Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Once Upon A Time In Myanmar (2)

A Soldier from LID 22.
Once we knew we were trapped the bespectacled man led me down the Lower Barr Street to find a possible way out. Two young school girls with us were also following us and they were so scared they wouldn’t let go the hem of my shirt from their tight grips.

While we were rushing pass the High Court on Lower Barr Street they cut off the power and the whole city had suddenly descended into a total darkness. Only the City Hall and Sule Pagoda were dimly lit by their own emergency generators. When I looked down at my little wrist watch the time was well over 11 O’clock. Right ahead of us were the lines of armed soldiers from Myanmar Navy blocking the street at the intersection of Lower Barr Street and Merchant Road.

We were now hopelessly trapped.

Bespectacled big brother now holding me tight by the neck whispered to me, “Little brother, we have to run into that lane between the MEB (Myanmar Economic Bank) branch and the American Embassy.” I told him that lane was a no-through-road as the other end was a dead end. He said, “I know, but we have no other way out. Soldiers have blocked everywhere and we just have to run into the American Embassy from the rear. Once I counted 1,2,3 we run through the gap between two soldiers to get into that lane.” 

He was determined but we were scared shitless. But I still explained to the two girls still holding me tight by my sides what we were going to do and started looking for a possible gap among the lines of soldiers standing at attention pose. We were all horribly shaking with fears. And the bayonets at the end of their rifles were horribly flashing in the moonlight.

The girls asked me what we were going to do if the soldiers started shooting at us. I had not a bloody idea so I just answered them to run to escape. The crowd around us had already accepted the fact that the soldiers were really going to fire soon and some people started crying out aloud while some even sung the anthem louder and louder.

Some were even shouting ridiculous stuff like People’s Soldiers Our Soldiers, People’s Army Our Army. And we could hear the loud cries of We are Myanmar, What we’re doing is For our Myanmar from the crowd behind us. I thought these cries were the desperate pleadings of people to the soldiers to disobey if their superiors gave them the orders to shoot.
Old US Embassy opposite Bandoola Park in Yangon.

By that time we were at a quite a distance from the crowd back at the Town Hall. There were only 20 or 30 people near us. Then the bespectacled big brother quickly counted 1,2,3 and we four ran through the lines of soldiers. Others followed us.

I didn’t even recall how I pulled through two soldiers the two young girls holding tight on my each hand. Amidst the yelling of the surprised soldiers I didn’t even remember how we four and the rest all got through unharmed without a scratch on us. But we got through the lines of soldiers.

Only later I could conclude that the possible reasons for our lucky escape were that the soldiers didn’t really expect us to run through them and they probably didn’t have the firing order yet and they were only the navy men stationed in Yangon. If they were the battle-hardened Chin soldiers coming from the frontline we would have been slaughtered like what happened to the rest just a few minutes later.

Taking Refuge in US Embassy

Once we were out of the Lower Barr Street we pushed away the barbed-wire barricades from the Embassy lane and tried to enter the American Embassy through its side door. But the brick wall behind the Embassy was more than two men’s height and the side entrance had a full-height one-way turnstile through which one can only get out not in. No way could we get into the embassy’s backyard through that turnstile.

So we broke through the door of the rear wall of the adjoining Government office and climbed onto the protruding air-conditioning units on the back wall of that office. From there we pulled ourselves onto the rows of barbed-wire mounted on the top of more than 20 foot high rear-brick-wall of the embassy.  From there we had to jump down onto the ground of the embassy’s narrow backyard. It was so high one of the young girls fell and sprained her ankle.

All together 22 in the backyard we counted. We didn’t even dare to breathe aloud. The backyard and the whole surrounding was completely dark and lifeless silent. Suddenly the lights in the backyard came on and the CCTV cameras mounted on the back wall of the Embassy were alive. Bespectacled big brother yelled out aloud in English that we were students and immediately the lights gone off.

Then someone from the laneway shouted through a handheld loudspeaker, “Hey, the group going in there, come out now. That area is the territory of a foreign diplomatic mission and you all will be prosecuted. Come out and go back homes now.” Then we heard someone calling the man with loud speaker, “Captain, Captain,” and after the sounds of the footsteps rushing away from the lane way the total silence had come back again.

State Massacre

For next few seconds nothing could be heard in the ice-cold silence. But it didn’t take long at all. We heard the deeply disturbing sounds of the crowd suddenly collapsing and running away as the dang-dang sounds of two rifle shots came out first. The very long bursts of prolonged automatic gun-shots followed. From where we were we could clearly hear the loud cries and deep screams of the people getting killed by the advancing troops.

The troops had rapidly tightened their constricting hold of the besieged crowd by shooting anyone on the streets and quickly advancing their attacking lines inward towards the City Hall where the epicenter of the huge protesting crowd was. Army had even issued hundreds of 12 gauge shot guns to the shooting troops on the frontlines to enhance the effectiveness of close-range killings. Conservative estimates put the death toll at 10,000 at least.

Even though we all sat together really close and holding each other’s hands tight in the darkness our bodies were shaking with sadness and surprise and fright and anger altogether. Bespectacled big brother said in a crying voice, “Remember today and this time, and never ever forget this.” The time was 15 minutes before 12 O’clock on my watch.

