Myanmar junta chief says army will 'annihilate' coup opponents

Min Aung Hlaing accuses unnamed 'foreign aggressors' of working against the military

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Myanmar's army will “annihilate” coup opponents, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said on Sunday as the military staged a show of force on the anniversary of its bloodiest crackdown so far on democracy protests.

The South-east Asian country has been in chaos since a coup in February last year, with more than 1,700 people killed in crackdowns on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.

Across the country “People's Defence Force” fighters, often armed with home-made or rudimentary weapons, clash regularly with troops, with some analysts suggesting the military has struggled to respond effectively to their hit-and-run tactics.

Fighting has also flared with more established ethnic rebel groups along the Thai and Chinese borders.

Presiding over the annual parade that showcased tanks, truck-mounted missiles, artillery and troops on horseback, Min Aung Hlaing told some 8,000 assembled security personnel that the army would not let up.

The military will “no longer negotiate … and annihilate until the end” groups fighting to overturn its rule, he said before the Armed Forces Day procession in the army-built capital Naypyidaw.

Jets flew overhead trailing the yellow, red and green of the national flag, while state media showed women lining the streets leading to the parade ground to give flowers and place garlands on the marching soldiers.

In commercial hub Yangon, around a dozen anti-junta protesters set off flares and shouted slogans, according to footage posted on social media.

Others called on social media for residents to switch off their lights at home in a national “power strike” on Sunday evening.

Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, and usually features a military parade attended by foreign officers and diplomats.

Last year, as Min Aung Hlaing inspected the parade, the military carried out a crackdown on democracy rallies that left about 160 protesters dead, according to a local monitoring group.

The violence was the bloodiest day so far since the military removed Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government on February 1, 2021.

The junta has become increasingly isolated, with Cambodia's leader Hun Sen the only foreign leader to visit since the coup.

On Sunday Min Aung Hlaing accused unnamed “foreign aggressors” of working against the military and called for the armed forces to remain united against “internal and external mischiefs".

Russia's vice defence minister had been due to attend this year's parade but was unable to because of his “country's affairs”, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun added.

In February a UN expert on Myanmar said Russia, along with other major ally China, was continuing to supply the military with weapons, including fighter jets and armoured vehicles.

The US and Britain on Friday announced new sanctions against Myanmar's army.

The new measures came days after Washington said it had concluded that the country's military had committed genocide against the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

Updated: March 27, 2022, 9:07 AM