Myanmar Junta Chief Visits Ailing NLD Patron in Brazen Attempt to Bolster Image

By The Irrawaddy 6 December 2021

In a move that was part attempted charm offensive and partly politically motivated, Myanmar coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday visited an ailing leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD)—the party he ousted in a military coup.

The visit to U Tin Oo, a patron of the NLD and a former military commander-in-chief, came one day before a junta court sentenced the party’s chairperson, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to four years’ imprisonment for public incitement and violating COVID-19 restrictions. She still faces another 10 charges filed by the regime.

The junta staged a coup in February, arresting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s President, U Win Myint, and other NLD members. But 94-year-old U Tin Oo, who is now barely able to speak after suffering a serious stroke several years ago, was not detained.

The regime’s media reported that Min Aung Hlaing paid the visit to the retired general at his home in Yangon and “cordially inquired after his health” and “coordinated with respective officials to provide him with necessary health care at Tatmadaw [military] hospitals and provided edible bird’s nest and food products from the Tatmadaw factory.”

They aired pictures of a beaming Min Aung Hlaing sitting next to his senior, who wore an NLD jacket emblazoned with the party’s red badge. They saluted each other. The front pages of the regime’s papers the next day showed the coup leader chatting amiably with U Tin Oo while grabbing his hands.

According to people who were present at the meeting, the former general had to receive Min Aung Hlaing out of politeness, as the coup leader was visiting him.

They had to welcome him as he appeared personally, one said. “If we had been invited to see him, it would have been a different matter.”

He said Min Aung Hlaing didn’t utter a word about politics or issues related to the party.

“He [Min Aung Hlaing] said he was glad to see [U Tin Oo] healthy,” he added.

On the same day, the coup leader also met with former military spy chief Khin Nyunt, who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The timing of Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to a leading figure of the ousted party raises questions, coming as the NLD’s leadership faces numerous charges, including alleged voter fraud in the last general election and violating the counter-terrorism law through alleged anti-regime activities. Furthermore, the regime has threatened to abolish the party.

U Aung Kyi Nyunt, an NLD Central Executive Committee (CEC) member and the chairman of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the parliamentary wing of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), questioned Min Aung Hlaing’s sincerity in making the visit.

“He has never done this before. Then he appeared suddenly, before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s verdict. It’s clearly politically motivated,” he said after pointing out that the regime had recently handed lengthy sentences to other NLD CEC members.

Some see the meeting as an attempt by Min Aung Hlaing—who was recently sidelined from an ASEAN summit after refusing to let the bloc’s envoy meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—to counter his hardline image at home and abroad by pretending to reach out to a leading member of the opposition party. In reality, the meeting was one-sided and nothing more than a photo op for Min Aung Hlaing, whose host was hardly able to speak.

Whatever his motivation, the coup leader’s visit to U Tin Oo has not turned out to be the talk of the town, as he had no doubt hoped it would. Nearly two hours before the two met, Min Aung Hlaing’s soldiers rammed an anti-regime flash-mob protest column from behind with a vehicle in Yangon’s Kyimyindaing Township. The attack reportedly killed five and injured several others, while nearly a dozen young people were arrested, sparking nationwide mourning and international condemnation.

Pictures of the meeting were splashed across the front pages of the newspapers on Monday morning, but no one seemed to care. In markets, shoppers and sellers shared their feelings of grief over the young people’s sacrifice.

“They are courageous souls!” one fruit vendor said.

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