US State Department adviser calls Myanmar military a ‘bunch of thugs’

Through The Irrawaddy June 13, 2022

BANGKOK-US State Department adviser Derek Chollet has described Myanmar’s military as “a gang of thugs” who are suffering “heavy casualties” fighting their own people who oppose military rule in the country.

The comment comes as the junta struggles to control the country, which has been gripped by staunch popular armed resistance to the regime after taking military power in February last year.

Given the ongoing circumstances in Myanmar, Chollet said The regime found itself increasingly isolated, not only internationally but also at home.

You don’t win. You’re losing territory. Your military is suffering serious casualties,” he said in a recent interview with The Irrawaddy.

Last week, US State Department adviser Derek Chollet visited Thailand, where he also met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok.

He later visited the Thai-Myanmar border and his delegation visited the Mae La refugee camp in Tak Province and then toured the Mae Tao Clinic, which has been a medical lifeline for Myanmar refugees in Mae Sot and the surrounding area for decades.

Ma Village inn in Chaung U township after a raid by regime forces in April

After returning from the border, Chollet told The Irrawaddy that it was Washington The message to the regime was simple: end the fighting and return to the democratic path.

He said the regime is trying to create a new reality after its military proxy party lost the 2020 election.

“But it’s very clear, what we’ve seen in Burma is that people won’t accept that,” he said, using Myanmar’s former name.

When asked about his impression of the extrajudicial killings of civilians, arbitrary arrests and village burnings in central Myanmar in response to the armed resistance there, Chollet said these are not things a model military would do.

“They are not acting as a professional military. They’re acting like a bunch of thugs,” he said.

As of May 26, more than 1 million people had been displaced in Myanmar, with more than half losing their homes since the February 1, 2021 military coup and 12,700 homes, religious buildings and schools destroyed, the UN said.

Cooperation with the NUG

That The US recently stepped up diplomatic engagement with Myanmar’s opposition and like-minded countries in the region to put pressure on the regime in Naypyitaw. “We work [to] give the opposition our best advice” and “address urgent humanitarian needs,” Chollet said, noting that at least tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the regime’s raids and fighting.

Last month, Daw Zin Mar Aung, Secretary of State for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity (NUG) government, met Wendy Sherman, the US Deputy Secretary of State, in Washington on the sidelines of the US-ASEAN Summit. The head of the Myanmar regime, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, was not invited to the summit.

Chollet told The Irrawaddy that the US will continue to work with the NUG in capacity building and support for the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. The shadow government is now trying to establish its administrative and educational system in some of the country’s resistance strongholds.

“It’s a big challenge when you have expectations from the people in the company and how you learn just the basics of managing and running the trains, the schools and the electricity supply. Much remains of this knowledge. So how can you keep these services going in areas outside of the regime’s control? There is capacity building that we can offer,” he said.

Chollet said the people of Myanmar have shown tremendous resilience, courage and bravery throughout their fight against the regime, adding that their suffering over the past 18 months has been appalling.

“But what is striking is that whether they are in Burma or whether they have left and are trying to help from outside, you still see so much hope and optimism in the fight for your country,” said the determination of the majority of Myanmar’s people that their cause must prevail against the regime and their efforts to support it by any means necessary.

Cooperation with ASEAN, discussions with others

Since the coup, ASEAN leaders have faced challenges and criticism as the regional grouping notoriously lacks the political capital to resolve decades-long Myanmar crisis. There has also been strong criticism of ASEAN’s peace plan for Myanmar. So far, regime leader Min Aung Hlaing has not complied with most of the plan’s points. Opposition and human rights groups in Myanmar have criticized it as a failure but have also expressed concern that the US and Western governments are offloading the issue to ASEAN and hiding behind the bloc.

Chollet countered the criticism and said so ASEAN is “taking steps that I believe few predicted,” referring to the bloc’s exclusion of the junta leadership from its summits over Min Aung Hlaing’s failure to implement the peace plan.

An aerial view of the destruction caused by a regime raid on a village in Sagaing.

“There were doubts that they would agree to the decision to refuse political representation of the regime at high-level meetings and then stick to that position. Getting to this point is not easy. It sounds a little self-serving, but I think the US advocacy to the ASEAN partners to first make the decision not to invite Burma to a high-level meeting and to stick to that decision is important. In individual ASEAN countries, in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia – they are very helpful and active.”

He also said that the US is working with ASEAN and has also been very active in discussing ways of working with Britain, Australia, the EU, Japan and Korea to help the people of Myanmar.

“It’s our responsibility to do whatever we can to support that,” he said.

On China

Chollet also commented on Myanmar’s powerful neighbor China, which supports the regime.

In April, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, that China will support Myanmar’s military rule “no matter how the situation in the country changes”.

Chollet said he had been thinking China has been fairly quiet on this front lately, adding that US interest in Myanmar is not unique to China.

He said he was unaware that China had worked in any way to push back ASEAN, but admitted China had a complicated relationship with the junta.

“And, you know, I’d say we don’t want them [China] be part of the problem. We hope they can be part of the solution.”

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