Suu Kyi attends army parade

Bangkok, March 28: Myanmar's military asserted its role in the country's politics at a ceremony yesterday that featured a prominent guest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, whose presence among the generals would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

In the capital, Naypyidaw, Aung San Suu Kyi sat in the front row, flanked by her former military captors and watching a display of the country's armed might. It was a scene that symbolised what members of her party say is a fledgling partnership, jarring to some, that recognises the military's continuing power in a country moving towards greater democracy.

The ceremony, in observance of the country's Armed Forces Day, was broadcast on national television and featured a parade of tanks and rocket launchers as helicopters and fighter aircraft flew overhead, a more militaristic display than in previous years.

Nearly two years after a military junta ceded power to a nominally civilian administration, the army appears ascendant again, buttressed in part by Suu Kyi.

The army's profile rose last week when soldiers flooded the streets of the central city of Meiktila, where the police had been unable to stop three days of killings of Muslims by Buddhist mobs. The troops, ordered into the city by President Thein Sein, a former general himself, have kept the city calm. Over the weekend, religious violence flared in other parts of the country, raising the prospect of further military interventions.

At the ceremony yesterday, Myanmar's commander in chief, U Min Aung Hlaing, said the military would maintain its "leading political role".

This month, he took the title of senior general, the same rank as his predecessor in the job, U Than Shwe, the dictator who led the junta.

Although Suu Kyi has sent public signals for greater cooperation with the military for several months, the ceremony yesterday was among the first public signs that the military was reciprocating.

"Today is historic for our country," said U Zaw Htay, a former military officer who is a director in Thein Sein's office. "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was a VIP guest."

"No one could have expected this in the past," Zaw Htay said. "This is a good sign for the new generation in Myanmar. And the warm welcome for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shows the Tatmadaw recognises her role," he said, using the Myanmarese term for the armed forces.

U Nyan Win, a leading member of Suu Kyi's party, said her presence symbolised a reconciliation between the army and civilians.

"Judging from today's event, we can say the Tatmadaw is no longer separate from the people," he said. Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for a total of 15 years by the military before her release in 2010. She is now the leader of the Opposition in parliament.

Members of her party have expressed apprehension at the party's new strategy towards the military. They and outside analysts say it could alienate some of Suu Kyi's supporters.