11:45 in the night of August 8, 1988.

Amidst the loud gunfire were the cries and screams and begging of people on the open streets to the soldiers not to shoot at them. The dark screams of the hapless people brutally slaughtered in the dark 8888 night might be like the boiling of hot oil in the cauldrons of the Great Hell we Buddhists believe in. I’d never heard such horrible deep screams ever before in my young life and I still believed I would never hear them again in the future.

I was so angry I had frightening goose bumps all over and the shivering made the hair stood on end. My whole body was uncontrollably shaking as I tried to control my busting anger. I felt like letting my mind go and break some thing violently there. 

After few hours of shooting we started hearing the rushing in of many trucks on the streets and later the watery splashing sounds of many fire-engines cleaning the roads with their fire-hoses. Then we heard the same many trucks driving fast passed the embassy towards the naval wharves of Yangon. We could clearly hear the desperate Please help us, they are taking us away, they are killing us pleas and the deep screams of the wounded from the passing trucks. And all of us there cried.

As their usual practice to hide the mass slaughter the Army immediately sent in the sand-filled open trucks to remove the dead and dying from the scene. The bodies some of which were still-alive were then taken to the sand-filled naval barges waiting at the Yangon Naval Base and then dumped at the crocodile-infested waters where the Yangon River meets the sea. The Army also used the fire-engines to clean the scene of massacre spotless within few hours to remove all the traces of mass slaughter.

Finally the noises had slowly died down and the previous Army Captain came back again with a real loud speaker this time. “People still in the Embassy’s backyard, come out and go back to your homes peacefully. Otherwise we will take appropriate actions according to the law,” he started shouting at us again.

Only then a window on the Embassy’s second floor was opened and a hand came out and spotting us on the ground with a torch light as if we were being counted from above. One man in a torn shirt from our group was frightened and he rushed towards the steel gate and tried to open the door from inside.

But I and the bespectacled big brother rushed in and stopped him from opening the door. After that we just blocked the door with our backs and told every one in the backyard to back down and not to come near us but the two young girls were so scared they just came up and stayed with us by the gate.

Later the people from the Embassy’s second floor dropped down water and soft drinks and cakes and bread for us. But I didn’t touch the food as I didn’t feel like eating or drinking at all. Only fear and anger occupied my mind and I was also thinking about the sad facts that the people from the huge crowd in front of the Town Hall were brutally killed by the countless bursts of automatic gun fires. Till the morning arrived most of us kept on crying at the same time saying repeatedly that one gun shot could hit so many people in the crowd.

At about 6:30 we opened the door for the people wanting to go home. We asked them to yell back at us if nothing dangerous outside but most just silently disappeared except for the four who came back to the gate and shouted there was nothing outside. But we didn’t believe them and still we didn’t dare to go out. Finally only six including me left in the Embassy’s backyard. Day was quickly breaking and we could see each other’s faces clearly.

Except for the big brother with glasses the rest were all teenagers 15 or 16 year old. Then we held each other’s hands tight and agreed to leave the embassy compound. On the streets everything appeared normal like nothing serious had happened last night. Thoroughly washed asphalted streets were shinny black and not a piece of rubbish on them. Only then I began to know the brutal characteristic of the military government. 
I had the complete confidence to say that hundreds and hundreds of people died there that night by the evidence of me actually hearing myself the long bursts of continuous gunshots from the massive firing into the huge crowd. I could confidently claim that my statement is true. The bespectacled big brother and two young school girls are still alive today and they will be my witnesses.

Mourning for the Lost Souls

What I wrote was what happened exactly on my first day of the 8-8-88 Uprising. I will never forget that till the day I die. I will mourn for the fallen and I will not let them go from the purgatory of my mind till this military dictatorship is removed. This is my promise to the people who lost their lives in fighting for what they really desired but never achieved in their lifetimes. I believed that the fallen will also fight the dictators with their tortured souls to the end.

I will be a witness in a people’s court when the time comes to prosecute the mass murderers of Myanmar Army for the 8-8-88 midnight slaughter of thousands of people in Yangon. For cruelly firing into the unarmed crowd in front of the Yangon City Hall exactly at 11:45 in the night of 8 August 1988 in the darkness after cutting the power to the city. The Embassy’s CCTV camera records will prove our refuge that night in the backyard of American Embassy on the middle of Merchant Street.

Every anniversary of 8-8-88 Uprising has been a difficult day for me as I felt like drowning as if my insides were depressed to such extent that I couldn’t breath no more. On every August 8 I always felt like I would never be in peace again. But I am not praying for the fallen yet. Only when the military is put on a trial and only after the huge blood debt is repaid I will pray for the souls of all the fallen to rest in peace.

My head bowed down with deep sorrow I salute the fallen monks, men and women, and the students who have sacrificed their lives in their fight for democracy in Myanmar.

