Kremlin, despite military visit, says it is worried by rising civilian toll in Myanmar

FILE PHOTO: Men use slingshots as they crouch behind a barricade during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar March 28, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Monday that it was deeply concerned by the rising number of civilian deaths in Myanmar despite a high profile visit by Russia’s deputy defence minister to the southeast Asian nation to deepen military ties.

The visit, by Alexander Fomin, the deputy defence minister, drew strong criticism from rights activists who accused Moscow of legitimising Myanmar’s military junta, which came to power in a Feb. 1 coup.

Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said Russia was a “true friend” and welcomed the presence of Russian forces at the annual Army Day parade on Saturday, the bloodiest day so far with at least 114 civilians reported dead by local news services.

Defence ties between Russia and Myanmar have grown in recent years with Moscow providing army training and university scholarships to thousands of soldiers, as well as selling arms to a military blacklisted by several Western countries for alleged atrocities against civilians.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that Russia’s stance on Myanmar should not be misconstrued despite the delegation visit, which saw Fomin attend the parade.

“We are really worried by the growing number of civilian casualties,” said Peskov. “It is a source of deep concern and we are following the unfolding situation in Myanmar really closely.”

Asked to comment on Fomin’s presence at the parade, he said:

“You know we have long-standing and fairly constructive ties with Myanmar. There are certain developments in our bilateral ties, and it’s from that viewpoint that this should be regarded. But that absolutely does not signify our approval of those tragic events which are taking place in the country.”

Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn