RANGOON — The government’s chief peace negotiator has apologized to Burma’s powerful military for comments he reportedly made last week that appeared to diminish the stature of soldiers fighting on the front lines of Burma’s long-running civil war.
Before his formal apology was issued on Saturday, President’s Office Minister Aung Min had received criticism from pro-military voices over his remarks, in which he reportedly said government soldiers fighting ethnic rebel groups in Burma “do not need to be conferred with honorable titles,” according to local media.
“I sincerely apologize for my words at the UMFCCI ceremony, which aggravated current Tatmadaw soldiers, ex-military commanders and their families,” Aung Min wrote in a letter titled “My apology” and posted online byHla Maung Shwe, an adviser to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center. Tatmadaw is the Burmese word for Burma’s combined armed forces.
“The minister apologized because he thinks it was the right thing to do,” said Hla Maung Shwe of the MPC, which is headed by Aung Min.
Yan Myo Thein, a Rangoon-based political commentator, claimed that the senior minister issued the apology out of fear that he might be sidelined in ongoing peace negotiations with Burma’s ethnic rebel groups.
“U Aung Min made it because he wants to continue participating in the peace building process,” he said. “If not, he would be the one to be kicked out from the peace process.”
Aung Min made the offending comment during an event at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) in Rangoon last week.
In the apology letter, Aung Min said he would never betray the Tatmadaw and its soldiers, and insisted that he had never done so in the past. “I served faithfully in the Army in accordance with the four vows of the Army.”
According to a biography provided by the former general, Aung Min joined the Tatmadaw in 1967, and served 35 years before retiring as a major-general in 2002.
After hanging up his military uniform, he served as the country’s Railways Transportation minister under the former military regime (2003-2011) and the new quasi-civilian government that took office in April 2011. In August 2012, he was appointed as a President’s Office minister, and was given a portfolio that included a focus on guiding peace talks between the central government and ethnic rebel groups.
His comment last week appears to have struck a nerve among Burma’s pro-military contingent: Since independence in 1948, the Tatmadaw’s primary enemy has been domestic insurgents from ethnic minority groups and their associated civilian populations.
“I promise I will continue working on Myanmar’s peace-building process as best as I can,” Aung Min said in the apology, which comes amid concern from some quarters that an increasingly frustrated military may leave the peace process negotiating table. Talks with Burma’s ethnic armed groups on a proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement appear to have hit a snag in recent months, with the military sticking to six points that ethnic leaders have said they will not accept in a ceasefire accord.
Yan Myo Thein said that regardless of Aung Min’s motivations, the apology was a “good habit” that should be practiced by more public figures, from the president and his ministers on down to local-level politicians.
“There have been many instances of misconduct from the cabinet or lawmakers, which they should make public apology for, during the three years of the new government,” he said, adding that the minister would do well to be equally forthcoming with apologies made toward other stakeholders in Burma’s peace process, in order to avoid perceptions of bias.