Understanding the SPDC General Name Rank & History Status Aung San Major General Founder of Father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK) Assassinated Ne Win Full General Leader of the coup in 1962 and father of military dictatorship. Ruled the country with a strong hand. Finally lost control of the army in 2002 and died under house arrest the next year. Deceased Than Shwe Senior General Chairman of ruling SPDC, the Burmese military junta Commander in chief of Armed Forces In power Mg Aye Vice Senior General Deputy Chairman of SPDC Deputy Commander in chief of Armed Forces In power Khin Nyunt Full General Former Prime Minister, Chief of Military Intelligence, Secretary (1) of SPDC Under house Arrest Shwe Mann Full General, Joint Chief of staff Member of SPDC. Trusted aide of Than Shwe. Potential Successor to Than Shwe Considered 3rd in ranking In power Thein Sein Full General S(1) of SPDC. Also Adjutant General Considered 4th in ranking In power Soe Win Full General Prime Minister The one who led the Depayin attack on Daw Suu In power Myint Shwe Lt General Chief of Military Intelligence Commander, Trusted aide of Than Shwe In Power Hla Hay Win Brigadier General Brigadier General - General Staff (BGGS) Commander, LID 11 Trusted aide of Mg Aye In power Kyaw Htin Full General Former Defense Minister & Commander in Chief Deceased Aye Ko General Deputy Commander in Chief Deceased Sein Lwin Brigadier General Former President (end of BSPP, 1988 uprising) Deceased Tin Oo (MI) Brigadier General Former Military Intelligence Chief of Ne Win Former Deputy SG of BSPP Purged by Ne Win Deceased
Understanding the SPDC General
This paper was written for Western audience to help understand the Burmese way of
Thinking especially the street-smart raw thinking of the Burmese generals in contrast to western ways of intellectual thinking, analysis and forming ideas and policies based on established political science theories, case studies, logic and facts.
Many Burmese political operatives like to make fun of Burmese generals as uneducated idiots and especially some intellects wanted to contrast them and enjoyed talking down the Generals as unsophisticated rednecks of Burma. Older Generations of Burmese who took the brunt of oppression in the early days of Ne Win rule loved to claim that adding 3 Burmese military officials did not add up to 4 grades and find consolation on all the failures of Ne Win experimentation with Burmese way to Socialism by blaming their lack of education. Ne Win himself was a dropout from the University and was working as a postal clerk before he joined the 30 comrades.
( the first batch of Burmese trained by Imperial Japanese army with Aung San as its leader during WWII from which the Burma army was formed)
While the Burmese opposition loves to make fun of these generals, many or most of them do not make any attempts to understand the thinking behind these generals or to study the structure and culture within the armed forces and what changes had been taking place inside Burmese military, and what influence their collective thinking, dynamics and culture. Very few western academics had a chance to access any documents of the armed forces and even when they were granted access, military restricted only to the time before 1962. Professor Mary Callahan’s book Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma did peek into the early formation of the military thinking and the arrogance growing inside the official corps that only military could well served the country. But military did not allow Professor Mary Callahan or anyone to study them after the period starting from 1962 to present. Naturally, many of the books written were on the military strength and formation but none pay much attention to the actual power structure or dynamics and culture created within closely guarded SPDC generals and their elite commanders.
There are two dangerous mindsets that is at the core of military thinking
(1) Military officers are superior to civilians
(2) Only military can save the country from disintegration
The first thinking exposing their superiority complex is an obstacle to any future negotiating talks for the reforms necessary to reintroduce Democracy to Burma and the second thinking justifies military rule in their own minds.
Ruling Burmese military elites are somewhat difficult personalities where they are confident of their superiority over civilians at one hand but at the same time they understand their lack of sophistication at global and economic affairs exposing their inferiority complex on the other hand. But yet they do not want to loosen an inch of their control over the society.
Their strong belief in Astrology and their strong practice and reliance on Ya-da-yar, sort of like Voodoo practice to prevent bad instances from happening also complicated their thinking, actions and decisions.
SPDC generals are paranoid about U.S invasion. After Iraq invasion SPDC generals concluded that Rangoon was not safe from sea-borne attack and decided to move their military HQ to Pyinmanar in central Burma where they could build bunkers in the nearby mountains. But the decisions to move six ministries on the six day of the month at 6:00 AM prematurely was highly suspected of following the trusted astrologer’s instructions of Than Shwe. It is a widespread knowledge that Ne Win’s number was number “9” and Than Shwe’s number is “6”. This moves to Pyinmanar exhibits the complexities involves in the thinking and decision making process of the military elites.
The birth of the army.
Because the Japanese Imperial Army founded Burma army from Thirty Comrades who went to Hainen and trained, there was some unconscious residual of fascism right from the start. During and after the struggle for Independence, many of the young army officials had to report to young politicians who were their comrades during the early independence movement and some build resentment. Adding self-righteousness to this resentment, some officials started to think army officials could do better than civilian politicians and deserve better.
