Senior General Min Aung Hlaing receives Asahi Shimbun of Japan, answers the questions
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: My first question is about amending the constitution. The NLD offers to form a committee for amending the constitution very recently. This is quite abrupt. Did you know about this proposal beforehand? Do you agree with this procedure by the NLD? Do you agree with the amending the constitution? When is the timing for the amending the constitution?
Senior General: We have no advance knowledge about the formation of the committee for carrying out amendments. I have already mentioned the constitutional amendment time and again. Some of the constitutional provisions may be amended at a suitable time, because there are reasons to do so. We are in the process of holding peace negotiations with ethnic armed organizations. There are demands made by ethnic armed organizations in connection with ethnic peoples. So, we have found that some of the provisions in connection with those issues are not amendable. In principle, we agree to the matter of constitutional amendment. I have already expressed this attitude since the term of the previous administration. We have never said no to the constitutional amendments. We accept that the Constitution needs amendments. Some of its provisions must be amended. We appreciate it. The Chapter XII of the Constitution states the process in connection with the necessary amendments to be made at an appropriate time. I have made suggestions that it will be more appropriate if we follow the rules. In my view, it will be more effective. At the special session of the previous Peace Conference, I had discussed matters relating to the election of chief ministers and the assignment of governors. These are the matters that should be taken into account in the constitutional amendments. There were constitutional amendments during the term of the previous administration. Some Schedules were also modified. Those activities show that the Tatmadaw has an optimistic view of the amendments. We can also reach a consensus for any amendment in the interest of the country through discussions. But the important point is that no amendment should harm the essence of the Constitution.
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: Twenty-five percent of the parliament is now occupied by the Tatmadaw. At present, foreign family members cannot become president. Some international communities are pointing out that this is not democratic. Do you think this policy should be amended in the future?
Senior General: In fact, this 25 percent is concerned with the reforms towards multi-party democracy. The country still lacks peace and stability in the area of politics and security. We are still overcoming a lot of hardships. We need a stable march to multi-party democracy. The parliamentary debates, administrative affairs, public involvement, actions of ethnic armed groups show that the country still needs a little more stability in the political and security sectors. Hence, the Tatmadaw has taken those seats as a measure to ensure national stability. The situation will change if every sector is secured. The first thing I would say is that we have never stuck to it. The second part of the question involves the matter in connection with foreigner. We were once a colonial country. We restored independence in 1948. The country suffered badly under the colonial rule. We made a lot of struggles to regain independence. We even took assistance from Japan. So we cannot give authority to foreigners to do harmful acts against the nation’s independence and sovereignty. The power to shape the country must be in the hands of the Myanmar people. It must be in the hands of Myanmar citizens and Myanmar ethnics. So this provision was adopted in accord with the historical demand. It does not intend any individual. Other countries may have their appropriate laws. But some may be different. As for our country it is the most appropriate way. So this is our abiding policy.
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: Regarding the Rakhine Issue, this is not question. It’s my opinion. The starting point of the Rakhine Issue in 2017 is because of the insurgents by the Muslim radicals. Some people are intentionally just criticizing the Myanmar government and Myanmar army. I think it is not fair. My intention is to know the truth of this issue and transfer your voice to the Japanese readers. In reality, the international community especially the UN is harshly criticizing you, the army and the government due to the persecution of the Muslim people. Actually, over 700,000 people living in this country fled to Bangladesh. What kinds of feeling do you have for the refugees? The ICC-international criminal court is reportedly preparing to prosecute you and the other military officers? What do you think of the international community’s opinion?