Once Upon A Time In Myanmar (1)

General Ne Win (1911-2002).
Practicing politics in Myanmar(Burma) is an extremely high risk profession. A politician in dictatorial Myanmar could be arrested any time and during the long BSPP (Myanmar (Burma) Socialist Program Party) rule it could be outright dangerous for a politician to be arrested. Since I was very young I’d heard the tragic stories of many jailed politicians whose lives were forever destroyed. 

I often witnessed the MIS men in a Mazda E2000 mini-truck regularly taking away that old red-flag Communist Yee Mhaing (a) Nyo Mhaing whenever the dates of politically significant events from past approached. Sometimes he came back in few days but sometimes it could take months or even years. His life was so unstable he didn’t have a job. He couldn’t even work as an itinerant laborer and I sometimes felt really bad seeing him wandering from one teashop to another teashop.

I’d also seen mildly-mad Tin Aung Htun who used to live near my great uncle’s house when I was a young boy. He was arrested and tortured by Ne Win’s Government for his involvement in 1974 U Thant Uprising. Since then he would avoid a crowd. Whenever he saw a group of students in school uniform he became really scared and always tried to hide. Even though some students in our neighborhood laughed at his habit of running away and hiding inside the house whenever someone teasingly said to him that the students were coming I always wondered why did he become like that.

But one day I who had seen the ruined lives of two politicians first hand got a chance to read rare political literature. One of my friends exchanged my guitar for the big pine box full of books left by his recently deceased grandfather. Among the rare old books were two books titled “The Last Days of Thakhin Than Htun” one published by Mya-yar-bin Books and other one by the ruling BSPP. I read two books together and discovered that those two books with same title were completely different.

U Nu (1907-1995).
Since then I’d become familiar with the political literature. I began to know the real solid facts about the Thakhins, AFPFL, Communist Party, Thakhin Kodaw Mhaiang, etc, which were nothing like what we have been taught as the official History in our schools. These true historical facts about our Myanmar after Independence had basically changed me significantly.

Very soon I knew a lot such as what is BSPP, who really is Dictator Ne Win, who is U Nu, etc. Also from that time I began to dislike BSPP and Ne Win. I also knew more about 1974 U Thant Uprising where many university students were killed by the Army.

Then 1988 came. We used to chat a lot about March Incident when RIT student Phone Maw was killed by the police. One female teacher who knew I was always talking eagerly about politics even paid a visit to our usual hang-out Thain-koe-zae teashop and warned me not to stay at home and to hide. Only then I felt really worried about myself getting arrested.

But on the other hand I was childishly happy that the much-talk-about 8-8-88 General Strike would happen and probably bring the downfall of Ne Win’s BSPP government. I was only 16 back then.

I was even afraid that the Strikes wouldn’t happen. But if there would be an uprising because of the strikes I wanted it to be successful. Only then I wouldn’t be arrested I guessed. Thus I decided to participate in the coming General Strike. I wouldn’t run away I decided.

Even though I was worrying for myself because of that teacher’s warning, actually I didn’t really do much politically before.  Once I merely stood and watched the protesters burning a government Mazdajeep vehicle from the Tourist Myanmar by the Sule Pagoda.

And in last March when we heard about the student strike in the Yangon University I went there with two friends to watch. But we turned back after my friends chickened out and wanted to go back home. Even if we went into the Yangon University we wouldn’t see a thing as the actual student strike was in the Yangon Institute of Technology. But because of my two friends telling others about our misadventure I became well known among our friends as someone who had connections with the student strikes. 

In reality I had no political colors and no body had ever recruited me and no UG (Underground movement of a political organization) had ever encouraged me. I was just a politically curious boy and that nasty challenge of Dictator Ne Win on the State-owned TV daring the people to protest against his Socialist Government made me participate in the Uprising.

Historic Day 8-8-88

The morning of 8 August 1988.  

The Kyauktadar Township where I lived then was right in the middle of Yangon and that morning there were no shops opened in the nearby 38th Street Market but few street vendors.  Most of the shops on the  Anawrahtar Road (Frazer Road) were shut and all the gold shops were closed too. People were expecting a very large crowd of striking protesters coming into the city.

Every body was talking about the strikes all over Yangon and the various crowds marching towards city. Also the rumors of the arrival in Yangon of feared Chin troops with red scarves around their necks were breaking out everywhere. People were even saying that the Chins were gonna really shoot the protesters on the streets this time as Dictator Ne Win had threatened on the Government TV.

While we were waiting the marching strikers came into the city as expected. It was a huge crowd and by that afternoon the whole army of protesters coming into the city had turned back from the Pansodan Street and gathered in front of the City Hall. I and a few friends wanted to join the demonstrations but we managed to do only just getting in and out of the crowd.

Almost everyone covered their faces with pieces of clothing or handkerchiefs to hide their identity from the government agents taking secret photos. In my pocket I had a large handkerchief I prepared for this occasion yesterday in case I needed. By six o’clock the massive crowd was so incredibly huge anyone could have hard time getting through.

While I was standing at the corner of 37th Street and Maha Bandoola Road and watching the crowd a few with their faces covered and their bags slung across their shoulders came into the street and asked for packed-lunch donations as we had expected.  The overwhelming support from people of our street was incredible.
Every apartment block turned off the stairs-lights and the residents waited downstairs at the stairs and called out to the collectors and gave than already made packed-lunches. Every five or 6 stair cases was enough to fill their large basket with packed-meals. I was first watching the collectors carrying the heavy basket and suddenly decided to help them and so I willingly ended up carrying their basket laden with packed-meals.

