The Irrawaddy

Once-powerful General Maung Aye Now Confined to Wheelchair

Vice Senior-General Maung Aye was known to be a tough army soldier who enjoyed the loyalty of senior commanders. In his good old days from 1993 to his retirement in 2011, the now 80-year-old was the second most powerful person after Senior-General Than Shwe in Myanmar’s military junta.  Since then, the vice senior-general has faded away from the public eye.

But pictures recently went viral on social media showing a stark difference from the former general’s days as a rugged soldier. Sitting limply in a wheelchair, far from his former glory, pictures showing the former vice senior-general and stroke victim receiving blessings from the famed Buddhist monk Mei Phone Sayadaw from southern Shan State shocked many people.

The monk is thought to have psychic powers and he often spends months at a time in caves in Shan State meditating. He has been approached by numerous business tycoons and generals for blessings.

Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye graduated from the Defense Services Academy (Intake 1) in Pyin Oo Lwin in 1959, later serving as the commander of Division 77 based in Bago in the 1970s. In 1988, he became a regional commander in the Eastern Region of Shan State.

In 1992 and 1993, people saw his sudden rise as he was summoned to Yangon to become the deputy commander-in-chief [of Defense Services]. The move appeared to counter General Khin Nyunt, a powerful military intelligence chief. Khin Nyunt wanted to become number two in the ruling council known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC.

Regional commanders who were also members of SLORC did not support Khin Nyunt but rallied behind Maung Aye who was named deputy chairman of the SLORC in 1994.

Maung Aye saw himself as a soldier, not a politician. He was, thus, an unthreatening choice as Than Shwe’s deputy.

The vice senior-general is known for his heavy drinking, love of golf and extremely bad manners. He was once drunk and stepped over the flag of the Karen National Union (KNU) at a ceremony at which Lt-Col Thamuhe, the commander of KNU Battalion 16, and his soldiers surrendered their arms to the Burmese government.

Sitting at the top of the ruling council was Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who enjoyed support among the generals and benefitted from the rivalry between Khin Nyunt and Maung Aye.

Maung Aye and Than Shwe resigned in 2011 after holding a sham election, which saw the regime install its own political party known as the Union Solidarity Development Party.

Maung Aye retired quietly and rumors suggest that during his farewell reception he told senior staff that he would not “make the same mistake as others” by clinging to power. At the time, Than Shwe was considering forming a supreme council, which he would chair.

“We should all leave politics once and for all,” Maung Aye was reported to have said to his staff officers.

Than Shwe learned of Maung Aye’s opposition to his plan and suddenly aborted plans for the council, as he didn’t want to be seen as a typically “power hungry general.” Maung Aye has disappeared from the public eye ever since.

Like many generals, Maung Aye and his family are known to be among the wealthiest families in Myanmar.

But in 2012, news emerged that Maung Aye, then 74, suffered a stroke and flew to Singapore for medical treatment. There was no news about him afterward.

But it seems that Than Shwe has remained active in politics – he receives his subordinates, foreign businessmen, and politicians including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is known to have met with him several times in recent years to consult on political issues in the country. Than Shwe, who is in his 80s, remains relatively healthy, informed sources said.