Senior General: We need to know the historical truth if we talk about the events of Buthidaung and Maungtaw in Rakhine State. A point of the truth is that they are not included in Myanmar ethnics. They are just migrants living in Myanmar. As for me or the Tatmadaw or the country, there is the duty to protect the citizens and people residing in the country. There is the duty to protect the ethnic races. In fact, the event that was criticized by others occurred in 2017. But it has the roots in history. For example, nearly 20,000 ethnic Rakhines were killed in Alethankyaw crisis in 1942. All the survivors had to flee to Buthidaung and Maungtaw. It is one of the true events of history. Starting from the colonial period to this date, many such events occurred. Crises broke out in 2012, 2016 and 2017, and we have firm evidence about them. Natives are the minority in the area. There are also Bengalis in the area. We call them Bengalis because they came from the place once called the Bengal region. There were many cases in which Bengalis bullied or killed the natives. They launched violent armed attacks against police outposts. Many natives were killed. There were many attacks against the security personnel in the region. So, we could not stand idle by while our security personnel and our ethnic brethren were being attacked. We will have to protect them in any way. The first thing is to protect them. We have no alternative. We need to hit them back, and it is the nature of security duty. In the 2017 issue, people numbering from 400 / 500 to nearly 1,000 attacked security posts which had only 20 to 25 personnel. It was terrible that they also attacked villages. We had already explained the whole event. Investigation has also revealed the truth. We met with them and showed evidences of incidents. There were acts of self-defence. If we did not defend or prevent their attacks, our ethnics would die. So also, security troops there would die. It is not acceptable that it was impossible to give up their attacks without any reactions. So, we must do counter actions. I think it was said that massive Bengalis committed attacks. We have documentary videos related to participation of ARSA behind them. It shows they held arms and weapons such as sticks, swords, home-made grenades and guns. So, all these arms can be used to kill humans. You understand we could not give up their attacks with the use of these arms like that. In response, some actions may be done against them not to dare committing the aforesaid acts. But, if it breaks the law, we take action against them. So, action was taken against some officials for their weaknesses of controlling. Then, you asked me some 700,000 persons fled away to other side. It was the figure they said. We have the list collected for illegal residents. The list of those who remain there was collected. If we differentiate these lists, the answer will be those who fled from Myanmar. In this regard, the number of those who fled away may include those who fled to Bangladesh, those who fled away downstream along the maritime route and those heading to other regions from there due to various reasons. So I refuse that figure is wrong. Moreover, it cannot say surely all about 700,000 persons were citizens from Myanmar. We cannot scrutinize those persons yet. We have responsibility for scrutinizing them. So, we said it needs to accept them after scrutiny. At that time, those persons would talk about the reasons of fleeing to get sympathy. Anyone would not tell they come to Bangladesh because of happiness there. It is sure. They may talk about suffering torture. They may say they come to Bangladesh due to facing troubles and plights. Depending on these answers, information was given to new agencies or observers. Furthermore, some persons crossed the border region. In the event, ministers responsible for the administrative bodies, the Union minister, the local chief minister, and the Tatmadaw and security officials fended them off not to go away. They were urged to live in Myanmar. But they did not follow it. They said they were sure to go away. They went there in a good manner without fear. They fled away without worries. But it was possible they went there due to any worries. However, we found the possibilities that they have heavy pressure because they went away at a time even when we created the best situation of security measures. Which pressure is it? It would be one of the reasons to meet with their relatives in other side. One more would be an act of facing fear. The next one would be moving one place to another. It is a nature of human to search greener pastures. So they may try to seek better places. They may miss chances of livelihoods. We never say they do their livelihoods in their residences. After scrutinizing them under the law, they may do so at a time when we would have given rights of ethnic or citizen to them. We have no problem. It is talking about Muslims. About four to five percent of total population is Muslims in Myanmar. They believe Islamism. There are Muslims across the country. We have not scrutinized them yet. In situation when we have scrutinized them, we grant to give rights to them to some degrees they deserve. In this regard, we were accused of various reasons. For example, ICC accused us of committing ethnic cleansing. We, Myanmar is not member of ICC. We do not need to follow anything related to ICC. It may talk about anything as it likes. We must focus on sovereignty of our country. I mean tell something to us under the law. We are doing everything under the law. You may point out things we don’t implement under the law. If not, it will not be good. So, we will explain their outlooks and our outlooks. The law of respective country must cover such a country. It is impossible that the law from other country can be ruled out for us how to abide by their law or disciplines. Our sovereignty is ours. Any country does not accept it. So, we have any reason of abiding by disciplines of ICC as we are not member of ICC. However, we don’t turn a blind eye to it with no reason of following it. If it is a situation the international community can accept or the situation we can accept, we will abide by it. If the situation is not in conformity with us, it will be impossible to follow it. I would like to point out one more. Some countries don’t sign international treaties or pacts but they abide by them. If the points are in conformity with their countries, they adhere to them. Some countries don’t follow things which are not in conformity with their countries. It doesn’t depend on signing or not. It is one of the notable points. They don’t sign it because their countries cannot accept all the facts. There are many examples across the world that many countries adhere to some points of all they can accept even if they cannot accept all things. You may see them.