I and one other carried the huge basket filled with packed-meals together back towards the Town Hall and people in the crowd along the way gave us way and also cheered us. Their cheers made me fresh again even though our shirts were drown with our own sweat from hard work. One of my first cousins joined me helping the supply troops for the protesters but later his father my uncle followed us and hit him on the head and took him home.

He told me to come back home with them but I just shook my head. I used to be afraid of that violent uncle but that night he left me alone when I stared back at him with my eyes just above the handkerchief mask covering half my face. I was really enthusiastic about the protest that night.

Colonial-era Yangon City Hall.
Not only the packed-meals the people had dropped many cases of Cream Soda and Orange Juice bottles from Dagon Soft Drinks Factory as Myanmar then didn’t have bottled water like now. There were piles of cakes, breads, and buns dropped there by people in Mazda B360 and B600 vehicles. I had never seen such expensive donation of food generously by the people of Yangon before.

We placed all these donated food at two places. One place was on the median strip of Maha Bandoola Road right in front of the City Hall and other was by the barbed-wire barricades on the corner of Barr Street and Maha Bandoola Road. We put the food packages and soft drink cases there right by the City Hall so that it will become a barrier if the soldiers already inside the City Hall rushed out and attacked and tried to arrest the protesters.

Never in my mind did a thought occur then that those soldiers would later brutally fire at the massive crowd gathering there. I was utterly wrong.

Encircled by the Troops

At nine in the night the ambulances inside the City Hall compound suddenly left and many Hino TE 21 trucks from the RTC (Road Transport Corporation) carrying more troops arrived. The army officers on the loud-speakers were now shouting at the crowd to disperse and not to wave the union flags any more. Behind the gates and the low fences of the Town Hall were the Chin Troops with their signature red scarves proudly around their necks.

Map of Central Yangon.
Instead of their usual jungle hats they were now wearing the steel army helmets. Their faces were extremely tense while their automatic G3 rifles were readily poining at the crowd. In the adjacent Barr Street were two rows of Chin soldiers one row on their kneels and one behind standing with all their G3 rifles aiming at the crowd as if they were in a target practice.

They were from the 22nd Light Infantry Division. That LID 22 would later become notorious as the Army Division that brutally slaughtered hundreds and hundreds of its own people.

People were shouting the political slogans at the top of their voices and many were loudly singing the national anthem. The bespectacled man carrying the big basket together with me kept on reminding me to stay with him all the time. He was much older than me and he was apparently so worried that I a younger boy could get lost easily in the crowd in such a possibly dangerous situation. Also with us were two young girls still in the school uniforms of white blouse and green sarong.

The scary rumors about the arrival of more army troops in the vicinity had gradually forced most spectators to flee back home. Only now I wondered the striking protesters should have retreated from that confined space too like the others. Back then I didn’t think of the real possibility that the leaderless demonstrating crowd was deliberately kept there by the BSPP agents to be easily slaughtered by the Government troops.

Those agents were the men telling the crowd the encouraging news loud and clear then. They were telling them that the State Council meeting had already started, BSPP collapse was imminent, democracy was near, and the Army was going to join us, etc, etc. Because of them the protesting crowd wouldn’t disperse till it was too late.

By then the army had blocked Maha Bandoola Road at both Pansodan Street and Sule Pagoda Road intersections. Sule Pagoda Road and Merchant Street were also closed off. We could see the troops now barricading the streets at Tourist Myanmar office and Shamee Confectionary   on the intersection of Maha Bandoola Road and Sule Pagoda Road. The huge crowd in front of the Yangon City Hall was now completely encircled by the armed troops from all four directions.
(direct translation of Ye Min Tun’s ‘Four 8 Uprising and Me’)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Indian Prime Minister arrives in Myanmar

Daw Aung San Su Kyi Speech in ေက်ာက္တံတား

BBC is cheating,VOA is cozening,DVB is deceiveing.

Misquote Myanmar Map (Rohingya is not Myanmar)