In the initial stage when the Burmese army was revolving from Burma Independence Army (BIA) to Burma Defense Army (BDA), progressive left leaning forces were competing with pro-British army officials or the rightist group within the army. Many Karen officials trained by the British held important positions in the army high command. The leftist or progressive officials plotted to regain control of the army where the Communist officials were led by Bo Zay Ya, the 4th ranking army official and the socialist officers were led by Bo Ne Win, the 5th ranking official among the thirty comrades. After Bo Teza (Aung San), Bo Let Yar was 2nd in line. Bo Set Kyar, the 3rd ranking officer, left the army. Bo Let Yar was known to be in the rightist camp.
When the Communist Party went underground to start an armed revolution Bo Zay Ya joined the Communist insurrection along with many officials who were loyal to the Communist party. Of the few battalions available to the army, half of the 3rd Burma regiment followed its commander, Bo Ye Chit, a communist. Because 2nd in command, Bo Chit Myaing, refused to join the communist rebels, the other half of the regiment decided to stay with the government. Only the 4th Burma regiment under the command of Bo Ne Win became the solid reliable regiment for the army during the civil war. Burma army was only 3000-5000 strong, which was supplemented by UMP (Union Military Police) under Home Ministry and other militia groups played a vital role in winning the civil war.
Right after the civil war, Burma army had to face off the Kumington Chinese who strayed into Shan State. The young country again had to rely on the army and it played a critical role during the early days Independence days.
The soul of the current army
Although General Aung San was the founder of Burma army, it was Ne Win who became the leader of the army after Independence of the country. In addition to being a military officer, General Ne Win was also a very wily and conniving politician. He never showed his ambition and fooled many by pretending to be polite and loyal to the politicians. U Tin Mg Win who was a well-known politician himself and his father was a protégée of U Nu, who served as U Nu’s ambassador to U.S. and as a minister in several portfolios. In his book U Tin Mg Win revealed that when the soldiers came to arrest U Nu at the night of the coup detat on March 2nd 1962, Prime Minister U Nu acquired about General Ne Win and went to bed peacefully thinking General Ne Win would take care of his military officials in the morning if he was informed without suspecting that it was Ne Win himself who staged the coup. 1958 caretaker government was the dry run to test the waters for military take over.
After the communist insurrection where many Communist military officials followed loyally their leaders for armed rebellion, many senior military officials close to socialist party were left in high positions in the army, who can counter-check Ne Win. After the 1960 election, Ne Win accused these senior military officials for siding with the Socialists (who lost) during the election and sacked them. Many of the next generation military officials who were handpicked and groomed by Ne Win himself took over the key command posts. So by March of 1962 when he staged the coup detat, Ne Win was not only the undisputed leader of the army but there was no one left who was senior and who had enough cloud to counter balance him.
The growing pains
Within a year after the coup Ne Win retired his deputy. He also retired the chiefs of Navy and Air Force and replaced them with much junior officials who had shown absolute loyalty to Ne Win. One of the trademarks of Ne Win’s rule was his mastering of divide and rule technique. Ne Win never left anyone unchecked. During his rule, military intelligence chief became very powerful and was refereed to as one and a half (1 ½) where the intelligence chief was more powerful than Ne Win’s official deputy. (number 2). Even then, Ne Win made sure there was a rival by creating a separate intelligence branch, National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) to compete with his military intelligence chief and played between the two. Ne Win had a file on everyone and used it regularly when he wanted to remove the target. Also Ne Win was very tactful in dismantling the whole political infrastructure. He arrested significant numbers of political leaders and many of the hardcore followers and declared all political parties to be unlawful organizations. He then nationalized all the business enterprises and destroyed the whole private sector in the economy. After Ne Win methodically destroyed the civil society in Burma, his government became the sole employer and authority for every means of the economy and only military is the sole organized institution left in the country. Then he weeded out all the suspected followers of his opposition and took absolute control of the society. After Ne Win put all the opposition leaders under detention for nearly half a decade and destroying the livelihood of the followers of his opposition he slowly released the opposition leaders.
One thing that Ne Win was very careful was not to overreach to the point of no return for his opposition where the victim may feel compelled to take revenge. Usually after releasing the army officials from detention Ne Win would invite the victims and offered some civilian positions or blame the military intelligence people for their detention. Ne Win was tactful to reduce the threat of the opposition but not to totally destroyed it and creates absolute bitterness.
So it was an art to survive and reach the ruling level during Ne Win era, where one ambition was never detected and one’s loyalty was never questioned. Ne Win’s philosophy was to choose a “good” person over a “smart” person.
Ne Win created a Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) and rewrote Burma’s constitution and staged an election and changed from military dictatorship to one party Dictatorship in 1974. Following the tradition of many dictators, Ne Win’s BSPP won the unopposed election with over 90% of the vote. All the members of the Revolution Council became ruling Party Officials and the power was changed from military officials to civilian party officials without a real change in power.
