State Counselor's Choice of Helicopter Causes Stir

By Htet Naing Zaw 13 August 2018

NAYPYITAW — A government spokesman said State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not use a military helicopter during a recent trip to central Myanmar because the visit related to personal matters involving the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity established in 2012 in memory of her late mother.

After a public talk on the national peace process in Pakokku Township, Magwe Region, on Thursday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited the foundation’s branch office on Popa Mountain and attended the opening of a library in Nyaungbin village, in Mandalay Region’s Singu Township, the childhood home of International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University Rector Ashin Nandamabhivamsa.

During the trip she also visited a police training school in Sagaing Region, met with officials and attended the Mandalay Youth Development Festival.

To get around she took a helicopter provided by the Htoo Group of Companies, a conglomerate owned by tycoon Tay Za.

“Her trips were related to the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation and not related to the government. So we didn’t request a [military] helicopter,” said government spokesperson U Zaw Htay.

He said recent bad weather had also made the ground too wet for a military MI-17 helicopter to land safely.

There was widespread speculation that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not use a military helicopter because of strained relations with the military, or Tatmadaw.

“It is not because we have a poor relationship with the Tatmadaw. We the government didn’t ask for it. We also told the Tatmadaw in advance that we would not use their helicopters because of conditions on the ground,” said U Zaw Htay.

U Ye Tun, a former lawmaker who represented Shan State’s Hsipaw Township during ex-President U Thein Sein’s administration, said government officials should avoid taking military helicopters for safety reasons.

“I accompanied President U Thein Sein on his trip to Chin State. The [Tatmadaw] helicopter was not very safe, ” he said. “The government should have strong and safe helicopters and should not rely on the Tatmadaw for every trip.”

Some also raised safety concerns over Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to take a motorboat across a swollen river from Nyaungbin village to visit Ashin Nandamabhivamsa on Yakkansin Mountain.

“It started raining heavily while she was opening the library in Nyaungbin village. It was not possible to fly to Mt. Yakkansin because heavy rains reduced visibility. But she had to offer lunch to the rector sayadaw by 11 a.m. So we went there by motorboat. It was plan B, arranged by the regional government,” U Zaw Htay said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.