Myanmar junta arrests military officers after surrender to rebels

Myanmar junta arrests military officers after surrender to rebels

YANGON (AFP): Six high-ranking Myanmar junta officers who handed over a strategic town to ethnic minority fighters and surrendered with hundreds of troops have been taken into custody, a military spokesman and others told AFP on Tuesday.

Junta troops in Laukkai near the China border this month surrendered to an alliance of armed ethnic minority groups following weeks of clashes sparked by a surprise offensive against the military.

Around 2,000 troops surrendered and were later allowed to leave the town with their families, sparking further criticism of the junta leadership by its supporters after a string of battlefield losses.

The six brigadier-generals who led troops in the Laukkai region have been taken into custody, a military source told AFP.

It was not clear what they could be charged with, or if all would be charged, said the source, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Under Myanmar’s military law leaving a post without permission can be punished by the death penalty.

There was “no sentence for the six brigadier-generals yet”, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP on Tuesday.

Some of the six were considered close to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, said another military source who also requested anonymity.

Laukkai is the largest town seized by the alliance — made up of three armed ethnic minority groups — since it launched attacks in October.

Min Aung Hlaing made a name for himself in 2009 when, as a regional commander, he expelled one of the alliance groups, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), from the town.

The military then installed a militia that got rich producing drugs and selling a potent cocktail of gambling and sex to visitors from across the Chinese border.

Laukkai is also notorious for online scam operations where thousands of Chinese and other foreign nationals are often trafficked and forced to work defrauding their compatriots over the internet.

The scams anger China, a major ally and arms supplier of the junta, and Beijing has repeatedly asked the military to crack down on the billion-dollar industry.

Analysts say Beijing maintains ties with ethnic armed groups along its border and likely knew in advance about the alliance’s October offensive, which has seized swathes of territory and blocked trade crossings with China.

This month the military and the alliance announced a China-mediated ceasefire, which both sides have since accused the other of violating.