Ne Win became the President and many of his military council members became the newly formed Politburo style National Council members.
Near the end of BSPP 14 years reign, Ne Win resigned from all position except the Chairman of the BSPP. Following his tradition of divide and rule, there were three major factions fighting for influence within the ruling elites: Kyaw Htin, Aye Ko and Sein Lwin. Kyaw Htin was the former Chief of staff of the Burmese armed forces and Aye Ko was his deputy. Sein Lwin was a notorious butcher who ordered to shoot the demonstrating students in July 1962. The army blew up the student union occupied by the students with students inside the building. It was the first bloody suppression followed by many instances during the rule of these Burmese military dictators. All three of them were Non Commissioned Officials (NCO) from Burma regiment # 4 when Ne Win was its commander.
The trio in power
When the army staged a second coup detat to suppress the 1988 uprising in September 1988, General Saw Maung was the chief of staff of the Burmese armed forces. General Saw Maung was the protégé of General Kyaw Htin and General Than Shwe was from Aye Ko camp. Saw Maung was a loyal soldier but he was not a politician. He rubbed some elbows when he took actions to tackle corruption without consulting the elders. In those days, chief of staff of the army was just a tool because the real power was in the hands of Ne Win and his cronies. Ne Win had become the father of the Burmese armed forces and there was no one who could match his cloud or influence in the army. He had a long shadow over his commanding generals. He was known as A-Phay-Gyi, the “big father” in the army. When the compliant against Saw Maung became stronger, the ruling elders reported to Ne Win and decision was made to remove Saw Maung. Saw Maung was given medication and removed with Ne Win orders. It was later explained that Saw Maung had become unstable and had to be removed. The executor was non other than Khin Nyunt, then the military intelligence chief and trusted aide of Ne Win.
In the tradition of divide and rule policy, Maung Aye was chosen by Than Shwe with the approval of the elders because Maung Aye was the known nemesis of Khin Nyunt.
Power Structure within the Army
During and after the early resistance days, Burma army was formed in regiments. When Burma was fighting Kumington Chinese, the army started to form Brigades but senior colonels led them. Then in the 70s Burma army started to form light infantry divisions. The first division created was LID 77 and led by Col Tint Shwe. Coincidentally, Khin Nyunt who became the military intelligence chief was Tint Shwe aide comp. After LID 77, LID 88 was formed and was expanded to 10 LIDs. LIDs were the key offensive divisions that led military offensive or campaigns against main opponents such as Burma Communist party forces in the North and the Karen National Union (KNU) forces in Karen state.
In current formation, Brigadier generals lead divisions. Above the Division commanders are Regional Commanders with the rank of major generals. Regional commanders acted simultaneously as Governors also. Above the rank of Regional commanders are members of SPDC members where most of them are at the rank of Lt Generals. There are four Operational chiefs within the SPDC who are supposed to supervise Regional commanders. During Ne Win era, Operational chiefs are somewhat similar to United States Military Regional commands where the president assigns the fighting divisions upon the request of the operation plan to face threats. In the Burma armed forces these fighting divisions are under the control of General HQ and are assigned to the operational chief only when they march for annual/seasonal military campaigns.
So it is no surprise that the selected few who reached the rank of Divisional & Regional commanders and SPDC members are the core of ruling elites who rule the country. And the most important meeting is the quarterly meeting of “Commanders”. Usually there is a rotation every 3 to 4 years where the generals are promoted. After serving as regional commanders for 3 to 4 years, most of them are assigned to cabinet, sub-cabinet and other positions where they were allowed to enrich themselves and later retired to make way for younger generations. During Ne Win era, only Ne Win was the only one left at the top while all his lieutenants were removed, recycled or retired. In the same manner only Than Shwe, Mg Aye and Khin Nyunt were left at the top while all other generals are retired or removed after certain years of service. Until Khin Nyunt was removed on October 2004, the trio ruled State Law & Order Council (SLOC) turned State Peace & Development Council (SPDC).
The Balance of Power & Transition Period
In the Burma army, the selected few who made into the fighting divisions became the power base for top generals and other components of the armed forces are pretty much in the secondary positions. Ne Win never trusted both Navy and Air Force so he never properly armed these sections of the armed forces. Both Navy and Air Force significantly grows under SPDC rule but compare to army they are much less forces in numbers and influence.
When the 1988 uprising pushed the trio to the top, many of the commanders in key positions were not their selection. Ne Win selected all or most of them from the three power groups surrounding him. So in the early days of State Law and Order Council (SLORC) many of the regional commanders were very powerful. Also among the army officials there was a competition among officials who graduated from Defense Service Academy (DSA), Burma’s West Point, and others who joined the army or move up the ranks thru Officer Training School (OTS). So right below the level of these three ruling generals there was a group of unruly and very powerful generals, namely, Kyaw Ba, Htun Kyi and Tin Oo. Than Shwe was commander-in-chief of Burma armed forces, Mg Aye was deputy commander-in-chief and chief of army. Khin Nyunt was Secretary 1 of SLORC or better known as S1. Tin Oo was S2. All of these Generals moved up the rank from Divisional and Regional commanders except for Khin Nyunt.
