Intelligence (June 2008)
covering burma and southeast asia
Thursday, June 20, 2024

Intelligence (June 2008)



Than Shwe’s Man in the Delta

After Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta, the leader of Burma’s ruling junta, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, knew exactly who to appoint to head the military mission in the region: Brig-Gen Maung Maung Aye, commander of Light Infantry Division (LID) 66, based in Pegu Division’s Pyay Township.

Maung Maung Aye earned the aging leader’s trust and respect after he played a key role in the suppression of last September’s monk-led protests. According to sources close to the military, it was Maung Maung Aye who gave the order to carry out raids on monasteries and fire on protesting monks and other demonstrators.

Army sources told The Irrawaddy that Than Shwe called in his best man to handle the situation in the delta because of the presence of foreign warships just off the country’s southwestern coast.

Three LID 66 tactical operation commands have been deployed in the region, including Tactical Command 661, led by Col Aung Tun and based in Myaung Mya Township; Tactical Command 662, led by Col Htwe Hla and based in Mawlamyinegyun Township; and Tactical Command 663, led by Col Han Nyunt and based in Kyaiklat Township.

According to military sources, Maung Maung Aye has been tasked with overseeing both relief and reconstruction work in the delta. As a commanding officer of Infantry Battalion 70 in Pegu Division and Karen State in the early 2000s, he was notorious for his use of forced labor, routinely press-ganging civilians into road construction and to clear roadsides of vegetation.

He graduated from the General Staff College in Kalaw in 2001.

 Military Elite Learn the Languages of Burma’s Allies

“If you want to be a navy cadet, you must learn Chinese. If you want to be an army engineer, learn Russian.”

These sage words from someone well acquainted with the workings of Burma’s armed forces challenge the Tatmadaw’s staunchly nationalistic image. Despite their xenophobic rhetoric, however, there’s no denying that the country’s rulers rely heavily on foreign powers for their military might.

Since 1988, when the West imposed an arms embargo on Burma to protest a brutal crackdown on the country’s pro-democracy movement, China and Russia have played a vital role in bolstering the Burmese generals’ ability to rule by force.

Sources say that this dependence on foreign support has become so entrenched that officer training now involves learning the languages of the regime’s closest allies, who supply not only military hardware, but also technical expertise.

It is an open secret that Chinese personnel have accompanied Burmese Navy ships on coastal surveillance patrols, teaching crews to operate the Chinese-made vessels and equipment.

It is also believed that there are some 42 female instructors from Russia working at the Defense Services Mechanical and Electrical Engineering School in Maymyo, which is also home to the elite Defense Services Academy (DSA), often described as “Burma’s West Point.”

Last year, Russia’s state-owned atomic energy agency Rosatom announced that it had agreed to build a nuclear research center in Burma. As part of the package, the agency will train 300 to 350 Burmese specialists, who will need some understanding of Russian to complete their training.

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