On This Day

The Day Myanmar’s Daw Aung San Suu Kyi First Met Her Jailer

By Wei Yan Aung 20 September 2020

YANGON—On this day in 1994, military dictator Senior General Than Shwe and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who had by that time been under house arrest for five years, met for the first time at the No. 1 Tatmadaw Guesthouse in Yangon.

A week prior to the meeting, Colonel Than Tun of the Directorate of Military Intelligence informed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that the country’s military leaders wanted to meet her. She agreed, on condition that the topic of the discussion would be other than asking her to leave the country.

Nothing about the discussion was made public on state media except a photo of junta leader Snr-Than Shwe, Secretary-1 Major General Khin Nyunt and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wearing a pink dress.

Many political observers have suggested that no political issues at all were discussed at the meeting, speculating that the regime, known as the State Law and Order Development Council— which refused to hand over power to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) after it won the 1990 general election, and brutally oppressed democracy activists—organized it just for show in response to international pressure.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, too, has never revealed details of the discussion.

The two met again in 2002. At that meeting, the senior general said nothing about politics, limiting his comments to health and other trivial matters, NLD records show.

In an interview with U Ye Htut, who served as minister of information in the U Thein Sein government, Maj-Gen Khin Nyunt, who was present at both meetings, said Snr-Gen Than Shwe never discussed political issues with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, only raising matters related to regional development with her. Whenever she started discussing political issues, he would shrewdly change the topic; the meetings were intended simply to reduce international pressure on Myanmar, and the generals never intended to have a genuine political discussion, he said.

After the NLD’s landslide victory in the 2015 general election, retired Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met for a third time in Naypyitaw. Neither side, as usual, revealed the topics that were discussed.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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