Within the Burma armed forces, Military Intelligence is a separate pillar of power and there is an intense competition and hatred among normal infantry officials towards military intelligence officers. During the BSPP era, General Tin Oo (nick name ‘bespectacled’) who was the second most powerful man after Ne Win was a military intelligence chief who was also Deputy Secretary General of BSPP party. General Tin Oo filled most of the governmental and many of the party positions with his trusted aides and he was preparing to take over if and when Ne Win passed away. He became a threat and Ne Win removed him and his followers purged. During this transition within the military intelligence there was a big gap in efficiency. An assassination attempt on South Korean President by North Korean agents occurred during the South Korean President state visit to Burma. Ne Win got mad and asked his subordinates to look for a reliable replacement for military intelligence chief and Khin Nyunt was selected. During the 1988 uprising, it was Khin Nyunt who executed all the orders from the old fox Ne Win who created chaos and division among the civilian opposition and gave the orders for a second military coup.
Among the ruling trio of SLORC generals, Khin Nyunt was Ne Win eyes and ears as usual and who was carrying the torch by proxy. On his own, due to the competition between infantry officers and military intelligence officers, Khin Nyunt would not have any support but it was the old man Ne Win’s cloud that propelled him to take a place at the top as S1.
Who is the Fox?
When the military junta had only $30 million in the foreign reserved, it was Khin Nyunt who gave sanctuary to the notorious drug lords in Rangoon and probably survived on money laundering business. It was also Khin Nyunt who negotiated the Ethic rebels for a ceasefire in exchange for limited autonomy and exploitation of natural resources in their territories. It was also Khin Nyunt who dealt with the Chinese for their strong support. Khin Nyunt created an office called Office of Special Services (OSS) where he recruited many intellectuals and smart officers who can speak good English and started PR campaign to polish the image of the junta and to formulate foreign policy.
In the early 90s’ when Daw Suu was being recognized at the global stage and the sanction fever was getting high with the Nobel Peace Prize award winning for the Daw Suu, Khin Nyunt and his gang were working hard to counter the pressure points that were heading towards SPDC. Thailand and Burma had a long history where Burmese kings invaded Thailand whenever they were strong and there was a general mistrust between the two countries. It was a long established policy of Thailand to keep the Ethic rebels alive along Thai-Burma border to act a buffer zone. Khin Nyunt wooed his powerful military counter parts who were in control of Thai politics with many business concessions. He also worked on powerful leaders of ASEAN and work hard for ASEAN to adopt the infamous “Constructive Engagement” policy. At the same time, he allowed some Chinese listening posts in the Andaman Sea and scared the Indian generals and used this National Security card with Chinese Threat and started secret talks with the Indian military officers. It took eight years for the Burmese to convince the Indian government thru Indian military and finally Indian government changed their foreign policy towards Burma, in spite the Defense Minister was a strong supporter for Burma Democratic struggle.
Khin Nyunt policy was to create a strong regional “Triangulation” with strong China, India and ASEAN support to counter Western sanctions led by United States. In the mean time Burma even created relationship with South Africa by buying military equipments from South Africa. Even though United States officials, especially the Congressional leaders snubbed his military-intelligence-turned-diplomats regularly at diplomatic functions Khin Nyunt kept smiling and extended his friendship towards United States. OSS officials befriended some Western academics and intellects and invited them regularly to Rangoon and tried to promote Constructive Engagement policy.
While Khin Nyunt was engaging in the foreign front he was also instrumental in the early domestic battles to curb the influence and powers of other powerful generals. Potential rival Kyaw Ba and his gang were at first moved up from powerful regional commander positions to cabinet positions and later removed for corruption. S2 Tin Oo died from helicopter crash. Before, there was a bomb explosion that killed his daughter. Khin Nyunt could consolidated his power and acted much like a free agent within SPDC only because he got a support of Ne Win. Even though Ne Win was out of day-to-day administration and semi-retired, his cloud, influence and image within the Burmese army was significant.