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: I’ve already visited Cox Bazaar and refugee camps five times. I’ve plenty of interviews. I found that the testimony of the refugees gradually changes. Their testimonies are not totally true. All the testimonies are not totally true. I don’t think so. On the other hand, some refugees are insisting that they are raped and they are killed or something like that. Based on that issue, the international communities are criticizing the army and the government. Do you think all their testimonies are fake or false? What kinds of suffering do they have? Can you ask those refugees to come into Myanmar again in the future?
Senior General: The first one I want to say is their confessions. Their confessions highlighted they were raped. Many numbers of them were raped. Another one is that many numbers of them were pregnant. In line with Myanmar culture and Buddhism, those who believe Buddhism and who have faiths related to Buddhism don’t accept rape cases. It is regarded that such act is very bad in human culture. It is not acceptable. Security forces were accused of rapes. In fact, those of security forces are not naughty. We all are under disciplines. So, it is very impossible to commit rape case. However, some rape cases may happen in line with the example like a Myanmar saying, goes: alms of Buddhist monks are mixed with waste of mice. One or two members may commit such cases. I did not use the word ‘absolute’. For example, beating or rape may happen. However, show evidences to us. We will take action against them. If not, it will be bad in saying something to discredit us. I would like to note one more point about various kinds of confessions. Many persons said it. When some organizations made interviews in Bangladesh, they faced differences of confessions in a single subject during their trips. Another one is that they told the same things in every place. Those persons told some things here and there. It means they were taught and trained. They told things they were taught. Furthermore, the subject they told in interviews differed between the first time and the second time. So it can be seen they did not actually feel it in their minds. In fact, they retold the subject they have heard. As a result, we know it was totally unconfirmed. When we examined them, we saw it in examining them in Myanmar. Those of the inspection team from the Tatmadaw, those of the civilian inspection team and those from relevant embassies noticed it. So also, media noticed it. A single event the persons told in Bangladesh was different in many places. But they told such an event in same voice at another place. At interviews, we heard the voice of a person behind the front line of interviewees advised another one to tell how to say something. So I would like to surely say that their confessions cannot be confirmed. With regard to their return to home, we have plans to accept them to come back home. We have said that if they can show an evidence of residing in Myanmar, we will accept them. But they must be willing. We are not offenders. We have many agreement details. We didn’t say a word mentioning ‘no’ to them. We are accepting them now. Since January 2018, we have told them we are ready. I can’t remember the exact date. I’m not sure if it is January 23 or February 23. We said our country was ready. But they gave every reason and they didn’t come. In one case, the plan was failed after they said they would come. I said they must come here in a disciplined manner. We would accept them systematically after security. Our relevant organizations and officials would prepare security for them. There are forms to be filled up under the bilateral agreement. But incomplete forms were returned. If they are willing to return, there are Bengali-Hindus and Hindu-Bengalis, not Bengali-Muslims or Islamists. Some Bengalis worship Hindu and some Islamism. Hindus said they wanted to return. But they were not allowed. It does bring to question. Why? These are the points we need to consider.
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: The international communities have suspect on the investigation that the army conducted two years ago in 2017. After the investigation, the Inndim Issue has been revealed. How do you want to say that Myanmar army members had nothing to do with genocide that occurred in northern Rakhine? I think it is better for of course Myanmar and the international community to reach the gap between the sources about the Rakhine Issue. How do you convince and how do you negotiate the international community to that distant concept closer than the current one?
