Former Junta No. 2 Aung Gyi Dies Aged 94

Former Brig-Gen Aung Gyi pictured at the height of his power in 1962. (Photo: Dominic Faulder)

Former Brig-Gen Aung Gyi, who was once known as “heir apparent” of late dictator Gen Ne Win, died of heart failure at his home in Rangoon’s Mayangone Township on Thursday. He was 94 years old.

The politician-turned-writer served in the Burmese armed forces, or Tatmadaw, since its formation as the Burma Independence Army in 1942 during the colonial period, and through parliamentary democracy up until the Revolutionary Council.

Born in Paungde Township, Pegu (Bago) Division, on Feb. 16, 1919, he became known as the “ill omen” of Burmese politics.

After getting involved in the “We Burman Association” led by the Thakhin activists in 1937, Aung Gyi later became a soldier in the newly-founded Tatmadaw. He was even an MP in the Burmese Parliament for a short time after independence was won from the British in 1948. He then started writing about the experiences of soldiers and the politics of Burma history.

Aung Gyi played a role in the caretaker government of 1958-60 led by Gen Ne Win. In his memoirs, “Saturday’s Son” published in 1974, U Nu, then prime minister of Burma, claimed that his handover of power was not voluntary but that a group of officers led by Brig Aung Gyi and Brig Maung Maung threatened him with a “straight military coup” should he refuse. However, Aung Gyi denied these allegations in subsequent interviews.

Aung Gyi was number two in the Revolutionary Council after Gen Ne Win staged a coup in 1962. He served as vice-chief of staff and Minister of Trade and Industry but was ousted on Feb. 8, 1963, after openly criticizing the country’s economic policies.

In 1962, Aung Gyi became chairman of the military’s Burma Economic Development Corporation (BEDC), which is now known as Union of Myanmar Economics holdings Co. Ltd. He led the BEDC, which originally aimed to support the army with extra income, during the caretaker government years. The BEDC has been directly involved with banking, shipping, livestock and breeding, construction projects and many joint ventures with foreign and domestic partners since its formation.

Aung Gyi played a significant role in the crackdown on anti-government student protests in 1962, and was accused of subsequently dynamiting the historic Student Union building.

Prior to the nationwide democracy uprising of 1988, he wrote several long open letters to his former boss Gen Ne Win. Aung Gyi strongly criticized the government’s Burmese Way to Socialism and warned of possible social unrest and uprisings.

The letters, which were widely distributed throughout the nation, called for reform, and gained the students’ support as his predictions proved correct with Burma facing nationwide uprisings. Nevertheless, his popularity did not last long because of his firm loyalty to Gen Ne Win and the military.

During the massacre of August 1988, Aung Gyi irritated those who came to listen to his speech by saying, “You must not offend the army—not even in your minds.” People were shocked and furious as troops had just killed thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the street.

Just before the military seized power in September 1988, Aung Gyi pledged to the public that, “I will kill myself if the Tatmadaw stages a coup again.” This time his foresight was mistaken as tanks filled the cities, killing hundreds of the students and activists. Yet Aung Gyi still remained loyal to Gen Ne Win and the armed forces.

He was sentenced to prison three times during Gen Ne Win’s rule, according to an interview given in his 80s. In addition, in 1993 he was sentenced to six months in jail for not paying a bill for eggs delivered to his famous chain of Burmese bakery shops.

The former brigadier-general founded the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Sept. 27, 1989, together with retired Gen Tin Oo, who remains a patron of the party, and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung Gyi became chairman of the NLD while Tin Oo served as vice-chairman and Suu Kyi took up the role of general-secretary. But Aung Gyi left the party after two months accusing Suu Kyi of being surrounded by communists. Instead he formed the Union National Democracy Party and stood in the 1990 election—his party winning one seat out of the 250 it contested.

During a trip to the United States in 1998, Aung Gyi gave an interview to Radio Free Asia in Washington that publicly criticized Suu Kyi for boycotting the 1993 National Convention which eventually drafted the military-back 2008 Constitution.