Some Myanmar netizens are asking BBC to apologize for publishing an ‘inaccurate' map of Myanmar's ethnic groups. They claim that BBC reporter Anna Jones used an inaccurate map in an article she wrote on November 5, 2010 titled “Bleak outlook for Burma's Ethnic Groups.”
According to them, the map showed that Rakhine (Arakan) State is represented by Rohingya who are identified as a minority group in Myanmar even though the state is inhabited by Rakhine People (Arakanese). Furthermore, they said the map wrongfully depicted the Shan State to be represented not only by “Shan” ethnics but also by “Wa”; and that the Ayeyarwaddy Division and Kayah are represented by Karen and so on which are not in conformity with Myanmar's official ethnic and state definitions.
Myanmar netizens flooded a BBC Burmese Facebook page with comments asking the media network to issue an official apology letter to Myanmar citizens for saying that Rohingya is one of the ethnic groups in Myanmar.
Thein Tun Zan wrote about the relationship between Rakhine People and Rohingyas and requested an apology letter from BBC on behalf of all Myanmar citizens.
The presence of Muslim Bengali immigrants in Arakan State in Myanmar (Burma) is similar to the presence of Christian English people in Hong kong, Macau, South Africa and etc.
It is no different to having Muslim immigrants from Arab world in the Great Britain itself. The presence of Muslim Arabs does not make Britain an Arabic Country or the state of Arab Muslim.
As such, Arakan State is by no mean a state of immigrant Bengali Muslims. Calling them Rohinjas or whatsoever does not make them an indigenous ethnic Arakanese people who has founded Arakan Kingdoms and lived for thousands of years.
Dear BBC, the wrongful presentation and bias representation of ethnic profile in Anna Jones article is a serious mistake and oversight that BBC has done to damage the genuine Arakanese people.
Therefore, I and all those who “like” and support on this wall post, demand you, “BBC”, to immediately correct the Article of Anna Jones and issue an apology for your mistake.
Another netizen, Khaing Minn Nyo posted his comments on the Facebook page.
Dear BBC Burmese News, and its Editor Group, your broadcasting center should do something for wrong information about the article of Anna Jones. If your News really wants to change Burma to Democracy, you are not ought to broadcast the wrong information. Good Luck BBC. I am waiting for your response.
Nyan Myint Aung also expressed his disappointment [my].
I don't know their aim. But it's absolutely wrong. I'm totally against it.
Aye Maung, a Rakhine ethnic who studied in University of Aberdeen, Scotland affirms the rights of the Rohingyas although he is worried about the demand of the group to create a new state. Meanwhile, Naing Zaw compared the Rohingyas in Myanmar and the Burmese in Thailand.
There are 4-6 million Burmese who are currently residing in Thailand… That's like 10% of total population of Thailand…. Do BBC dare to flag up Myanmar people on Thailand map so that we can ask for citizenship or recognized ethnicity??? Most of them are denied even the basic human rights and exploited on all accounts, thanks to ajar door policy on immigration…. If your purpose of presenting information is truly genuine to the interest of the people of Myanmar, try to gain insights and report and speak out these terrible and inhumane exploitations on behalf of “Genuine” Myanmar people.
After hundreds of complaints were posted on the BBC Burmese Facebook Page, BBC first removed the map from both articles without announcing anything officially. Then, they put it back after modifying the map by putting Rakhine (Arakanese) together with Rohingya representing Rakhine (Arakan) State. The article in the website was updated with this note
UPDATE 28 October 2011: The map in this article was temporarily removed on 27 October 2011 to make some changes. It has now been replaced with an updated version which includes a section on the Rakhine people.
Some netizens sent a formal complaint to BBC though this has not yet been listed in the “Responses to Complaints”. The BBC Burmese posted on their Facebook page a reply from BBC News Online.
Thank you for your comments. The map was not intended as an exhaustive look at every ethnic group in Burma. Rather it was intended to flag up minority peoples in Burma's border regions who are prominent because they are engaged in either disputes or conflict with the Burmese government. The line linking the Rohingya to Arakan state was not intended to imply ownership of the state or to marginalise the Rakhine people, but simply to show readers the state in which the Rohingya live. The text linked to the image of the Rohingya makes it clear that they are not granted Burmese citizenship. We have now adjusted the line on our map to give a clearer picture of where the Rohingya are to be found. We have also added a section featuring the Rakhine people. On the second page, we have amended our text to make a distinction between minority groups and recognised ethnic groups. Thank you for reading the BBC News website.
About 70 people responded it within an hour and most of them mentioned that BBC still need to apologise for the wrong facts and inaccurate visualisation about Myanmar's ethnic groups. Chan Myae Khine commented that
Though it was not intended to imply ownership of Rakhine (Arakan) State, the readers with less knowledge will surely think Rohingyas were one of important ethnic groups of Myanmar. Plus, if they honestly wish to point out the minority groups of people, they MUST put Le Su, Inn Thar, Myo, Thet and many more 100+ ethnics on the map.
Using such a wrong visualisation is just persuading readers to believe the wrong situation and history of Myanmar. Therefore, BBC and the journalist and whoever sketched this map MUST apologise to all Myanmar citizens!!!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Last Speech of General Aung San (1947 July 13)

This Speech is the last of Our Father.You want to look complete this movie.Please download under the list.
  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5
  6. Part 6
  7. Part 7
  8. Part 8

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to do General for Senior General Than Shwe? (2)

Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Fade Away. But  Myanmar’s old soldier General Than Shwe is fading away.

 My Distant but Close Relationship with the Old Soldier

General Than Shwe in Siri Lanka .
During some of my visits to the War Office I often had a chance to see the old man. Once in a while I even got a chance to speak to him a few words. Most of the time I didn’t get to talk to him but I was always allowed to observe him close up.

What I was to be so careful during that time was not to ask any generals or senior army officers about him. I had to pretend as if I didn’t really care. The old man also was quite calm and he rarely spoke and when he did only a few words was spoken. But he would often observe people by staring carefully at them from behind his thick glasses.