While Khin Nyunt was basically running many of the governmental functions, Mg Aye protected his turf within the army. Basically Khin Nyunt got a lot of free reign within the government functions but Mg Aye run the day-to-day operation of the army. So what was Than Shwe doing all these times? There was a short story in Burmese where two beavers were fighting for the fish and cunning fox came into their argument and gave the head to one and the tail to the other and he got away with the middle which was best part of the fish. In Burmese we called this “A-lhay-thar-sar” meaning ‘eating the middle’ or outfoxing the two competitors and running away with the best results. Later, it would become clear that Than Shwe was the fox who gained the most from fierce competition between Mg Aye and Khin Nyunt. These two powerful men genuinely could not stand each other. So when Mg Aye had an edge and was able to replace Khin Nyunt’s man from any important position Than Shwe would fill with his man and the same for the replacement of Mg Aye men. It took more than a decade for than Shwe to fill critical positions with his men before he started to exert his power. In the early days of the junta, Than Shwe acted as though he was not hungry for power and lowered his expectation, especially in the eyes of Ne Win. Being able to downgrade one’s image and lowered expectation under the watchful eyes of a dictatorship was an art form.
Downfall of Ne Win
Because military was fighting for survival from 1988 uprising Ne Win did not vetted properly both with Than Shwe and Mg Aye in their selection. Also there was big gap within the military intelligence apparatus at the time with the removal of Brigadier General Tin Oo (MI chief) and Khin Nyunt was just learning the ropes under the tutelage of Ne Win. Just like Nikita Khrushchev was bitter about Stalin excesses but dared not speak out during Stalin’s time, both Than Shwe and Mg Aye disliked the old men Ne Win within their hearts but dare not speak out. Ne Win outlived not only his comtempories but also many of his trusted aides. As he grows older he spent more time on Buddhism and lost touch to some extent with ruling generals.
Ne Win had six kids from his several marriages but he had a habit of picking his favorites. From his previous marriages, Ngwe Soe was his favorite son. Daw Khin May Than was his favorite and most influential wife who died early with cancer. Among the kids he had with Daw Khin May Than, Sandar Win was Ne Win’s favorite and most influential daughter. Sandar has 3 sons and two of them were extremely wild and notorious like Qusay and Uday, notorious sons of Saddam Hussein. They also had a gang called “Scorpion” and were getting out of control with the protection from military intelligence. They were getting a real menace to the ruling military clique. One of the rumors was that the Sandar’s second son went and molested Mg Aye’s only daughter. Provoking Than Shwe hidden grudges against the old men, Mg Aye and Than Shwe plotted against the old men.
In 2002, Sandar’s husband was arrested along with his sons and a few generals for plotting a coup detat and they put the old man Ne Win and Sandar under house arrest. Later, the sons and father were sentenced to death and the ruling generals used this as a triumph card to check any officer who still may have some loyalty towards the old man. Khin Nyunt was totally unaware of the plan and was confronted just before the arrest to join the junta in their plot against Ne Win or be arrested. Khin Nyunt saved his skin by complying with the wish of the other two top generals. Not long after his house arrest, the old men Ne Win, once the dominant dictator who brought this dreadful dictatorship to Burma, passed away down and out and a broken man. He was buried unceremoniously with only Sandar and a few present.
Downfall of Khin Nyunt
With the death of the old dictator, Khin Nyunt lost his mentor and savoir.
With the mishap at Depayin, where the military thugs attacked DASSK convoy and nearly killed her, there came an out roar of protest from every corner of the world. When it became overwhelming, Than Shwe promoted Khin Nyunt to Prime Minister and later announced their 7 steps roadmap for Democracy to cool the anger of the world and to buy time. Khin Nyunt was not involved in the planning of Depayin and when told at the last minute, he objected. Than Shwe overruled him and the men in charge was Soe Win who was then S2, the most powerful position after the ruling trio. Soe Win is now Prime Minister.
Only after the death of Ne Win, both Than Shwe and Mg Aye could came out of the shadow of Ne Win, but they are still distrustful of Khin Nyunt. That's why they still kept Sandar under house arrest and kept the death sentence of her husband and the kids as an insurance policy.
One of the techniques used by Burmese military for control is reading telexes for orders. Mg Aye read all the orders concerning with the military orders and Khin Nyunt read all the orders concerning with the government. Because this is a military junta, Regional Commanders are also Governors taking dual responsibilities. In reality they are warlords with absolute power for their region.
As the military intelligence apparatus became larger, it was natural that the vetting process became somewhat loosen. One of the functions of military intelligence was to take charge of immigration and border guards. One of the prime positions for military officials was to get control of the key border stations where they could collect illegal tax from traders. Since this function falls under Military intelligence many of Khin Nyunt followers became rich fat cats and it was envy for infantry officers under the control of Mg Aye. There was a military intelligence officer in charge at the border post at Muse, which was a border town with China, who was getting out of hand with corruption. Mg Aye’s officers surrounded the city and arrested the corrupted officers and found drugs and other illegal stuff in possession.
