Burma

Meet Lt-Gen Ye Win Oo, the Man in Charge of Myanmar Junta’s Torture Chambers

By The Irrawaddy 10 October 2022

Following its bloody crackdowns on peaceful protesters against military rule last year, the junta has turned to committing atrocities against detained dissidents, especially during interrogations. The questionings are carried out mainly by the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs (OCMSA), a successor of Myanmar’s notorious Military Intelligence (MI), which was run by General Khin Nyunt.

Like their predecessors, OCMSA members excel in using torture to extract information from detainees. Violence is used without any care whether victims die during questioning. Documented OCMSA torture methods include pouring boiling liquid or chemical solution into the victim’s mouth and sending the disfigured dead body back to the family, apparently to intimidate anyone who opposes military rule. Other torture methods include sodomy, according to recent testimony of a Frontier Myanmar journalist who faced OCMSA interrogation.

OCMSA operatives are believed to have tortured thousands of detainees, while hundreds have been killed in military custody in post-coup Myanmar. The parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG)’s Human Rights Ministry estimates the death toll at interrogation centers has risen to more than 200 since the coup last year.

Ye Win Oo, right, and Min Aung Hlaing, center, at the 18th ASEAN Chiefs of Defences Forces meeting in 2021. / Cincds

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) has recorded a total of 707 deaths in junta custody. That number includes those killed at interrogation centers, in jails across the country and others killed in custody awaiting transfer. Victims include members of People Defense Forces (PDFs), Myanmar’s ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) and civilians detained during raids on villages by junta troops.

The man who oversees the interrogation centers is Chief of Military Security Affairs Lieutenant General Ye Win Oo – head of the regime’s torture chambers.

Who is Ye Win Oo?

Despite his frequent appearances with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in regime media broadcasts, Ye Win Oo is often overlooked.

Political prisoners who have been tortured to death by the military regime, as of June 2021.

Instead, many view the junta’s No 2, Vice Senior General Soe Win, as Min Aung Hlaing’s No 1 accomplice in the military regime.

But Ye Win Oo has earned greater trust from Min Aung Hlaing for his role in gathering intelligence on the resistance movement via torture chambers.

Ye Win Oo is a confidant not only of Min Aung Hlaing but also the coup leader’s family. His wife, Daw Nilar, like the wives of other generals, is on the US Treasury’s sanctions list.

He was a cohort of the 77th intake at Officer Training School (OTS), contemporaries of the 30th Defense Services Academy intake.

Ye Win Oo has been close to Min Aung Hlaing and his family since being appointed a General Staff Officer (G 1) in Yangon Command about 10 years ago.

He and his wife are known to be well-liked by Kyu Kyu Hla, the wife of Min Aung Hlaing. Ye Win Oo won rapid promotions thanks to his ties with Min Aung Hlaing’s family, serving as commandant of the Defense Services Medical Academy and chief of Southwestern Command before being appointed to head the OCMSA.

U Khin Maung Latt, the first NLD member to be killed in military interrogation.

“He has no distinguished military record. He was given a position close to him [Min Aung Hlaing] because he is his confidant,” said a military analyst based in Myanmar, speaking on condition of anonymity over security concerns.

The fact that Ye Win Oo is the only OTS graduate in a military leadership dominated by DSA alumni demonstrates how much Min Aung Hlaing trusts him.

He is also a joint secretary in the State Administration Council (SAC), or junta government. It appears that the junta chief favors him over Aung Lin Dwe, another Min Aung Hlaing henchman who serves as SAC secretary.

In meetings with international diplomats, Min Aung Hlaing keeps Ye Win Oo beside him over foreign affairs minister U Wunna Maung Lwin.

In evening newscasts aired on junta-controlled media, Ye Win Oo can be seen noting down what Min Aung Hlaing dictates.

Though Ye Win Oo has done nothing remarkable in the Myanmar military’s fight against ethnic armed revolutionary groups, he did play a significant role in last year’s coup. In what was likely his greatest contribution to Min Aung Hlaing’s cause, he oversaw the arrest of National League for Democracy government leaders.

Lt-Gen Ye Win Oo and Lt-Gen Moe Myint Tun led raids on the Presidential Residence and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence on Mya Nan Bon Thar Street in Naypyitaw, ousted President U Win Myint told a junta-controlled court.

His military record shows little indication of front-line action against armed ethnic rebels. But to unarmed protesters, Ye Win Oo shows no mercy.

Hellish Interrogation Camps 

Some 12,534 people were under junta detention as of last month, according to the AAPP. Those arrests were made possible by military personnel under the command of Ye Win Oo.

Veteran pro-democracy activist Ko Soe Moe Hlaing, also known as Ko Mae Gyi, was killed in interrogation in May, 2021.

In many cases, detainees died overnight in military custody with the Army informing the family members of victims to retrieve their bodies the following day. The regime routinely turns a blind eye and takes no punitive action against personnel involved in fatal interrogations.

Even men are subjected to sexual torture at interrogation camps. Frontier Myanmar journalist Ye Mon was beaten and raped by regime soldiers during interrogation in December 2021 after being detained at Yangon International Airport. On female detainees, nothing more needs to be said.

Min Aung Hlaing’s Eyes and Ears

Min Aung Hlaing has given full support to Ye Win Oo’s brutal crackdown on anti-coup forces, as a way of maintaining his grip on power seized from a democratically elected government.

The junta boss relies on the OCMSA to gather information about people, business owners, the NUG, the PDFs and the ethnic armed organizations who oppose his regime.

Ye Win Oo during a meeting.

More importantly, Ye Win Oo plays a key role in fending off any mutiny against Min Aung Hlaing.

“Ye Win Oo handles intelligence gathering at home and abroad as well as inside the military,” said an OCMSA source.

Ye Win Oo accompanies Min Aung Hlaing at all cabinet meetings, talks with diplomats and trips at home and abroad. He accompanied Min Aung Hlaing when the junta boss visited ex-spy chief Khin Nyunt in December last year. Former military intelligence personnel from Khin Nyunt’s time are believed to be helping the junta chief with intelligence gathering.

Second in command at the OCMSA is Major General Toe Yi.

Following the coup, the office was expanded into two divisions, one responsible for Upper Myanmar, and the other for Lower Myanmar. The Upper Myanmar office is headed by Maj-Gen Aung Kyaw Kyaw and the Lower Myanmar office by Maj-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Lwin.

Since the coup, the OCMSA has transformed into a force of evil, and the primary responsibility lies with Lt-Gen Ye Win Oo.

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