(Yangon)—The head of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has praised nationalist protestors who took to the streets last month in a show of defiance against international condemnation of the military.
In a speech at the Myanmar War Veterans Association (MWVA) in Naypyitaw, the general said the nationwide rallies showed that the “Tatmadaw and the people are on the same side” and encouraged more protests in the future.
The demonstrations, which were organised by MWVA members and Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar’s major cities, come amid growing calls from abroad for members of Myanmar’s military, including Min Aung Hlaing, to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.
The speech will fuel widespread suspicions that the military itself orchestrated the rallies.
Protestors shouted slogans and waved placards condemning the United Nations, whose investigators have accused the military of mass murder, rape and forced deportation amounting to genocide during last year’s crackdown, which sent over 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
Min Aung Hlaing on Wednesday told a major gathering of top officials from the MWVA, which is closely affiliated with the Tatmadaw, that foreign nations and organizations were interfering in Myanmar’s internal affairs and disrespecting the country’s sovereignty.
He praised “patriotic members of the public” for holding rallies to show their support for military.
“Such good tradition should be maintained,” he added. “Rallying for public support is not just a thing to be done in times of emergency,” he said, according to a transcript published on his website.
The rallies met with a mixed reaction inside the country, where resentments against both the Rohingya and the military remain strong.
Myo Nyunt, spokesperson for the National League for Democracy, said that pro-military protests could fuel divisions between the military and the government because the military has become “a part of the government” since 2010.
“I think it would be more appropriate to have rallies just supporting the government,” he said.