Where are Myanmar’s Strongmen?

From left to right: Former Snr-Gen Than Shwe reportedly spends his retirement immersed in books, while former Vice President U Tin Aung Myint Oo still likes to play golf. (Illustration: Sai So Kyi / The Irrawaddy)

Until recently, the country’s khaki-clad leaders roamed the country, “inspected” state projects and offered instructions on how to build a “peaceful and modern nation.” But where are they now?

Ex-Snr-Gen Than Shwe and former Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye now live in secluded compounds in Naypyitaw and Yangon. They receive regular visitors, including high-ranking military and government officials.

In November, as Myanmar marked the Kathein festival, the country’s richest tycoons, as well as politicians including President U Thein Sein and Union Parliament Speaker U Shwe Mann, paid their respects to ex-Snr-Gen Than Shwe. The former head of the regime is praised within the powerful military establishment as the man who formulated the road map for the transfer of power and a “bloodless transition.”

The former dictator, who is still very much regarded as Myanmar’s central authority figure by the generals and ex-generals now in power, is said to be “worried” about the country’s future, but passes his time at home largely by reading books.

Ex-Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, meanwhile, has suffered a stroke and is paralyzed. Informed sources say the no-nonsense general, who was once based in northern Shan State, has completely retired from politics and administering the armed forces. “He is in a wheelchair and is no longer interested in politics—he’s waiting for his day to come,” said a source close to the family of the former junta’s No. 2.

Former Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye is confined to a wheelchair. (Illustration: Sai So Kyi / The Irrawaddy)

Former Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye is confined to a wheelchair. (Illustration: Sai So Kyi / The Irrawaddy)

The general, who was a renowned whiskey drinker, is said to have stopped taking alcohol and to have become more religious. Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the current commander-in-chief, recently paid a visit to the retired general’s residence, where he held a Kathein ceremony and offered robes to Buddhist monks.

Former spy chief U Khin Nyunt, now free from house arrest after being purged from the regime, recently opened an art gallery in Yangon. The former general, long known as Myanmar’s “Prince of Evil” for his role in torturing dissidents following the crackdown on the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, showed up to his gallery’s opening in a white tunic, and is also reportedly funding the building of a pagoda. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, he lamented that no one has sought his advice as a political strategist or consultant.

But what of U Tin Aung Myint Oo, the former vice president, who abruptly left his post with little explanation last year? The formidable former general, who won several titles for bravery in the 1970s and went on to control the country’s powerful trade council (and who is considered to be one of the richest men in Myanmar), is no longer in the news.

Myanmar, Burma, junta, military regime, dictatorship, Than Shwe, Tin Aung Myint Oo, Thein Sein, Khin Nyunt, Maung Aye

One-time spy chief and Prime Minister U Khin Nyunt now surrounds himself with art. (Illustration: Sai So Kyi / The Irrawaddy)

U Tin Aung Myint Oo’s departure was put down to health reasons, and he was said to suffer from throat cancer. However, the general once dubbed a hardliner is often spotted on the golf courses of Yangon and appears to be in good health. The former general remains tight-lipped about why he left the post, but he is said to be unhappy with—and to have questioned the “sincerity” of—President U Thein Sein.

Aside from playing golf, he is said to be building a bell in the Ayeyarwady delta, in the manner of Myanmar’s former monarchs, who often made merit by building pagodas and bells and donating to religious institutions. U Tin Aung Myint Oo’s bell is reportedly going to overshadow the Mingun Bell in Sagaing Region, which weighs 199,999 pounds (90,718 kg). The buying up of vast amounts of bronze to make the bell is said to have driven up local prices of the metal.

Although they are absent from public life, it seems the ex-generals’ large egos remain intact.

This story first appeared in the December 2013 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.

6 Responses to Where are Myanmar’s Strongmen?

  1. I guess the people in Burma are too timid or are massively intimidated.Elsewhere these inbred thugs and thieves in uniform would have been taken out long time ago.They deserve no less treatment than the previous despot from Rumania Ceausescu got.Most people in Burma still think the power hungry tatmadaw and its leaders are going to feed and clothe them,well do the math.The only war the tatmadaw ever fought was against the Burmese people and they’re still at it since 1962.GO GET THEM.

  2. Bloodless Transition? In 1988, SLORC promised us Democratically elected government through Democratic Election. The result of the election in 1990 was not honored by the SLORC itself where Than Shwe was Vice Chairman. Than Shwe has been liable for the death of countless citizens who kept fighting for Democracy until 2010. Is it what they call it “Bloodless Transition”? Shame on cronies and Than Shwe’s puppet USDP government. Many monks who got killed by Than Shwe did not seek office or position but freedom and democracy. Students killed by Than Shwe had the same sacrifice. Than Shwe will be remembered in the history as killer of monks, students and citizens for his own power. “Bloodless Transition” is no way near to be true.

  3. Maung Lu Aye ( Law ) R.A.S.U 1976

    Irrawaddy had mentioned that Ex-Gen & Dictators are now retired in Naypyidaw with Luxurious life . And 2nd AphayGyi Than Shwe stay at home largely Reading Books. But you don’t mentioned ” What kind of Books ? Whether Tay Za , Shwe Thway Journals or from Chinese to Burmese translation of Martial Arts Books that I’m wondering. He is killing the time on People Budget.
    Besides, Ex-Generals Maung Aye ( Still alive ), Tin Aung Myint Oo, Khin Nyunt & Thein Sein have a lot of Saving. If they are Good & Kind enough in their 3rd part of Life ( Final Days ) they should look after the Poverty striken GrassRoot People’s Need , by Confessing & Cleanse their Gravest sins, humbly Apologizing what they had done bad deeds to the People.
    And ” Prince of Evil ” Khin Nyunt is trying not to be Naughty in his Last Days at the Art Gallery, by showing his fake Interest . You can change your Color as the Chameleon, but not your Inner Attitudes . Ex-Gen Khin Nyunt , Nobody is not having a chance yet to Charge you like Germany’s Carl Adolf Eichmann, who had killed over 6 Millions Jews at the Gas Chamber and escaped Cowardly to Argentina after Word War 2 ,but finally Caught, Trialed, Sentenced by Hanging.
    Ex-Generals , now need Genuine Repentance for their Past Responsibilites of Atrocities that they had done to their fellow Burmese Citizens. It could not easily wipe out or erased from the History.

  4. Shitlone’s monstrosity of a bell is no use in the immeasurably more monstrous avici hell where he is bound.

    Khin Nyunt is s**tting himself and tries the same strategy as his Godfather Ne Win before him building the Maha Wizaya in atonement for his innumerable crimes against humanity. The dark prince has been shamelessly pleading not guilty using the Nuremberg defense and at the same time touting for business. Fat chance.

    Kyaukse Mintaragyi ensconced in his designer royal city must be grinning from ear to ear savoring the success of his road map for the smooth transition of power from the military to er.. um.. the military, not least the successful hosting of the SEA Games. Nothing succeeds like success. Until the chickens come home to roost. He’d be lucky if he goes the way his old boss Ne Win did cheating the hangman.

  5. All ruling ex-generals are rubbish due to idiot, opportunistic, killer, murderer, rapist, ethnics’ cleansing, criminal, uneducated and low born as well.

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