Right under the eyes of the military intelligence, Mg Aye people had secretly form counter intelligence groups within the military to keep an eye on the military intelligence personals. The arrest at Muse lead to other people and it was spreading and they were brought the corrupted officials back to Mandalay. This incident was a great shock and concern for military intelligence community. To protect themselves, Khin Nyunt gave an excuse to inspect a few government projects and stopped by at the newly built HQ in Pyinmanar. He ordered his most senior and trusted people to meet him in Pyinmanar. Usually, there was a fierce competition between infantry soldiers and military intelligence people. Khin Nyunt had a reputation for being a workaholic and a smart politician and intellect and had earned respect from some military quarters, namely navy and air force officials. Khin Nyunt was also able to woo some divisional commanders. Copying the techniques from Ne Win, Than Shwe placed major general Kyaw Win as second in command for military intelligence. In addition, Mg Aye counter intelligence guys also bugged Pyinmanar facilities. Khin Nyunt people had no knowledge of it. Mg Aye people ordered their bugging devices not thru the proper channel thru the government acquisition process but thru their business tycoons.
One of the techniques used since Ne Win days was to keep a file on everyone and charge them with corruption and removed them when the men seemed suspicious. Naturally, military intelligence kept the files on everyone. One of the favorite protégé of Mg Aye, major general Myint Aung who was a Regional commander for Southwest region based in Moulmein was removed while Mg Aye was on a foreign trip when Khin Nyunt opened his file and made corruption charges. It was known that Myint Aung was a rising star and in direct competition with Shwe Mann who was Than Shwe trusted man and whom Than Shwe promoted to be deputy to Mg Aye to keep an eye on his own deputy. So it was a known practiced to accuse someone from these files and it was an open secret of the existence of these personal files. Khin Nyunt ordered his people to prepare the files of his enemies to protect themselves if they are accused of corruption. Military intelligence officials were no doubt thoroughly corrupted but relatively on SPDC generals scale, Khin Nyunt was only mildly corrupted. He was more interested in power than wealth.
Learning of this secret meeting initiated by Khin Nyunt, Mg Aye and his people went into high gear to plan for the ouster of Khin Nyunt. Another reason may be that because Khin Nyunt controlled the government apparatus, Khin Nyunt self promote himself aggressively flooding the newspaper with his photos and stories domestically. Internationally, Khin Nyunt’s OSS people and his international supporters of academic, think tanks and government officials has been openly promoting the idea that Khin Nyunt was the solution for Burma in place of DASSK. Khin Nyunt was the darling of ASEAN leaders and some Western diplomats. Every dictator hates when their subordinates attracts so much attention. It is considered as a threat. Also, Ne Win placed Khin Nyunt at the top so Than Shwe never trusted Khin Nyunt. Normally under dictatorship, intelligence (chief) must only be a tool and could not be a threat or a competition to the ruler.
Khin Nyunt was arrested at the airport by Myint Shwe, the powerful Rangoon commander and taken to General HQ and Shwe Mann reported about the decision to remove him, asked his revolver and sent to his house arrest. Before Khin Nyunt was arrested at the airport, LID 11 responsible for capital security raided, searched and arrested all the key intelligence offices under the Military Intelligence known as Defense Intelligence Services (DIS). Later, Than Shwe and Mg Aye disbanded the entire structure of Military Intelligence and placed Major General Myint Shwe, who is also the Commander of Rangoon Command and the trusted aided of Than Shwe to take charge of Intelligence.
With the removal of Khin Nyunt, Ne Win era has officially ended.
It has been nearly 16 years that this trio of generals had ruled Burma and Than Shwe skillfully played Mg Aye against Khin Nyunt. Now with Khin Nyunt out of the picture, the struggle is now between the two senior generals. (Than Shwe title is Senior General, which is equivalent to Field Marshall or American 5, stars general and Mg Aye is Vice Senior General)
Soon, it became evident that there is a fierce competition to place each loyal official in key critical positions. Normally, rotation for generals takes place every 3 to 4 years during the most important meeting: Quarterly Commanders Meeting. In a normal circumstance, divisional commanders will be promoted to Regional commanders and those who do not make it will be promoted to Cabinet and sub-cabinet positions. There was a cabinet shake up after the purge of Khin Nyunt but in a very unusual move, regional commanders were rotated between different regions instead of promoting up for cabinet positions or SPDC member positions. And this indicates that Than Shwe and Mg Aye could not reached for compromise. Myint Shwe is carrying dual responsibilities as intelligence chief and Rangoon Command commander. It is an open secret that there must be a replacement for Rangoon command so Myint Shwe can rebuild the intelligence apparatus. But the 3 most senior and possible replacements are from Mg Aye camp so Than Shwe will not allow the replacement to proceed.
Why is Rangoon command so important?
There are 3 critical positions that any conspirator must win over to stage any coup detat against Than Shwe. They are:
(1) Rangoon Commander
(2) Commander of LID 11 (responsible for Rangoon security)
(3) Commandant of General HQ
LID 11 is one of the notorious and critical LIDs responsible for the security of the capital and it was used along with LID 22 in suppressing many uprising such as 1988 uprising, U Thant (1974) and Mhaing (1975) uprisings.
