Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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”.)

No comments:

Post a Comment