Rumors of Bizarre Gun Battle in Rangoon
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Rumors of Bizarre Gun Battle in Rangoon

By Aung Zaw Thursday, January 27, 2005


In the absence of a free press, Rangoon’s rumor mill is hyper-active even in quiet times. But in recent days it has bordered on the bizarre, with reports of a gun battle among the Burmese military regime’s top three leaders. Adding fuel has been the mysterious public disappearance of one of them.


High Noon in Rangoon


The capital’s tea shops—always centers of the rumor industry—have been abuzz with talk of a bitter quarrel breaking out among junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe, his number two Dep Snr-Gen Maung Aye and newly-appointed Prime Minister Lt-Gen Soe Win. They drew their guns and began shooting at each other during a meeting at the war office, the rumor goes. Then their bodyguards also pulled out their guns and began shooting to protect their bosses.


The only casualty, if the rumors are to be believed, was Maung Aye, who was supposed to have been pronounced dead. While all this has yet to be confirmed, what is known is that Soe Win has not been seen in public since January 11. He is now rumored to be under house arrest — like his predecessor Gen Khin Nyunt, who was arrested last October and accused of corruption.


Diplomats in Rangoon and Bangkok, Thai officials and the Bangkok-based press have been glued to the Rangoon scene, waiting for some real news. “Have you heard the news of a gun battle?” this correspondent asked a senior western diplomat in Rangoon on January 27. This prompted a chuckle, and the diplomat said close friends had seen Maung Aye recently, alive and well.


Some observers think the gun battle story was sparked by the death “on duty” of Lt-Col Bo Win Tun, 42, Maung Aye’s personal assistant. His funeral was held at Mingaladon military cemetery, on the outskirts of Rangoon. Perhaps inevitably, many believe he was killed in the cowboy-style military shoot out.


Army sources and some diplomats are sifting through two versions of the officer’s death. Many Western diplomats think Bo Win Tun had surprised his wife with another man when he returned to his house. Instead of killing his wife, he turned his gun on himself, according to this version.


“But why does he have to kill himself?” asked Khin Maung Thwin, a Rangoon lawyer. “I think he would rather kill his wife.” The lawyer added: “I heard his body was found in his office, not in the house. So why would he have to return to his office to kill himself?”


Some army sources said the colonel’s body was indeed found in a pool of blood in his office, with a gunshot wound in his head.


Many Burmese, however, do not believe the unfaithful wife story. They think he was killed in the reported gun battle among the regime’s top leaders.

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