LID 11 Commander is Brigadier General Hla Htay Win who is the trusted aide of Mg Aye. If Rangoon command fell into Mg Aye hands Than Shwe will become very insecure. There is a possibility that Than Shwe will postpone for Rangoon Command replacement until the move of General HQ is completed to Pyinmanar.
At this writing, Mg Aye has an edge of one of one or two Regional commanders in his camp. Many of the Burmese Opposition critics enjoyed attacking Than Shwe as stupid and Mg Aye as a drunkard because of their hatred for these generals, but they had basically no information on them. Both of them are very rough and tough street-smart guys. They have clearly outmaneuvered the most intelligent and intellectual member, Khin Nyunt by sticking to their street-smart techniques. When Than Shwe placed Kyaw Win and Shwe Mann as deputies to Khin Nyunt and Mg Aye, none could complain but Mg Aye was able to outsmart Shwe Mann but Khin Nyunt could not.
Day-to-day operation of the Burma armed forces is in Mg Aye hand and one of the key positions is Brigadier General - General Staff (BGGS). Mg Aye gave his instructions and orders thru his BGGS. To check on Mg Aye, Than Shwe created a new post, Joint Chief of Staff, and placed Shwe Mann between Mg Aye and his army commanders. But Mg Aye skillfully bypassed Shwe Mann and gave direct orders to his BGGS. His current BGGS is none other than LID 11 commander Hla Htay Win. Myint Shwe was BGGS before Hla Htay Win. Burma army followed the U.S. model, unlike the European model, and did not have a separate career path for General Staff officers but rotate them between G.S. and infantry commanding positions. Than Shwe is no fool. Although he is removed from day-to-day operation of the government and military he is carefully watching and monitoring the dynamics and association of his generals who hold key positions. It is strange, because he is the head of state as the head of SPDC and he is Commander in chief of Burma armed forces and he is also his own Defense Minister, supposed to be serving under his Prime Minister who is his subordinate. This arrangement shows how important who controls the military under military dictatorship.
There is some gap that Than Shwe may have missed and may have affect in the long run.
The most important stage for Burmese military officers whether they may survive and move to the ruling circle is at the Lt Colonel level. This is the level where they had their own command to lead a regiment and learn tactical skills and had a chance to show their ability and valor. It is an unwritten understanding that anyone who wanted to reach the top must have a battle/command experience. One of reasons that infantry officers looked down on military intelligence officers was that they had no battlefield/command experience. Both, generals Tin Oo and Khin Nyunt, two most powerful intelligence chiefs in Burma army history and their top officers had no significant battlefield experience. Both Than Shwe and Mg Aye rose form LIDs commands. (88 and 77 respectively). Shwe Mann received his “Thura” medal fighting the Karen rebels. Thura is similar to either German “Iron Cross” or American “Purple Heart” medals. Vetting and selection is done at Lt. Colonel level. Once they are promoted to Colonel, most of them went to War College for further training and would be promoted soon and given assignments at Divisional level at the Brigadier general rank. Mg Aye aide-de-comp who committed suicide vetted many of his colleagues for Mg Aye. At this mid-level staff, Mg Aye has the edge over Than Shwe. While Mg Aye and Khin Nyunt were competing with each other Than Shwe did not see any urgency and surrounded himself with many of his loyal generals as his staff officials but failed to spread his loyal generals at the command level. When the situation changed suddenly and Than Shwe found himself competing with his deputy, Mg Aye has an advantage of filing the command post positions with his loyal officials. The next round of rotation of generals will be the good indicator which senior general is getting ahead.
Although Than Shwe had reached this pinnacle position by chance and ambition, he had to work hard to consolidate power. He still does not have the same cloud as Ne Win did during his rule. That may the reason why Than Shwe is reluctant to retire from military and rule as a civilian President like Ne Win did.
Than Shwe knows very well that 1990 election legitimacy is the key hurdle for them and this legitimacy is the basic foundation for the existence of National League for Democracy (NLD) and prolonging the hope for DASKK. SPDC leaders know only too well that they could use the playbook of Cambodia Prime Minister Han Sen who won the election under the eyes of UN because he had both military and the police under his control. Han Sen won the election by intimidation. But then why didn’t Than Shwe delegitimize the 1990 election by holding another election? Because he does not have Ne Win’s cloud and he has not place his chosen heir firmly in control. Once he lost the direct control of the army commanders by giving up his military post, Mg Aye could replace him. He will leave his military position only if and only if Mg Aye can be persuaded to become Vice President leaving the army in Shwe Mann’s control.
Manipulating on DASSK weakness
Burma ruling generals have carefully studied DASSK and have found weaknesses that they know they could exploit.
