Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Myanmar commander-in-chief gives exclusive interview to Mainichi Shimbun

NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar -- Commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun in his first exclusive interview with a Japanese media outlet or a foreign newspaper.

Commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing responds to an 
interview with the Mainichi Shimbun at the Bayint Naung Guest 
House in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on June 9, 2015.
(Photo courtesy of the Myanmar Armed Forces)
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed interest in the presidential post, but the fact that she has a son with British citizenship disqualifies her from office under Section 59 of the Constitution.

"I see Suu Kyi as acting upon matters that she can do for the country based on her experience," Min Aung Hlaing said, without addressing the chances of an amendment to that section of the Constitution.
The following is the full text of an exclusive interview by the Mainichi Shimbun with Myanmar's Defense Services Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing:
Commander-in-Chief: You have been making an appointment with me for a long time now. Due to my busy schedule, I had to postpone your requests off and on. I hope you would understand this. For your last request for appointment, I was supposed to meet you last Friday (June 5). But I had to be planning for an urgent trip; hence, I had to reschedule you on Tuesday (June 9). Nonetheless, I had already decided to meet with you.

The Mainichi Shimbun: Thank you very much for giving your time to the Mainichi Shimbun. First, I want to convey the Commander-in-Chief's real voice and views to the world. I'd like to have your frank comments regarding my questions.

Mainichi: There have been demands to amend some parts of the constitution, mainly Section 436, which defines one-fourth representation by the military in the Parliament. I think you would accept amending the core articles when you feel sure that the country will not disintegrate. Could you define the present level of integration of this country? What level of integration would be acceptable to amend Section 436?

Commander-in-Chief: I see three parts in your question. The first part is about the constitution. The second part would be about the situation regarding the disintegration of the country. The third part would be dealing with Section 436.

I would like to say something about the constitution. The constitution is a country's main law. We did not write this constitution in haste. We gave a lot of time and carefully thought about it. As the next step in writing this constitution, there were eight levels of people involved -- peasants, workers, intelligentsia, government employees, nationalities, political parties, other groups, and many legal experts. We thoroughly discussed with them when writing the constitution. Also, when we were writing it, we had to consider our country's history. I want to say that based on the condition of our nationalities, the present situation of our country, and our country's location, we painstakingly intended our country to be strong. You can be assured that this constitution was not written shoddily. Besides, any law that could be easily and often amended could not be a good law. Every law should be strong enough. Above all, a constitution should be really sturdy. There might also be reasons to amend a law. Chapter 12 of our constitution identifies reasons for amendment. To give an example, Japan has a constitution ratified in 1947. It contains rights to amend it, and there must have been instances of it being amended by those given rights. I do not know in detail. But, any law would have the rights to be amended. On the other hand, I see that it is not beneficial to easily amend (a law).

We have been embarking on a multi-party democratic system since 2011. We need political stability in our endeavor. The nationalities issue needs to be durable. At present, we are at a situation where we have to be resolving our conflicts, and we are also at a time when we are putting up our best efforts. We should also know and measure how much assurance the stability level would have. First, there need to be political stability, economic stability, security for each individual, security for each organization, security for communities, and security for economic stability. People say that this is human security in every nation. Based on this, we can measure the stability of a country. Our nation gives priority to our Three Main National Causes -- non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of the national solidarity, and perpetuation of sovereignty. We designate these causes as our national duty. No one can touch them. Human security is also related to these (Three Causes). Once everything is stable, we can presume that the country is stable. We have to strive hard to reach this level. We gained independence in 1948. There are lots of things regarding Japan in our reason for gaining independence. The defense services took part in various changes in our country after the independence until the present situation. The defense services would never accept wavering of this situation. We are striving to maintain this present stability. We are striving for the perpetuation of sovereignty of our nation. We will never accept where this situation is being affected. This we are implementing with great care.
Regarding amendment of Section 436 (a) in Chapter 12, the country's condition is stable because of this (Section 436 (a)). When all conditions have become fine, one would come to understand that amending 436 is not the main issue anymore.

Mainichi: Do you mean that this is not the right time to amend Section 436?

Commander-in-Chief: I have to say that this is not a suitable time yet for that.
I want you not to misunderstand your first question regarding the constitution. About 436. We don't have something like, "we are not going to amend at all." It depends on the situation. The military has submitted to the Parliament things that should be amended. We have submitted to the government too. We have submitted what we want to amend. I cannot say that we are not going to totally amend it. I just wanted to clearly bring to you the sense that it is best to have a law that is strong enough. I am explaining to you so that you would not misunderstand.