Senior General: As I have said earlier, the Inndim issue did occur. But we have no evidence that similar incident occurred in other places. Asked about genocide, they came to attack security camps and disturb the people. When fighting occurred, there were casualties. But we released information at the same time. This cannot be hidden. The incident happened in the rainy season. It reached the peak on September 2. It was rather completed in the rainy season. It was dark. In that year, there was a lot of rainfall. Our Tatmadaw launched an investigation. The government also did it. So did the police. We released information. We only released correct information and findings based on correct evidence. For that, we have no more words to say. Saying that is not enough, international study groups and investigation teams are also here to investigate further. There are independent investigation teams. One team is led by the former deputy secretary of foreign affairs from the Philippines and a former Japanese ambassador. They are doing their jobs independently. We give them all our findings. We have many witnesses. I want to say that you can ask any of them. This is our local evidence. When we go to the other side, they will say as they like. They will say as they are taught. Those here cannot say as they are taught. Our region is different. The situation and circumstances are different. We asked them here at different times. I think we have over 3,000 witnesses. There are about 800 written records from witnesses. We cannot cheat at all. We have already given those findings. How can we say because they said the evidence was not enough? An independent investigation team is now working here. They said the deadline is February. We help them as much as we can. Talking about winning the trust of the international community, the facts acquired by the international community are based on those collected from the other side. We say about our facts based on those we collected. They cannot say unilaterally. They are making lopsided accusations. We know it is not possible at all. We as well as our neighbouring countries know that. But Western countries say about this repeatedly. There is one example. When that incident happened, 92 Hindus from Yebaukkya Village were killed and over 40 bodies were retrieved. The remaining bodies were not recovered. They were really killed. We have all evidence. We have Hindu witnesses. They fled to Bangladesh. We tried to call them back. Over there, there are women whose human rights are being violated in various ways. When we called them back and ask them, those women revealed that their husbands and family members were killed before their eyes. Who will take the responsibility for that? They were attacked and murdered by Bengali terrorists in collaboration with ARSA. Those killed were Bengali-Hindus living in Myanmar. Likewise, the region has Rakhine people and other ethnics such as Mro, Khami and Daingnet. A lot of them were also killed. What will we do for that? Do we have to stand still just looking at those people being killed? Won’t they try to expose such cases? Will they continue to accuse our Tatmadawmen and security forces only? We have to consider these things.
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: Recently, the army made the significant decisions to ceasefire for four months. To make some ethnic groups sign the peace agreement, why did you make this decision? Despite this decision, some ethnic groups are still refusing to sign the agreement. How can you negotiate and convince them to join the agreement? Do you expect something from Chinese government as well?
Senior General: This is a bit wide subject. It has been many years since we made peace with ethnic armed groups. Since 1948 when the independence was regained, there have been conflicts among ethnic armed groups stemming from ethnic affairs and different political ideologies. The thenAFPFL government. Peace talks did exist in successive eras such as the Revolutionary Council, Myanmar Socialist Programme Party, the military government and the new government. Some were successful and some were failed. Under some circumstances, we had to intervene militarily so they went to the border areas. There is no ethnic armed group inside the country. They are only in border areas. Most of them are in northeastern, southeastern and northwestern parts of the country. When we discussed peace talks, they said they found it difficult to do as fighting was ongoing when talking about their demands. They demanded to stop fighting to enter discussion. For the first time, the three parties from the Northern Alliance made their announcement after forming that alliance. We said these three groups were not enough. As some groups have yet to sign the NCA, we said we would make a ceasefire if talks could not be held due to fighting. We said they must discuss without fail if they really want peace. Our road to democracy cannot deviate from this course, which is chosen by the people. It is important to do democratically. Problems happen without these things and the situation cannot improve at all. I mean we have to discuss in a peaceful way. Arms should not be held if want to hold political talks. We must enter peace talks. We urged them to sign the NCA and end armed struggle line. There is a parliament to discuss politically. In this connection, as you have first questioned me, it is related to the constitutional amendment. We will make peace with them if they are willing to enter political dialogue with constructive attitude. Armed struggle line in not possible at all in this age. There are not just one or two ethnic groups here in Myanmar. There are eight major ethnic groups, and over 130 tribes. Some tribes are only a few thousands but some are tens of thousands, and some are millions. Some ethnic groups are divided, and they live in different places and have different ideologies. In Myanmar, it is not that a particular ethnic group only lives in a particular part of the country, but ethnicities spread across the country. It is just that their population varies in size from place to place. So, we need to think from various perspectives in order to hold peace talks with them. Each ethnic group has their own perspective, and their backgrounds are also different. So, we have to exercise extra caution in holding talks with them. So, I set out four rules in our ceasefire declaration. The first rule is to keep the promise. Some have made promises, but some haven’t. Anyway, that they say they want to achieve peace is their commitment. And they should meet that commitment. The second rule is not to take advantage [of the ceasefire]. They did all wrongdoings once we ceased fire. We found weak points. They extort money, conscript and bully, all of which create burden on ethnic people. And they break the existing laws. They assume they don’t need to abide by existing laws because they are ethnic armed groups. Suppose they commit crimes like murder or rape, and they don’t get punished? So, we told them to abide by laws. The law prohibits trafficking of humans, drug dealings, and smuggling of country’s resources. The law must be respected. We must take action if those laws are violated. So, we issue those four rules. But then, some give excuses. I’d like to stress that when we work for peace, we work with honesty with the hope that the country can be peaceful, and all in the country can work together with unity for the betterment of the country. We have no other intention. Only when there is peace and stability, will the country see development. You’ve asked me about China’s assistance [in Myanmar’s peace process]. China is giving a great deal of help to us. Not only China, but our neighbors, for example Thailand is also providing help. And so is India. They are helping us for the sake of diplomatic relations. As they are our neighbors, they want that their backs are safe. So, they are providing help to us. It is true that major [ethnic] forces are based along China border. And China is pushing a lot for our peace process. And we are keeping the process going. Not only with China alone, but we are also cooperating with Thailand and
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: Under the NLD government, the government has not afforded as people as expected. The peace process is not good as the NLD promised. What do you think of the NLD government and the State Counsellor’s political policy and the initiatives in the current government? I heard some complaints about the
State Counsellor’s political policy and management of the policy by the general public/people? Do you explain about the
State Counsellor’s attitude and political attitude?