As he had a stroke a few years back he needed help whenever he tried to get up from sitting down or lying on bed. He could walk only very slowly with a visible limp. He could only speak with slow and stuttering stammer. Some people close to him told me that his speech was impaired as his tongue was severely weakened by the stroke.

One other thing I noticed was the visible bent of the middle finger on his left hand. He always wore light and airy cotton clothes which were quite ordinary and he always wore only one ring on one of his fingers.

But whenever I was near him I always felt completely overwhelmed by his presence. Maybe I knew very well that he was the almighty commander-in-chief of the most brutal army. 

And he always seemed to handle any important matter in a thoughtful and calm manner. Even to his obedient generals he never remarked in an intrusive or blunt manner and he’d never overly committed himself.

But sometimes even some of his mindless small talks could end up as massive grand projects all over Naypyidaw as his loyally-obedient generals were overly-frightened of him.

His Building the Capital and His Character

He would go around Nyapyidaw every Saturday incognito to find out the real situations and the progress of all new Capital-building projects. But townsfolk and even the children in Naypyidaw knew that as the Senior Generals’ Saturday Rounds. In his rounds of the Naypyidaw (the new Capital of Myanmar he’s been building) He wore civilian cloths and rode in a car like an ordinary old man.

Than Shwe and His Family
He was a true Buddhist as he didn’t seem to like the flashy things of this world and he was almost a pride-less man for a man of his grand position and his king-like, absolute life-or-death powers. He was the rare un-dictator-like dictator.

He doesn’t drink at all, which is a rare quality for an officer of Myanmar army which provides the heavy liquor called army-rum as an abundant ration for its soldiers and officers. He would spend most of his free time privately watching TV and reading light literature such as news journals, magazines, novels, and short stories.

He was a brainy man not a brawny one as he was basically very strong in calmly thinking out the delicate matters at hand in details like a cool chess Grand Master. He was said to be handling the political matters alone by himself. But for the army matters he always delegated to the subordinate generals in turn (so that he knew who is and who isn’t capable of handling certain military problem).

For his meals the cooks prepared varieties of dishes but he would only pick and eat just one of two dishes he particularly likes.

He would always appear to be not overly interested in his surrounds. He was reserve and he always kept to himself. And he would always listen carefully to his subordinate generals when they are reporting to him and only at the ends he would remark or reply with very few thoughtful words.

His subordinates were so frightened of him just because of his appearance and his behavior which were so reserved and always under control. That was the main outward character of our SG who could control others by just his behavior.

Leaving the Naypyidaw

General Than Shwe in Budha Gaya.
After two years and six months at the Naypyidaw Branch I was transferred to the Journal’s Mandalay Branch. But I still went back to Naypyidaw many times while I was in Mandalay as the journey was just a short drive or train ride.

Sometimes my friends teased me by saying that I went to Naypyidaw so often only to see U Than Shwe without knowing I was doing exactly that. I always replied “Yes” to them like a joke and they all had a laugh. And they all thought I was joking while only I knew that wasn’t a joke. But I still kept that secret to myself.

By 2010 the political situations became really complex and confusing. There were elections and there were real changes. But it was still obvious that majority of people in Myanmar didn’t really trust the military government and their reform process.

I myself had also faced trouble getting permission to see the old man. Since I couldn’t ask no one there I stopped getting the inside news and I had to follow whatever news or rumors available outside like everybody else. After that I didn’t visit Naypyidaw as often as before.

But it was good for me as I became used to my new surroundings. I also started thinking that I didn’t really like my previous pickle of not being able to disclose about my access to the SG and our talks and discussions. I also hated to be too careful for my life.

So I gradually distanced myself from the Naypyidaw and tried to rid my strong interest on the SG and the War Office.

The Danger Plan

General Than Shwe in Budha Gaya .
But, without expecting it, I met General Than Shwe again just recently. His health situation wasn’t good. He couldn’t speak well at all. He was always bed-ridden whenever I met him.

By then Senoior General Than Shwe has completely transferred the State power to the new Thein Sein’s government and the army’s commander-in-chief position to new General Min Aung Hlaing and almost completely relinquished his tight hold over the Myanmar Army.

Even though he still has a very strong influence over the army he doesn’t involve anymore in the day-to-day running of the army and he has officially retired.

He seemed to be really relaxed and let go himself of his deep worries for his country and his beloved Tatmadaw. There are still some serving-generals and ex-generals attending him daily but he now behaves like a retired civilian old man. Now he really is an old man not the Old Man he used to be.

Actually, even when he was the serving Senior General he never acted as a leading man in handling all the political and military matters as if he preferred to handle them from the behind. His generals often said that he likes to control people from behind as if he is moving the pieces on a chess-board.

In 2012 this year his health is gradually deteriorating further. He is now completely bed-ridden as he had another stroke just recently. His speech is completely gone and he cannot eat by himself. He seems to have given up on this life even though he was continuously attended by his underling-generals and his devoted daughters.

He also seems to have peace and security for him as he has skillfully managed to transfer the political power and the army into the loyal hands of his hand-picked generals like Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing.