(1) Oxford Idealism
Daw Suu was born in Burma but her formative years were spent in foreign lands and she is basically a westerner when it comes to intellectual thinking. Her father, General Aung San fought his political battles in the trenches in Burma right from his student days and learned about raw Burmese politics, dynamics, and intersection of political ideologies, Buddhism and cultural influences. Most importantly Aung San knew most of all the players and their characters. So Aung San was very practical and knows how to adapt to changing environment. Daw Suu is a quick learner but she is not rich in experience and the main disadvantage was that she does not know the players beforehand. She was suddenly injected by chance, opportunity and fate into Burmese political scene.
(2) Jesus mentality.
Like Jesus died for all the sins of mankind, Daw Suu has the courage to suffer for all but she is lacking the courage to sacrifice her young. Her Oxford idealism influences her and when she adopted this “Non Violence” mentality and standing strong on this moral ground, it weakened her ability to confront the generals and to sacrifice her people, especially the young if necessary.
July 19th 1989 was the defining moment for her and the country.
July 19th was Martyr’s day for Burma. It was the day General Aung San and his cabinet members were assassinated. Daw Suu called for marching to martyr mausoleum and the army was well prepared for confrontation and there would definitely be bloodshed. But this was just a year after the 1988 uprising and army was still regrouping from the shock they received from 1988 uprising. People were still angry and if the army shoots there would be bloodshed but this confrontation could lead to another uprising and downfall of the generals.
She blinked and called off the march.
This incident was cited when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The difference from Aung San was that Aung San was not only ready to sacrifice himself he was willing to sacrifice his followers, especially the young because it is always the young who fought for the country in crisis.
General Eisenhower visited the 82nd airborne division before the night of D Day invasion because he knew 35% of these young Americans would not be coming home. But it was part of the war and in war one could not avoid sacrifices and dead, especially the young because they were the ones at the front of the battles. If one wants to be a leader and win, one must send the young to the battlefront. There is no other choice.
Time & Space
SPDC generals know the weakness of the Opposition.
SPDC generals know Opposition is based entirely on Daw Suu personality.
So they arrested Daw Suu and arrested other potential leaders and close the “SPACE”, political space.
Then they stretch the TIME and now it is 16 years.
After 16 years, Opposition exists only in name and it has no strength to effectively overthrow the generals.
The British military introduced this 4 cuts system in fighting the Communist guerrillas in Malaysian jungles after WWII period. The technique was to encircle the enemy and cut off supplies, support and the people aiding the communists and close the circle slowly. Burmese army adopted this technique from the British and not only applying successfully on the Burmese Communists they perfected and mastered it because they could add ruthlessness to the process.
Burmese generals are applying the same techniques as Political 4 cuts strategy on the Opposition.
Like every military, SPDC has written several battle plans and had practiced several war-games scenario for the battle with Opposition.
Burmese generals know very well that they cannot afford another uprising.
They control the population by planting informers and requiring the public to register any visitors to any localities. There are approximately 30,000 informers with 20,000 military intelligence handlers before Khin Nyunt’s military intelligence was purged.
SPDC also created Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a grass root organization to check on Burmese population. According to official accounts there are 22 million members at the USDA organization. Burma’s population is only 55 millions. Than Shwe is the patron for USDA.
In the Western way of Intellectual thinking there are many gray areas with several shades. Not for the Burmese generals.
They think relatively simply as a soldier. They think simply as “offensive” and “defensive”. They will move forward if they can, otherwise, they will retreat to regroup to fight another battle. If they think they are winning, they will bully the opponents and if they think they losing they will negotiate for better battleground.
This is the basic thinking of SPDC generals in typical soldier manner.
They are very street smart and because they have been in power for 43 years since 1962 they understand the meaning and effectiveness of “raw power”.
Based on their “raw thinking” and utilizing the ”raw power” effectively with cunningness and ruthlessness, SPDC generals maintain and extend their Military Rule.
Burmese Military Personals
Rank & History
Father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK)
Leader of the coup in 1962 and father of military dictatorship.
Ruled the country with a strong hand. Finally lost control of the army in 2002 and died under house arrest the next year.
Chairman of ruling SPDC, the Burmese military junta
Commander in chief of Armed Forces
Vice Senior General
Deputy Chairman of SPDC
Deputy Commander in chief of Armed Forces
Former Prime Minister, Chief of Military Intelligence, Secretary (1) of SPDC
Full General, Joint Chief of staff
Member of SPDC. Trusted aide of Than Shwe.
Potential Successor to Than Shwe
Considered 3rd in ranking
S(1) of SPDC. Also Adjutant General
Considered 4th in ranking
The one who led the Depayin attack on Daw Suu
Chief of Military Intelligence
Trusted aide of Than Shwe
Hla Hay Win
Brigadier General - General Staff (BGGS)
Commander, LID 11
Trusted aide of Mg Aye
Former Defense Minister & Commander in Chief
Deputy Commander in Chief
Former President (end of BSPP, 1988 uprising)
Tin Oo (MI)
Former Military Intelligence Chief of Ne Win
Former Deputy SG of BSPP
Purged by Ne Win