Mainichi: Since February, the Kokang militant group has resumed their fighting with the military. What is the real background of this fighting? Do you feel China is in the background? Is the fighting related to some kind of Chinese interest?

Commander-in-Chief: The Kokang MNDAA. The fighting started on February 9 in Myanmar's northeast region. MNDAA's background is that they surfaced from the Burma Communist Party (BCP). A group led by Phone Kyar Shin emerged, when the Burma Communist Party in northeast Myanmar collapsed in 1989, and the Kokang group captured the Mongko headquarters in northeast military region. In reality, Phone Kyar Shin's group is one that split from the Burma Communist Party. They formerly used to serve the Burma Communist Party. In northeast Laukkai region, there are administrative powers given to the Kokangs. But, they did not do things legally. We've seen that they violated some of the laws. In 2008/2009, we got reports that there were illegal drugs and arms production. At that time, I was a person in charge of controlling them. I told them not to do these things in that region. But, they didn't listen. Instead, they killed the police who were on duty there, and got involved in drug dealing. So we had to go and solve the problem. We seized a lot of drugs and captured arms producing factory. Though they told us that it was a factory where arms were being repaired, we got a lot of arms that were still in the process of making. We also got arms that were produced there and a lot of ammunition. It can be seen that these exacerbated the conflict. We got a lot of drugs. That is the reason why we had to deal the Kokang group according to law. After they fled from that region, they wanted back their place, and strived to gain it back illegally. At that time, since there was already a Kokang self-administered region, according to the 2008 constitution, a Kokang self-administered (local) government led by chairman U Per Sauk Chain was elected. This is also part of the government. Problems arose after they attacked (that local government). The main thing is they wanted back their power. I view this as striving for their own interest and not for China's.

Mainichi: Is there any connection between the Kokang militant group and the Chinese government or local government?

Commander-in-Chief: Although one would think that way just by looking at the food, arms and ammunition, and the administrative assistance that they get, or their difficulties being solved and their injured being treated, there is no clear evidence to prove that. This is just what we see. I also think that the Chinese government would not be in a situation to help them. But, there might be some kind of assistance coming from same ethnic groups at the local level. I presume it has nothing to do with the government. They (same ethnic groups) could just do it clandestinely. One cannot say for sure. On our part, we don't have clear evidence to strongly affirm it. So, it's pretty hard to say. I think, one can say that this has nothing related to the Chinese government.

Mainichi: This country was ruled by the British for more than one and a half century, and because of their "divide and rule" policy, the country has suffered ethnic conflicts since independence. On the other hand, Thailand, which was not ruled by the British, does not have any serious ethnic conflicts, in spite of it being a multi-ethnic country like Myanmar. Do you think Thailand does not have ethnic conflict because it was not under colonial rule? What responsibility do the British have to restore peace among ethnic groups? I think the British need to get more and more involved in solving the ethnic issue in Myanmar. What would be your reaction to this statement?

Commander-in-Chief: Rakhine region connecting East Bengal and Tanintharyi region became British colony in 1824; hence, we can say that for 124 years, from 1824 to 1948, Myanmar became a British colony. There are undeniable evidences in history that, during this period, the British, through their "divide and rule" method, ruled discriminately between people in hill regions and the mainland. Consequently, this caused misunderstanding among them. Here, we have 8 main nationalities, and over 100 ethnic groups. We cannot yet say how many ethnic groups there are, because they are still being scrutinized after the recent census taking. There are over 130 groups, according to past records. The nationalities have all kinds of outlook. Thailand has also nationalities. One might say that they don't have similar problems, because they were not colonized. I think, this is not directly related. I would say this is my view. Since we gained independence in 1948, we are a sovereign nation. Therefore, only our country has to take the responsibility of its internal problems. It's not concerned with the British. We have to solve our internal problems ourselves. If one asks whether the British have responsibility, one has to answer that they do. We are being afflicted with the consequences left by them. By each other working towards dispelling misunderstanding and development of the nation, I think, we can achieve national unity and peace. Besides, according to our foreign policy, we keep friendly relations with all countries and peacefully coexist with them. I believe that we can solve our internal problems without any pressure from other countries. By saying that only Britain has the responsibility, it means that they had the responsibility of governing us. But, at this time, it would be good, if all countries including their country could assist our country get on the right path. But, I have this assumption that a country's real strength lies within itself. Hence, I believe that this problem could be overcome by people from within this country.

