Burma

Who Is Myanmar’s New Home Affairs Minister?

By Htet Naing Zaw 10 February 2020

NAYPYITAW—Myanmar’s Chief of Military Security Affairs, Lieutenant General Soe Htut, was approved as the country’s new home affairs minister on Monday, replacing the outgoing Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe.

The Union Parliament on Monday approved the nomination of the military intelligence chief, who turns 60 next month, as the new home affairs minister, after President U Win Myint submitted his appointment last week. Union Parliament Speaker U T Khun Myat announced in Parliament on Thursday that the President had submitted his appointment as the new minister.

According to the 2008 Constitution, three ministries—Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs—are controlled by the military, known as the Tatmadaw. The heads of the three ministries are nominated by the military chief and the President appoints them with the approval of the Union Parliament.

According to the Constitution, the Parliament does not need to vote to confirm ministerial appointments unless there is proof that the nominee doesn’t meet the qualifications for the position.

Lt-Gen Soe Htut graduated from Intake 64 of the Myanmar military’s Officer Training School and won the best cadet award of that intake, which he attended together with Major-General Soe Shein, a close aide of retired Senior General Than Shwe.

He is the son of late Brigadier General Lun Maung, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office under the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military junta, and for this reason, he led a life of ease as a junior officer in the military, according to a former major general who served as a regional commander who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.

“He is a hard worker. He also tries hard in schoolwork. But he is not an outstanding fighter. His combat capability is sort of so-so. As his father was a senior military officer, he was able to rise comfortably in the Tatmadaw with the support of his father,” said the officer.

His father, Brigadier General Lun Maung, was killed in a helicopter crash in 2001 along with SPDC Secretary 2 Lieutenant General Tin Oo and other high-ranking military officials. Lt-Gen Soe Htut continued to receive favor from the military leadership as a son of a senior military officer who died in the line of duty.

U Hla Htay Win, who was then a colonel, survived the plane crash, and retired from the military as a general. He is now a lawmaker with the Union Solidarity and Development Party in the national legislature.

“He [Lt-Gen Soe Htut] served as the commander of Division 88 in Magwe. He then became a regional commander in July, 2010,” said the former major general.

New Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Soe Htut is seen at the Yangon Region Military Command on Feb. 8, 2020. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

He served as the commander of Eastern Central Command and Central Command. “While he was still a major general and serving as the commander of Central Command in Mandalay, some of his juniors were promoted to lieutenant general. That was July 2015,” he added.

Some sources said he also served as the commander of the 101st Light Infantry Division in Pakokku in central Myanmar.

In 2016, he was appointed Judge Advocate-General and promoted to lieutenant general. Soon after, he became Myanmar’s Chief of Military Security Affairs.

“Later, he got very close with the sitting military chief [Senior General Min Aung Hlaing]. And he also won his trust. The military chief put him in a position of authority. He has always accompanied the military chief on all of his local and foreign trips. This shows that the military chief trusts and relies on him,” said the anonymous source.

The home affairs minister position is critical for civil-military relations, and normally the military chief would only nominate someone he thinks is trustworthy and loyal to him for that post, said a senior military officer in active service who asked for anonymity.

“He is moderate. Overall, he is a gentleman. If the Tatmadaw appoints someone, the Tatmadaw believes he is appropriate because the Tatmadaw always checks the personal history and past activities of the appointee to assess his suitability,” he said.

Director U Aung Thu Nyein of the Institute for Strategy and Policy, a think-tank based in Yangon, suggested civil-military relations can improve if Lt-Gen. Soe Htut can perform well, as he has close ties with the military chief.

“I think there will also be other changes besides this appointment,” he said.

The Irrawaddy has learned that there will be a reshuffle of nearly 30 positions in the military according to a decision made at the Tatmadaw’s recent quarterly meeting. According to sources, Central Region Commander Maj-Gen Kyaw Swa Lin will succeed Lt-Gen Soe Htut as the Chief of Military Security Affairs. The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm those reports.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in an interview during her visit to Singapore in 2018 that her relationship with the military—which held her under house arrest for nearly 15 years—was “not that bad” and that the generals in her cabinet were “rather sweet.”

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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