Myanmar Military Tribunal Sentences Brigadier Generals to Death for Kokang Surrender

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Myanmar Military Tribunal Sentences Brigadier Generals to Death for Kokang Surrender

The sentences come at a time of growing discontent with the leadership of junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Myanmar Military Tribunal Sentences Brigadier Generals to Death for Kokang Surrender

Fighters from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) pose with captured arms after overrunning a military outpost in Kokang, northern Shan State, November 28, 2023.

Credit: Facebook/The Kokang

Myanmar’s military junta has sentenced six brigadier generals to death and sentences of life imprisonment following their surrender to resistance forces in northern Shan State earlier this month, according to local media reports.

Citing a “credible military source,” the Chindwin News Agency reported yesterday that the brigadier generals were sentenced by a military court in Naypyidaw on January 20. Of the six, three were sentenced to death and three to terms of life imprisonment, Chindwin reported. Ye Myo Hein, a well-connected observer of Myanmar politics affiliated with the United States Institute for Peace, cited local sources as saying that five brigadier generals were sentenced: three to death, and two to life imprisonment.

The six generals were responsible for negotiating the January 5 surrender of the military’s Regional Operations Command in Laukkai, the capital of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone (SAZ) in northern Shan State, to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The MNDAA’s capture of Laukkai, one of the main objectives of Operation 1027, an offensive that the group launched along with its allies, the Arakan Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army, completed its long-sought reconquest of Kokang, from which the Myanmar military expelled it in 2009.

Among them were Brig. Gen. Moe Kyaw Thu, commander at Laukkai military command, who reportedly led the surrender talks with the MNDAA, and Brig. Gen. Tun Tun Myint, the Northeastern Command chief who chaired the Kokang administrative body during the initial stages of Operation 1027 in November.

Since the beginning of the operation, the military has lost control of about 30 towns, several hundred bases and outposts – including command centers – and several important border crossings with China. But the fall of Kokang, and the collapse of the military’s positions in northern Shan State, have been the most significant setbacks. During their surrender of the Regional Operations Command in Laukkai, nearly 2,400 personnel gave up their arms – reportedly the largest surrender in the history of Myanmar’s armed forces, in exchange for safe passage to Lashio, 186 kilometers to the southwest, along with their families.

According to The Irrawaddy, the six generals were subsequently flown on a military helicopter to Lashio, where they were detained at the headquarters of the Northeastern Command for questioning. They were then flown to face a military tribunal in Naypyidaw, while junior officers were promoted to replace them.

Chindwin News cited unconfirmed reports that junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing “was extremely furious at the image of the six brigadier generals having a group dinner in Laukkai town” after the surrender. The photo has been widely distributed on social media by the MNDAA and its affiliated media organizations.

The harsh sentences speak simultaneously to the incredible loss of face involved in the Laukkai surrender, the military’s desperation, and its apparent inability to reverse its battlefield losses. In a recent briefing for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Morgan Michaels wrote that the military junta was approached by Chinese intermediaries in the early stages of Operation 1027 and given the opportunity to negotiate the surrender of the Kokang SAZ. Min Aung Hlaing refused to do so, but also failed to launch any meaningful counteroffensive. This left his commanding generals to negotiate an ad hoc arrangement from a position of weakness, without getting anything substantial in return.

The execution of leading generals for making what was probably the only rational decision in the circumstances will do little to increase fighting spirit within the ranks of a military suffering from a steep deficit of morale after months of embarrassing losses.

The situation is so bad now that Min Aung Hlaing’s leadership is being openly questioned by supporters of the military. In an article  based on rare interviews with senior military officers that was published last week, Frontier Myanmar revealed the extent to which the “humiliating defeats across northern Shan have shocked the military establishment.”

The article quoted an anonymous major-general from the Myanmar Air Force who described Min Aung Hlaing as “the worst leader in the history of the military and the country.” Another senior officer, an army major, told the publication that following the losses in northern Shan State, and with the military on the back foot also in Chin and Rakhine states, members of the military are running out of patience.

“We have to give the commander-in-chief time to deal with the current crisis. But if he fails, everyone will hear some breaking news within two months,” he told Frontier in an interview late last year. “I’m saying the end of February. I think that’s enough time.”

Similar views have been expressed by prominent supporters of the junta, some of whom are now using their social media platforms to pour scorn on the junta chief and call for him to step down.

However, in his briefing for IISS, Michaels sounded a note of caution about the likelihood of Min Aung Hlaing being toppled and replaced.

“Unseating him would also equate to challenging the long-standing norms of the Tatmadaw, which most senior officers still view as sacrosanct,” he wrote. “Moreover, it would be hard for any reform-minded faction to initiate a negotiated transition, given how deeply the regime is reviled both at home and abroad.”