Mainichi: How do you proceed with the ceasefire talks with ethnic militant groups? What factors have hindered the progress of talks? Some militant leaders want to benefit from illegal businesses under a destabilized situation. Do you agree on this point?

Commander-in-Chief: Stability of a country generates that country's development. Only when armed conflicts cease, our country will develop. Hence, the armed forces is striving its best for peace and tranquility in the country. We yield as much as we can to their demands. The main thing I wish for is peace and development for our country. This is my ardent desire. Due to my yielding to the wishes of the armed groups as much as I can, we are now at a stage where we could already sign a draft ceasefire agreement. The next step is having discussions. The most important issue would be security reconciliation. Roughly, we call it DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). This is a must. There are countries in this world where there are armed conflicts. Among these countries, those that could work on security reconciliation in time gained lasting peace, while others that could not did not gain lasting peace and still trying to solve their problems. Hence, it is necessary for ethnic armed groups to work on security reconciliation. There have been instances in which some armed groups seeking genuine peace esteemed it. The military has laid down six peace principles. Those groups acted upon these principles with respect. We did not tell them to follow word by word these principles. We just told them to be serious about them. Some do not wish to be serious. Some groups that desire peace are serious about them. This is a good sign. Now, they are having a meeting in Lawkheelah. We heard that some are having a few doubts regarding NCA (nationwide ceasefire agreement). We are closely watching what's going on. Some ethnic groups seem to be held back in forfeiting their gained powers and administrative rights. So they are making demands as much as they can. If they are demanding their ill-gotten rights, we can never give in to them. I want to say that this issue has to be handled. If you want peace, you must really desire peace. As we are moving on a multi-party democratic system, no armed conflict could be created in any way. I want to say that we have to peacefully pursue a legal path. Furthermore, the government can never excuse unlawful acts in their territory. They have to abide by the law. I want to say that they have to follow laws by the union government or by the respective region.

Mainichi: The military had to fight with both the Kuomintang Party and the Communist Party. The BCP supported some of the militant groups here. China has let down this country for many years. On the other hand, as a neighboring country, you are dependent on China economically. How do you see the relationship between Myanmar and China?

Commander-in-Chief: It is true that we had to fight against Kuomintang and Burma Communist Party. We had to fight because they harmed our country's sovereignty. We see that China had assisted BCP until 1985. But, China has assisted much in Myanmar's development. We have their assistance as a country and as a party -- two different parts. If you look back, China has given much in assistance to Myanmar. China and Myanmar are neighboring countries. Our two countries have agreed to be strategic partners. This is from Myanmar's side. On China's side, it can be seen that it has many countries that have agreed to be strategic partners. It is not true that Myanmar is totally dependent on China. At present, according to the constitution and according to the foreign policy practiced in the past, we have relations with many countries. We are cooperating and getting assistance from other countries; therefore, we are not depending on China alone. As we are now having more relations with other countries, I wish to say that we are cooperating with friendly nations. I want to say that we have our doors open to cooperate with any country that has goodwill on our country.

Mainichi: I'd like to know your impression on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Do you think she is still a warrior for democratization or whether she has become more flexible politically? What do you think her real role would be in this country?

Commander-in-Chief: It would be hard for me to give my personal view on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is known by many, as she is the daughter of our national leader General Aung San. As a Myanmar citizen, she has her rights granted according to the law. I see her as acting upon matters that she can do for the country based on her experience. She has the rights to work as a citizen. It will be beneficial for the country, if she works according to the rights granted to her as a citizen. I want to say that since she has these rights, she would be able in part to benefit Myanmar.

Mainichi: Relating to my earlier question regarding amendment of Section 436, you said it was not time yet; how about 59(f)?

Commander-in-Chief: Regarding amendment of Section 436 that I earlier said is not a suitable time, I did not mean for the whole (constitution). Not related to 436, there might be other matters that need to be amended. This we have to follow according to Chapter 12 of the constitution. The constitution would become live based on this. Those that are not functional would have to go. I wish to say that we have to do it based on that.

Mainichi: You said in an interview that whether or not you enter into political arena depends on the situation of the country. What conditions are needed for you to become a politician?

