Myanmar junta replaces air force chief amid bombing campaign

Myanmar junta replaces air force chief amid bombing campaign

Refugees, who have fled a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar army and insurgent groups and settled temporarily on the Moei River Bank, are seen under makeshift tents on the Thai-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Tak province, January 7, 2022. (Reuters photo)

Myanmar’s military leader has removed the head of the air force, local media and four sources close to the armed forces said, replacing one of the most senior figures in a junta that has carried out bombing raids to try to crush resistance.

The sources told Reuters that 57-year-old Maung Maung Kyaw, a general from an elite military background, had been ousted from the post he had held since 2018.

Two of the sources said he was replaced on Monday by Htun Aung, who had been the air force’s chief of staff.

There was no public announcement that Maung Maung Kyaw had been removed and Reuters was unable to establish why junta leader Min Aung Hlaing had removed him.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun did not respond to a request for comment on whether Maung Maung Kyaw had been removed. The spokesman was quoted by local news outlet Eleven Media as saying Maung Maung Kyaw had ended his service after a four-year term.

Reuters was unable to contact Maung Maung Kyaw directly, and requests for comment through the military received no response.

Since the coup on Feb 1 last year in which an elected government was overthrown, and during the protests that followed the coup, the air force has been used to ferry troops around Myanmar to quell opposition.

Witnesses say the air force has also been used for bombing raids that have killed civilians. The junta has not commented on the allegations. It says it does not target civilians, only “terrorists”.

The junta, which has jailed ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and most of her allies, calls the opposition forces loyal to her deposed government “terrorists”.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group, says more than 1,400 people have been killed in violence since the coup, including those killed in bombing raids. The junta disputes the reported number of casualties.

Maung Maung Kyaw was the subject of a Reuters investigation last year that revealed his family members, including his son and nephew, were part of a young generation of military families with business interests including supplying the armed forces.

Photos and postings on social media – showing parties at expensive venues in Singapore and trips to Bangkok, London and Santorini – showed his family members enjoying a lifestyle far out of reach for the vast majority of Burmese.

Maung Maung Kyaw, who has had sanctions imposed on him by the United States over his role in the coup, did not respond to questions Reuters sent to the military before publication of its investigation.

In recent weeks, aerial bombardment of the town of Loikaw in eastern Kayah state, bordering Thailand, where ethnic armed groups have joined forces with newly formed anti-coup armed organisations, has forced thousands of people to flee.

Opponents of the junta say Myanmar’s military has sustained heavy losses during the fighting. The junta has not commented on the reports that it has suffered heavy losses.