednesday.

“When I walked into the prison facility to visit him, I saw his tears,” she said.

“As his wife I am really concerned about his health, since he isn’t getting any sunlight. I am requesting the court to please render justice for us, and I’m asking the judge to be loyal to the Khmer nation and know what is right and what is wrong,” she said.

Nguon Phalla, the wife another Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist, Um Yet, said she had previously been able to bring him food every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and that he had been in good health during the last four months.

But now her husband has lost weight, has high blood pressure, and suffers from stomach pains possibly caused by malnutrition, she said.

“[The court] should release him,” Nguon Phalla said, adding, “He appears to have lost about 10 kilos of weight after being held for only six months, and I’m concerned that if he’s left like this he may lose even more, and that his life may be at risk.”

“I’m asking the court to release him and drop all the charges against him,” she added.

Verdicts to be announced

On June 30, the Tbong Khmum provincial court will announce verdicts in the cases of 14 political and land-rights activists. Eight of these, including six CNRP members and two land-rights activists, are now being held in the provincial prison, sources said.

Arrested between late 2020 and January 2021, they face charges of plotting, conspiracy to topple the government, and inciting social chaos for having worn T-shirts bearing political slogans and for gathering in protest last year in front of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.

The CNRP was banned and disbanded, and its leader Kem Sokha arrested, in late 2017 as part of a wider crackdown on civil society by longtime ruler Hun Sen, driving many party leaders into exile.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, Nuth Savana—spokesperson for the General Directorate of Prisons—said that inmates’ families are allowed to bring them food, medicine, and other amenities, and that prison officials always pay attention to the condition of their prisoners’ health.

The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the prisons is now declining, though one new case was recently found in the Kompong Thom provincial prison, Nuth Savana said. Physical contact between prisoners and their families is still barred, though, he added.

“During a workshop we held yesterday with the International Red Cross, we discussed the possibility of allowing video calls or phone calls between inmates and their families. These are all just options for discussion, though,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

'We cannot be silent'

Prum Chantha, the wife of political opposition figure Kak Komphear who remains locked up in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, said that after her group—named “Friday wives” for their weekly protests—appealed for help from foreign embassies, prison officials allowed her to send food to her husband.

She is still not allowed to meet with him in person, though, she said.

Prum Chantha said she is concerned over reports of the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons, adding that her group will continue to appeal to foreign embassies in Cambodia for intervention in their husbands’ cases.

“We cannot be silent. My husband didn’t commit any legal offense, so I must demand his release and look for ways to make that happen,” she said. “If all these officials were in this position, they would also miss their spouses and children,” she added.

Prison food often lacks nutrition, and prison officials should allow inmates’ family members to visit and bring them food, said Am Sam Ath of the local rights group Licadho.

“We always look for ways to encourage the prison department to facilitate visits by the families of detainees,” he said.

Courts and the relevant government departments should also address the issue of overcrowding in the prisons, Am Sam Ath said.

“We have seen the the Ministry of Justice is currently drafting a proposal to allow inmates whose full sentences have almost been served to be released under certain conditions. But we also want to see a decision reached in the cases of prisoners held while waiting for their trial.”

“We call on the courts to speed up their procedures so that these cases can be heard, with some detainees being given priority for release,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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