An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist hired by Myanmar’s junta has downplayed the military’s coup in the country, claiming the generals will leave politics shortly, seek to improve relations with the US and plan to distance themselves from China.
Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli Military Intelligence official who has previously represented Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s military rulers, told the Reuters news agency that the military junta also wants to repatriate Rohingya Muslims who fled to neighboring Bangladesh, amid attacks on the minority that UN officials have termed genocide.
Almost a million Rohingya live in sprawling camps in Bangladesh, with many having fled Myanmar after a bloody military crackdown in 2017.
Ben-Menashe said he was tasked with contacting the UAE and Saudi Arabia on repatriation.
Myanmar has been rocked by unrest since a February 1 coup ousted civilian leader Suu Kyi from power and triggered a mass uprising opposed to the new military junta.
Wednesday was the deadliest day so far, with the United Nations saying that at least 38 people were killed as security forces fired into crowds, shooting some protesters in the head.
The UN rights office also said it has verified at least 54 deaths since the coup — though the actual number could be far higher — and more than 1,700 people have been detained.
The coup and brutal military crackdown has drawn widespread international condemnation, including sanctions against key military personnel.
Ben-Menashe, who runs the Dickens & Madson Canada firm, said he was hired because the West “misunderstands” the Myanmar military.
“There’s a real push to move towards the West and the United States, as opposed to trying to get closer to the Chinese,” Ben-Menashe said. “They don’t want to be a Chinese puppet.”
He also claimed the police, rather than the military, has been responding to popular unrest — despite photographic evidence to the contrary.
And he said military leaders are keen to return to give power back to a civilian government. “They want to get out of politics completely,” he said, “but it’s a process.”
Ben-Menashe served nearly a year in prison in the United States in 1989-1990 on charges of trying to sell transport aircraft to Iran, before being acquitted, after a jury accepted his non-verified claim that he was following Israeli government orders.