BANGKOK (AP) -- As Myanmar's military put on an annual show of strength Monday, its top leader told its assembled ranks they need to take decisive action against those fighting army rule of the country.
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing spoke at a military parade on Armed Forces Day. At sunrise, members of all service branches marched in mass formations onto a huge parade ground in the capital, Naypyitaw, backed by armored vehicles, missiles and artillery as well as fighter jets and helicopters flying overhead.
Myanmar's military has been accused of indiscriminate killings of civilians as it engages in major offensives to suppress the armed resistance opposed to its takeover of the government two years ago. Min Aung Hlaing in his speech said those who condemned his military government demonstrated indifference to the violence committed by its opponents.
Armed Forces Day marks the anniversary of the start of a 1945 uprising of a ragtag army against occupying Japanese forces. The country then called Burma attained independence from colonial power Britain in 1948 and has been ruled by a succession of military governments for most of the years since.
On Feb. 1, 2021, the army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government, prompting peaceful protests that security forces suppressed with bloody violence. The escalation of the violence since then has been characterized by U.N. experts and others as a civil war.
The opposition to military rule is led by a self-styled National Unity Government, or NUG, which was established by elected lawmakers who were denied their seats by the army and stakes a claim to being the country's legitimate administration.
Its armed wing, the loosely organized People's Defense Forces, or PDF, along with their armed ethnic minority allies, regularly strike military columns, bases and outposts. At the same time, the army and air force are hitting villages with artillery and air strikes, often causing civilian casualties and credibly being accused of other brutal human rights abuses. Their offenses have displaced more than a million people, causing a humanitarian crisis.
"The terror acts of the NUG and its lackey so-called PDFs are needed to be tackled for good and all," Min Aung Hlaing said in his speech. "The (military) and the government also need to take action against this terrorist group, trying to devastate the country and killing the people."
His government has declared major resistance organizations to be terrorist groups, and anyone associated with them is subject to harsh punishment.
While Min Aung Hlaing said the actions of his military were necessary to achieve peace, his government is keen to dismiss allegations of human rights abuses by pointing at violence carried out by its opponents.
After security forces arrested, tortured and killed activists in the cities, urban guerrilla groups responded with bombing and assassinations of targets linked to the military. On Friday, a veteran corporate lawyer accused of being a military crony was shot dead in the country's biggest city, Yangon.
There were scattered protests reported against the army's celebration.
Independent online media reported that bomb explosions took place in at least three areas of the country's biggest city, Yangon on Monday morning.
Yangon Revolution Force, a pro-democracy activist group, announced it had protested Armed Forces Day by performing a ritual at a Buddhist pagoda placing a curse on Min Aung Hlaing. The military's leaders, like many other people in Myanmar, are known to be highly superstitious.
In the Sagaing region in the northwest, a stronghold of armed resistance, people held small protests against Armed Forces Day.