Former Thai Army Chief Is ‘Godfather’ to Burma’s Top General

By The Irrawaddy 16 July 2014

Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing is the “adopted son” of Thailand’s former army chief and adviser to the Thai King, according to a report from the Singapore-based Straits Times.

A report Monday noted a recent meeting—and an embrace—between the Burmese military chief and the Thai army’s supreme commander, Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn, which signaled the close ties between the two countries’ armies. During his visit, Min Aung Hlaing gave his approval to the recent military coup in Thailand, saying it was the “army’s duty to safeguard national security.”

However, the Straits Times said, “Today ties [between Burma and Thailand] are far deeper even than the hug suggested.”

According to the report, the Burmese army chief has been “adopted” by Thailand’s former army chief Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda—who reportedly knew Min Aung Hlaing’s late father—and the two have a “godfather-godson relationship.”

“According to Thai media reports, during a visit to Thailand in 2012, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, 58, asked General Prem, a symbol of Thailand’s royalist-military elites, to adopt him as his son,” the report said. “The 94-year-old Thai general, who has no children of his own, agreed.”

The Burmese general and Prem, who is president of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Privy Council, have met at least three times in recent years, in January 2012, May 2013 and July 2014, it said.

While currently serving at the top of Burma’s military—which officially handed power to civilian leaders in 2011 but retains a constitutionally protected role in politics—Min Aung Hlaing has been touted as a future political leader, either from within the army or without.

Sources close to the President’s Office say the commander in chief will step down in May 2015, ahead of parliamentary elections expected in late 2015 and the likely appointment of a new president in March 2016.

It is not known whether he will contend the presidency, but recent reports in Thailand also suggest another major Thai political player considered Min Aung Hlaing worth courting.

According to the Bangkok-based newspaper The Nation, a recent leaked phone conversation involving two people close to former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra revealed that the self-exiled Thai leader has attempted to forge close ties with Min Aung Hlaing.

“The pair discussed how Thaksin believed that Min Aung Hlaing was a powerful figure in Myanmar and could pave the way for Thai investment in the country, notably the Dawei economic zone,” The Nation reported earlier this month, with reference to the stalled project to build a trading hub in the Tenasserim Division town from where Min Aung Hlaing hails.

The former Thai premier has paid several visits to Burma since 2011, and last year posted a photo on his Facebook page, purportedly taken in Maymyo, of himself celebrating Buddhist New Year with Min Aung Hlaing.