Senior General: You are asking me about my personal opinion on her policies. Normally, I should not answer this question. But my opinion is that the NLD government came to power as it was elected by the people. People elected it based on its promises. Whether they can fulfill their promises or not depend on their performance. Regarding the actions of the State Counsellor, people can see what she is doing. And people can judge. I’d say that people need to do what they feel they should. They have to work for self-improvement. Everyone has the responsibility to work for his own improvement as well as for the betterment of his community and region. In my opinion, it would be better to work with the upbeat attitude rather than play the blame game. But, the leader and the leading body are more important. In our Tatmadaw, I am the key person, and there are commanders who provide leadership under me. They all work correctly. But, if they don’t, our institution will be faced with problems and difficulties. It is more complicated in the case of a country. The fewer there are mistakes, the better. The country will be faced with losses if there are many mistakes. And people should be aware of this fact, and take consideration, and exercise caution. This is how I view. Not everything can be perfect. According to human nature, it is very rare that people have complete agreement. There are disagreements, and we have to work to reach as broad agreement as possible. As Tatmadaw is an armed organization, we say bluntly that rules must be followed. But, we make sure those rules are acceptable. We can’t force them to obey the rules. There must be disciplines. And it needs to be gentler [in imposing rules] for citizens. No two individuals have the completely same views. So, there is a need to coordinate between different views in order to enact laws so that resultant conflicts can be controlled. This is the purpose of the law. If someone goes against the law, it will provoke outrage. If we act in line with law and rules, our actions won’t unacceptable. We have to exercise great caution in that regard.
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: My last question is about the relationship with Japan. The Japanese has contributed to the peace process, economic issues and Rakhine issues. What do you expect regarding the cooperation with the Japanese government in the future? The Japanese people want to know what is going on in Myanmar right now. What do you want to tell about the reality of the country to the Japanese people?
Senior General: Japan had risen from the ashes of war and become a big power. Regarding the Japan’s assistance for development of Myanmar, Japan is responsible in giving war reparations to Myanmar. Japan is a responsible country. And it has provided a great deal of assistance for development of Myanmar. Speaking of the situation in Myanmar, I’d like to urge Japan and Japanese people to continue their support for peace and stability and political stability in Myanmar. Secondly, ethnic groups in Myanmar say that there are disparities between regions. The say their regions are not developed, but areas in Central Myanmar are developing. We can’t undertake development works there due to armed conflicts. What is built today is destroyed the following days. And we can only move forward through negotiations. So, if possible, I’d like to request the Japan government to fill the gap and improve the education, health and transportation in ethnic areas. And thirdly, I’d also like to request Japanese investors to invest in labor-intensive manufacturing industry. I wish there were job opportunities and production. We don’t have money due to the lack of job opportunities. So, I’d like to request Japan to invest in manufacturing industry that would create large numbers of jobs. And fourthly, I’d like to request Japanese people to come and see Myanmar. Come and see the reality of Myanmar, and make judgement. Seeing is believing. So, I’d like them to come and see. It would be better if Japanese people see the developments in Myanmar with their own eyes.
Mr. Ryuta SOMETAYA: Thank you.