His only worries are for his own life and the physical and financial security of his close family and also for his legacy as the nation-builder of Myanmar. And these are the reasons he has removed himself from the political stage and quietly retired into the relative oblivion.

Dying General and Preparations for His Eventual Funeral

General Than Shwe in Siri Lanka .
The Buddhist monk the SG and his family traditionally worshipped said to me once that General Than Shwe has meditated regularly. The said monk regularly was often invited into SG’s house and given alms. Normally only four or nine monks were invited and the ceremonies were always low-key events and always done secretly.

But the most important problem of his deteriorating health has just begun. His eventual funeral?

Between his devoted daughters (he has five daughters and three sons) and his loyal generals the friction has already surfaced about how to arrange for his funeral if he accidentally dies soon. The leaders of the government were all his loyal ex-generals and they all want to provide a lavish State Funeral for him.

But some of them have the worries that some people will rise against the government if the funeral for former dictator is too grand.

Also for the current serving generals he is the longest-serving Commander-in-Chief so they want to give him a grand military funeral not a low-key state funeral as a former political leader of the country.

So far nobody dares or is bold enough to make a decision for his eventual funeral yet.

Whether he will be buried at the new military cemetery in the Naypyidaw’s township of Oatara-Thiri OR buried as an ordinary civilian at a normal town cemetery as he has already officially retired will have to be eventually decided among his loyal generals and ex-generals.

(Direct translation of Aung Shin’s article from his Blog “A Journalist from Myanmar”.)

How to do General for Senior General Than Shwe? (1)

Senior General Than Shwe,Are you Ready?

Senior General Than Shwe

That day in Naypyidaw I was somewhere not that far from the army barracks there. Only thing I know was I was in some part known as Upper Office of the War Office in Naypyidaw. I didn’t know which part exactly though.

At far distance the grey peaks and troughs of Pago-Yoma ranges were clearly visible. There were bamboo bushes and Ingyin grooves all over the deep forest where I was. And the War Office’s buildings and staff barracks were scattered around in small groups. Between the buildings were only electricity and communication poles and the connecting cables.

Where do you Live SG?

Well known as the great-army-chief (tat-choke-kyi) our Senior General is still working and the building where his office is known as the building-one (ah-saung-tit). But the non-descript building I was in now could not possibly be that building one.

All the office buildings inside the War Office are neatly-built grand buildings allocated for various army departments and the respective generals who are the directors of the departments.

Than Shwe
All are long three stories buildings but from outside they all appear like just two stories as their ground floor is almost like a basement hidden well below the ground level.

SG Than Shwe’s house was supposed to be well away from his office as his house was at the upstream end of Yezin Dam roughly at the north-eastern part of this massive War Office compound.

Neatly and systematically positioned in the whole War Office are the guard stations for perimeter security and internal security, the specialized office buildings for departmental head brigadier generals, departmental director major generals, and BSO (Bureau of Special Operations) chief lieutenant generals, the estate of grand houses for the generals, the living quarters and barracks for office-staff soldiers, the buildings for special security, telecommunications, and transportation departments.

Without really meaning it right now I was deep in the vast War Office. And I knew here could be neither the SG’s office nor his house. The building did not appear to be an important one. It was more or less an ordinary army barracks but the building was strangely quiet. Here could be the place where the SG took a rest away from the offices for peace and quiet, I wondered as I was wandering nervously around the strange place.

Inside War Office

War Office Complex at Naypyidaw.
Actually I was in the War Office to accompany a visiting army officer who was also a close friend and unexpectedly he had brought me along here. At the main gate the army guards searched and interrogated us thoroughly. After that everything was smooth and easy once we were inside.

Every visitor to the War Office has to register as a visitor and go through tight security procedure. The male civilian visitors are to change into a standard Myanmar male dress of tight-pone (the Myanmar traditional jacket) and sarong if they are wearing anything else.

I had been to the War Office once or twice before for official business. But this time was not a business visit. I was just accompanying my friend for no serious reason at all. I didn’t have a camera with me and so I couldn’t take any photos as my record of this visit. But I had a very strong desire to take photos of the inside of this mysterious War Office.

Normally the only civilian outsiders who could come in here were the construction workers from the ongoing projects inside the compound, various merchants and traders, relatives of the generals, and the well-connected businessmen. For someone like me who didn’t really have a valid reason it was extremely dangerous to be here in this warlike compound.

So far I was lucky as there were not many soldiers and officers here in this building. But the building next door had too many of them as I could clearly see them really busy working. They wouldn’t even take notice of me.

Or they just wouldn’t notice of a stranger once he or she is inside the compound after being thoroughly checked at the main gate. I was just watching and studying anyone coming into my sight as if my life depended on it.

I then thought it would be nice since I was already inside the War Office if they let me see the SG Than Shwe and speak to him. Then I thought I could be in shit if he asked me who I was and what business I was here for. I wouldn’t know what to say back to him as I didn’t have a reason at all.

I could also be in shit if I replied to him that I just felt like talking to him. Not just me but my friend the army officer who brought me along with good faith could also be in serious shit too. Maybe I shouldn’t meet the SG or even see him accidentally. And I prayed quietly to Lord Buddha that I didn’t accidentally run into any other well-known generals here.

