Analysis

Protégé of Myanmar Junta Boss Tipped to be His Successor as Military Chief

By The Irrawaddy 17 March 2022

When President U Win Myint and his wife were detained on the morning of the February 1, 2021 coup, the arresting team was led by Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun, the number four man in the Myanmar military.

Now the 54-year-old is the youngest member of the State Administration Council (SAC), the military regime’s governing body. He is also the army’s Chief of Staff and the youngest officer to hold a regional commander position since Senior General Min Aung Hlaing became head of the military.

Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun is also the chairman of the junta-controlled Myanmar Investment Commission, making him one of the few SAC members to hold posts in both the armed forces and the regime’s government.

His loyalty to junta boss Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is unquestioned. Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun reportedly sleeps under a picture of his chief.

A picture of Lt-Gen Moe Myint Tun at the Military Museum in Naypyitaw in his capacity as chief of the Bureau of Special Operations Two.

It is no surprise then that the Lt-Gen, who is over ten years younger than the junta chief, is being widely tipped as a potential successor to Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, should he hold an election in 2023 and run for the presidency.

There is a precedent, too, for such a promotion. Former military dictator Senior General Than Shwe chose Min Aung Hlaing, who was then the youngest Lt-Gen. in the army, as his successor when he stepped down.

Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun showed no respect to President U Win Myint when he came to arrest him, first asking him to step down on health grounds. President U Win Myint replied that he would rather die than resign.

“It was him [Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun] who told the president that they [the National League for Democracy’s leadership] are quite cocky,” said a military officer familiar with the event.

That disdain is in sharp contrast to the respect the Lt-Gen. displays for the regime chief. He first hung his picture above his bed in 2011, while serving as the head of the Fourth Military Operations Command in Hpugyi, Yangon Region, according to officers who served with him then.

“He worships him [Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing] as a God,” said a captain who served under the Lt. Gen.

Who is Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun?

Although Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun has no record of outstanding military or administrative performance, he rose rapidly through the ranks.

Houses torched in Meiktila during sectarian riots in 2013.

Moe Myint Tun was born in 1968 in Kyauktaga Township, Bago Region. He was part of the 30th intake at the Defense Services Academy. As a junior officer, he spent most of his time in administrative work.

As a captain, he worked in the office of General Maung Aye, the then deputy chief of the former military regime, which called itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). He replaced General Maung Aye’s personal staff officer Captain Win Tun when he died.

Later, he became a lieutenant colonel, overseeing No. 303 Battalion based in Paung Laung, near the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw. The battalion was mainly responsible for providing security for the SLORC leaders in Naypyitaw.

“Since he became a captain, he was assigned to good postings and rose through the ranks to become a major general. He was assigned only to units near cities. He was never assigned to remote areas and I have never heard of him participating in combat,” said one retired Lt-Gen.

While serving as the head of the Fourth Military Operations Command, Moe Myint Tun was involved in one military operation in Karen State. But the operation was conducted when the Karen National Union and the then President U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration had signed a state-level ceasefire. So there was no actual fighting going on in Karen State at the time.

Drugs seized from the Kaung Kha militia in March 2020.

However, an officer under his command stepped on a landmine while chopping firewood during the operation. Moe Myint Tun ordered his officers not to report the incident to his commanding officers, a captain who served in his command at the time told The Irrawaddy.

“He asked us not to report the incident. He has a lust for positions of power. He is the kind of person who curries favor with higher-ups and oppresses subordinates,” said the captain.

Youngest Commander

While he was serving in the Fourth Military Operations Command, Moe Myint Tun was assigned in March 2013 to handle sectarian conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in Meiktila in Mandalay Region. Following riots across the region, President U Thein Sein’s government had to declare a state of emergency in Meiktila, Mahlaing, Thazi and Wundwin townships, and sought the help of the military to ensure security.

The riots resulted in heavy casualties because the security forces failed to handle the situation properly, critics said.

Moe Myint Tun also confiscated land in Yangon’s Hmawbi Township while serving as the head of the Fourth Military Operations Command.

“He grabbed land from civilians to distribute to tactical and battalion commanders under him. He had to give the land back when people filed complaints about it,” said an army officer currently serving in the Fourth Military Operations Command.

Weapons seized from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in November 2019. / The Irrawaddy

But he did not return land he grabbed from local farmers in Hpugyi and Gyoe Phyu in Yangon Region. Instead, he applied for official land use permits to grow crops on that land, added the officer.

In 2015, then Maj-Gen. Moe Myint Tun became the chief of Naypyitaw Command. At the time, he was 47-years-old and the youngest officer to hold the command. Two years later, he became a Lt-Gen holding the positions of both Chief of Staff (army) and Chief of the Bureau of Special Operations Six, which oversees Naypyitaw.

He was then assigned to lead the Bureau of Special Operations Two, which oversees northern Shan State, at a time when the Myanmar military was fighting the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), part of the Northern Alliance, in the region.

His soldiers arrested the leaders and confiscated the drugs and weapons of the Kaung Kha militia based in Kutkai in northern Shan State, thus destroying the militia. At the end of 2019, his troops also seized over 100 weapons, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, from the TNLA.

Following last year’s coup, the Lt-Gen. became a member of the SAC and was also appointed chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission. He remains the army’s Chief of Staff.

The Lt-Gen. has taken the helm of Myanmar’s economic affairs since the coup. From his time as personal staff officer to General Maung Aye, he has close ties with long-time cronies U Aung Ko Win, the Chairman of the KBZ Group, and U Tay Za, Chairman of the Htoo Group of companies. One of his classmates from the Defense Services Academy, U Nyunt Aung, is also the deputy commerce minister in the SAC.

“His children are still young. So there is no report yet of them establishing a company,” said a businessman who asked for anonymity. But he is interested in business, added the businessman.

Will Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun be Promoted This Year?

If Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun is to be the next military chief, he will have to be promoted to General this year. By mid-2022, he will have been a Lt-Gen. for five years. Under new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Defence since the coup, officers who have served for five years as a Lt-Gen. have to retire if they are not promoted.

General Maung Maung Aye, the current Chief of the General Staff (Army, Navy and Air Force), will turn 60 at the end of this year. Should Lt-Gen. Moe Myint Tun be appointed as his successor and promoted to General, then it is very likely that he will take over from Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as the next head of the military.

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