A crowd of Yangon residents marched yesterday from eastern entrance to Shwedagon Pagoda to Yangon City Hall to express their support for the Tatmadaw’s ongoing campaigns in ethnic minority areas.
The demonstrators held signs saying: “We express our support for the Tatmadaw, which is waging a fair war to protect the union, race and religion.”
The Tatmadaw is conducting operations against the Northern Alliance in Shan and Kachin states. The alliance includes the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA).
It is also fighting the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), a national ceasefire agreement signatory, in Shan State.
This weekend, the Tatmadaw captured Gidon, a key KIA outpost near the organization’s headquarters in Laiza, and also clashed with the RCSS/SSA in Hopong Township. The Northern Alliance staged assaults on police and military stations in Muse and Kutkai in northern Shan State on November 20, claiming the attack was “inevitable” in the face of Tatmadaw encroachment on their territory.
“We are staging the demonstration to support government troops who risk their lives for their country. We hope that they will be able to perform their duties more successfully when they learn that we are staging a demonstration in support of them. We cannot accept anything that hinders peace and hurts civilians,” said demonstrator Ko Myo Win to The Global New light of Myanmar.
The state-run daily also reported that 10,000 demonstrators were present, though this figure has been disputed.
The rally was organized by several organizations representing veterans, writers, Rakhine youths.
Among the sponsors was the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union, which has developed a reputation for terrorizing non-Buddhists in Myanmar. In April 2016, members of the group seized goods from Muslim vendors outside Shwedagon Pagoda and physically assaulted them. In May, an influential monk in the Union and hundreds of his followers forcibly built a stupa within the compound of an Anglican church in Kayin State. The group has also vowed to remove any Muslims from Buddhist holy sites in Mandalay.
“Bullet” Hla Swe, a former USDP lawmaker, gave a speech at the rally. The former MP and military officer has previously boasted of forcing homosexuals to serve as military porters and has spoken in favor of the crackdown against civilians in the 1988 anti-junta protests.