Commander-in-Chief: I am shouldering a very big responsibility as the Commander-in-Chief. For example, I have to do this reform part. At this point, the people need to have trust on our armed forces regarding what they have to do. Secondly, the defense services must have a full-strength condition for the country's defense; thirdly, the armed forces must become modern and up to standard like other countries. These three are my priority responsibilities. We have to view the country's situation depending on these responsibilities. We have to give much consideration since internal armed conflicts have not ceased at this time. If I enter politics, I would become less responsible for those responsibilities that I just mentioned. During this period of responsibility, I wish to finish my responsibilities. But, as a citizen, I can do a lot by the rights granted to a citizen. So, I have to decide on this situation based on the conditions that I earlier mentioned.

Mainichi: Regarding former Senior General Than Shwe, sometimes do you have the chance to meet with him and discuss matters? How do you see his role in Myanmar history?

Commander-in-Chief: He is a good father to our defense services. As he is a parent to our defense services, on occasions such as Thadingyut (Lighting Festival) we have a tradition of paying our respects. This is Myanmar tradition. We pay obeisance to elders at Thadingyut and on (Myanmar) New Year's. We do meet sometimes. When we do, he would give us necessary guidance. This guidance is like elders giving to juniors or like parents giving to children. Mainly he would say things that would benefit the country. He would say things to us for the good of ourselves, the armed forces, and the country. He would not say specifically about politics. Senior General Than Shwe also did his part, as much as he could, to transform the defense services into a modern one by leading the armed forces for many years. To tell the truth, the armed forces became modern due to his endeavors. He also put Myanmar on the path to democracy. We cannot forget his thankful deeds. He also did his best. The multi-party democratic path that he transformed could become firm as we carefully take control of it a bit. There are many countries in this world that tried to reform. For example, some countries in Africa, some Arab countries in the Middle East, and in Europe. These countries are facing a lot of problems. Some have erupted in fightings. Some still have to solve their armed conflicts as these countries cannot systematically do things by not having a disciplined, strong, patriotic, and a firm military organization. We have to recognize Senior General Than Shwe's effort in steadying us and putting us on the right path. This is our country's fortune. After being elected as the President in 2011, President U Thein Sein offered peace for cessation of armed conflicts and for tranquility in the Union. If the mentioned condition was not present, the peace offer would not have been easily implemented. At present, there is almost no gunshot heard in the whole country. They have been very few. This is because of the good foundation. If we didn't have this good foundation, like other countries going through the reform process, we would have had to face a lot of bad conditions. I would want to state that this all happened because of what Senior General Than Shwe had done.

Mainichi: According to a recent "Newsweek" article, some experts say that the Islamic State militant group may now be recruiting fighters from Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The southern part of Bangladesh near Rakhine state has been a hotbed of radical Islamic movement, especially al-Qaeda. Now IS might be targeting Myanmar as well, due to the unstable situation caused by human trafficking in Rakhine state. What would be your opinion on a possible threat by a radical Islamic movement, like al-Qaeda or IS, on Myanmar?

Commander-in-Chief: I can say that this has to be done with much caution. The Rakhine state issue has two parts. First, there are Islams leaving to areas southwards of Myanmar for economic opportunities. So, they are leaving due to economic reason. Secondly, the religious issue earlier mentioned is politically and racially related. The IS problem is not related with the economic issue. There can be problem with IS regarding the religious issue. I view the present happenings in this way. Myanmar has to take caution. On our part, we are cooperating with organizations and countries that we could work together with, and we would respond accordingly to this danger. I can say that we are cautiously working on this issue. In Myanmar, there are Islam worshippers. We can't say that they can't be instigated. We get some reports, but they are not at a dangerous level up to now. But, I can say that the situation is something that we have to be cautious about.

Mainichi: A real threat or not possible?

Commander-in-Chief: Possible threat.

Mainichi: Any evidence?

Commander-in-Chief: We haven't seen any unusual things. But, one thing is that we might not have received (the information). But we will do whatever we can. We will collaborate with organizations and countries that we could cooperate with. This cannot be achieved by any single country. It has to be done in coordination with others.
I gave you a lot of time. I took patience in answering your questions. Some of the questions, I can answer in short. But, I explained to you in length, so that you would clearly understand them.

My responsibility is to see what I should do for the benefit of the country. It's not true that the defense services is not flexible. We are not doing individual or party politics. We are doing national politics. (Interview by Takayuki Kasuga, Asia General Bureau Chief)
June 11, 2015(Mainichi Japan)