And my bloody officer friend had suddenly disappeared leaving me alone in the building. After sitting there for a while I felt stressed out and bore. So I looked outside and the surroundings seemed peaceful and okay to go out for a stretch.

In war-dance
So I went out and walked around and found a small quiet pool of water and a few brick houses inside a brick-walled compound. I saw three or four Toyota pickups from army there too. At the gate to the compound were armed soldiers.

I immediately thought this place could be a nice and quiet place to live if all the soldiers and officers were not here for the War Office. I didn’t stay there long and came back to the building I just left. There behind the building I found a small building which appeared to be a very special abode. I was curious and so I went closer to scrutinize.

Once nearly there I immediately realized I was in serious shit.

Accidentally Meeting the Old Soldier

Standing guard at the door was an army colonel. Few other army officers were there too. They appeared to be acting really nervous and seriously alert as if a very important VIP was inside the building. I had to turn around and go away from this place, I warned myself. But it was too late.

The guard Colonel had seen me and he called out and asked me to approach. I had no choice but to go there and once I was there he checked me out thoroughly and then asked me why I was there. So I told him the truth for why I was there.

The army Colonel didn’t say much after that. Then he surprised me by asking me if I wanted to meet the Senior General who was resting inside. It was unbelievable that I just couldn’t answer back immediately. Then I told him I hadn’t a valid reason to see the SG.

He just told me to go inside. Maybe he thought I was someone important enough for his SG. So I didn’t say a word and just went inside cool and calm. And there in the room was the Senior General himself standing near an easy chair. He was talking to the officers when I interrupted him.

He was the real Senior General. Not a double I checked him out thoroughly.

In war-dance
He wasn’t like what we’d seen in the newspapers or even on the TV. Nothing like when I saw him few times outside before. He was surely cool and calm. Sort of take-it-easy, no-worries relaxing style.

He wasn’t in his usual army uniform. He wore a short sleeve cotton shirt and large-chequered cotton lon-gyi (sarong). He didn’t look like the most powerful dictator of Myanmar at all but just an ordinary local elder. His stare at me wasn’t that strong at all. They made me at ease though.

He looked at me and then sat down into the easy chair nearby. I just stood there unable to say or do anything. He then asked me softly what I did for a living. I vaguely answered that I worked for a company.

Min Aung Hlaing, Shwe Mann and Senior General
One thing I surely knew was that whatever true or false I said he wouldn’t simply believe me as he could easily find out about me an insignificant little man for him. I was also fearful that if he wanted to I could easily disappear in this massive compound.

It shook me to the bone while thinking about the possible danger I was facing here. But I managed to keep my cool as whatever I did wouldn’t matter anymore from that point. As the SG I wasn’t anyone interesting enough for him and what he had to do was just give a nod to one of his officers and I would disappear out of his sight probably forever.

Only after a while of awkward silence a colonel standing near him sort of waved me out and I just slowly backed out from there. I didn’t dare turn my back on him. I was worrying the rest of the day of what would happen to me later. But nothing really happened except an officer from the War Office drove me back all the way to nearby Pyinmanar town that evening.

Benefits of Meeting the Old Soldier

From that accidental encounter I was given a permission to visit the War Office regularly  every month. But not just anytime anywhere I wanted. Only when I had a valid reason to visit the War Office and sometimes just to see the SG himself.

How and why I did get into such a difficult and dangerous situation I couldn’t even figure it out. I didn’t tell anyone about my precarious situation also as I didn’t dare telling anyone. What I figured out was if I told anyone and if that person believed me then I could be in danger. But if he or she didn’t believe me then I would be a laughing stock. So I just kept my mouth shut.

After that I’d been inside the War Office regularly once or twice every month. My trips were neither clandestine nor openly. Was it good or bad for me I didn’t really know? Maybe it was the Senior General’s cunning plan to use me when or if he needed me for their advantage, I didn’t really know? It wasn’t really a direct contact with the SG or mine wasn’t even an important job. They were just letting me easily enter and exit the very important War Office.

I didn’t really know what were their benefits in giving me a direct access to the SG from their point of view. But from my side I was so pleased that I could get some interesting news and information direct from the War Office by having an easy access.

I was even thinking that one day I would have a chance to interview SG Than Shwe if I was given an opportunity. Then I could be able to ask him whatever I would want to know from him, I dreamed.

At that time I was working as a journalist for our journal’s branch office at Naypyidaw. Even though I could not write down as the current news whatever I knew on the pages of the journal due to the difficult political situations back then I still was finding out a lot about that period, about Naypyidaw, about the government and the military in general and especially about some senior army officers and the secretive War Office in particular.

I’d learned to relate well with the army officers without fearing them like before. Only one important thing during that period was that I had to control myself not to tell others what I  did know. As a natural born journalist I am quite curious and always trying to ask people what I want to know. And I would like to tell others what I knew too. During my War Office period I had to control myself really hard to suppress that inherent character of mine.
(Direct translation of Aung Shin’s article from his Blog “A Journalist from Myanmar”.)