Myanmar’s Stoic President Overlooked by International Community

By The Irrawaddy 13 October 2022

The international community and diplomats appear to have forgotten that Myanmar’s President U Win Myint remains behind bars.

During a meeting with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw in August, the United Nations special envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer only asked about detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her Australian economic advisor Sean Turnell.

Representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have repeatedly called for a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but have barely mentioned the 70-year-old U Win Myint.

The president is now under confinement and presumably hopes to be released. But he is aware that he cannot expect much from the junta.

“This is not new to me,” U Win Myint told a court hearing.

He has deep mental scars left by the death of his son during an earlier jail term.

He won four seats in four elections with the National League for Democracy since 1990 and had been jailed in prison cells and his presidential residence.

It is unknown where U Win Myint is being held in Naypyitaw but we know his wife Daw Cho Cho is with him.

The couple have lived together in

a hamlet in Ayeyarwady Region, a small apartment in Yangon and then the presidential residence.

A woman who asked for anonymity from Tamwe, U Win Myint’s Yangon Region constituency, told The Irrawaddy that she keeps her ears open for news about U Win Myint.

“The media mainly reports about Mother Suu but we also always try to learn about Mr President. We pray for their health,” she said.

The details surrounding his detention at the presidential residence on February 1, 2021, were revealed when U Win Myint addressed a court in Naypyitaw in October last year.

That morning two army commanders entered his room and tried to force him to resign because of ill health.

The testimony contradicts the regime’s narrative which has repeatedly claimed there was no coup and the military takeover was “constitutional”.

The regime issued a gagging order on lawyers who repeated U Win Myint’s testimony, barring them from speaking to the media and foreign agencies.

U Win Myint is widely recognized by his colleagues as a strong-minded politician. When asked what he needed while in detention, U Win Myint said nothing special, according to his colleagues.

“U Win Myint is as fit as a fiddle,” a lawyer told The Irrawaddy, quoting a court source who saw the president last month.

The always-slim Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, however, has lost weight, said the lawyer. She was transferred from house arrest to solitary confinement at Naypyitaw Prison after her 77th birthday on June 19.

The two face five more corruption charges. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been given 26 years and U Win Myint received a five-year sentence for breaching COVID-19 rules and misusing his power on the Union Election Commission.

The regime has refused foreign diplomats access to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, saying defendants are not allowed to meet envoys.

Some observers believe diplomatic meetings might be allowed in time as a means to address the regime’s numerous crises.

But U Win Myint might well remain overlooked.