In 2011, he declared that the widely condemned document was not amendable in response to NLD plans to change certain undemocratic articles.

Aung Gyi leaves behind his wife Mu Mu Thein, four children and five grandchildren. The cremation of his body will be held on Saturday.

The Irrawaddy reporter Yan Pai contributed to this article.

8 Responses to Former Junta No. 2 Aung Gyi Dies Aged 94

  1. We shouldn’t waste any more time in making sure that democracy is properly rooted.

  2. Another obstacle on Burma’s way to democracy has been removed. 

  3. Aung Gyi was the same as Ne Win although he pretended to support 1988 Uprising. Even he wear bullet proof in one of the Public Speech in 1988. We cannot trust him and never should. He wrote about the Neighboring Countries improvement compare with Burma, it was just a letter . Nothing more. He participated with NLD and separated later. He always believed & trust the Tatmadaw and Aphaygyi ( father Ne Win ) who killed hundreds and thousands his Own People. I don’t think we should recognize him as a hero like Brigadier Kyaw Zaw or NLD U Tin Oo. Let say, Rest in Peace for him.

  4. It is preposterous and rediculous to lump Aung Gyi together with Ne Win. Those who do simply are ignorant of the man and making sweeping statements based on rumours, hearsay and inuendo. Aung Gyi was absolutely sincere in advising NLD at its incepion NOT to CONFRONT the military because that will be a failure and a disaster for the country. That was rejected by Suu Kyi and the ex-military men like Tin Oo (with a lot of baggage himself) and Kyi Maung, the worse baggage. But look at the result of their confrontation . It took them (Suu Kyi & company) 22 years to realize that change will only come from within, and only when the military takes the first step. Their confrontation and all the sanctions simply did not work.

    In fact history will prove many decades later that Saw Maung offered NLD and Suu Kyi identical deal or even better than what she now has, but he was rediculed and denigrated and even wanted him tried for treason. For those who conider Tin Oo a hero, need to be reminded his unforgivable error of judgment as Chief of Staff in the Ohn Kyaw Myint disaster and his action when he was Defence Minister at the time the late U Thant’s corpse was snatched by students and how it was supressed. In all fairness, Tin Oo is a very decent and honorable person and an excellent soldier and so was Kyi Maung. But when one is in a position of safeguarding the national sovereignty, decisions must be made and that is where these men erred.

    So for some to say that Aung Gyi’s evaluation and his knowing the consquences in advance of confrontation with the military  in comparison with those that rejected it and thecountry suffered, is not something acceptable to decent Burman Buddhist. But here again, not only Burman Buddhist but it is “common decency and courtesy” that you don’t denigrate a dead man especially an honourable and honestt man like Bo Aung Gyi. Those who do so do not understand or fully appreciate the need to accept the reality that change can only takeplace from within “the power structure” and not by confronting it.

    Naphetchun MaungSein

    California USA

  5. One has to choose which is Right and which is Wrong. One,who had been in western Country long enough not thinking logically. Only thinking for himself & for his Ego. Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo and NLD used the Strategy of Confrontation was very effective Method that Mahatma Gandhi  Dr Martin Luther King,Jr  used it . It’s the method to let the People know not to fear the Dictators like Ne Win, Saw Maung, Khin Nyunt, Than Shwe etc. People truly believed that NLD U Tin Oo, Kyi Maung were the Genuine Defectors from Tatmadaw & joined with the People except Bo Aung Gyi. As I had mentioned Aung Gyi is nothing , but a Hypocrite. NLD U Tin Oo had dearly paid for his life ( In the Prison )in Ohn Kyaw Myint’s Case & U Kyi Maung also was put into the Notorious Prison. Whether the Confrontation took years, The Ultimate Goal is to the Road to Democracy . Bo Aung Gyi had written his own History, but different from Bo Tin Oo, Bo Kyi Maung & Bo Kyaw Zaw. People knows very well.

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