The Graying of the Tatmadaw
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Monday, August 19, 2019


The Graying of the Tatmadaw

By Aung Zaw JULY, 2006 - VOLUME 14 NO.7

(Page 2 of 4)

This has seen young officers, loyal to their respective masters, rising to prominence in the War Office.


One of them is Gen Shwe Mann, a former commander of southwest command, who now has the newly created post of joint chief of staff. His duty is to oversee the bureau of special operations, which makes him the official operations coordinator of the army, navy and air force. Burma has five BSOs.


Shwe Mann won a Thura title for courage during a battle against Karen insurgents in the early 1990s. Analysts say that if Shwe Mann is being groomed to succeed Than Shwe as head of the Tatmadaw, he is having to wait a particularly long time. He has been in the defense ministry for more than seven years.


Shwe Mann is from Shwe Kyinn, traditionally a Karen dominated area in Pegu, just north of Rangoon. The general is said to be loyal to both Than Shwe and Maung Aye. He is also a member of the ruling council, where he is Than Shwe’s favorite.


Observers in the past predicted that the general was being groomed to fill the shoes of Maung Aye. In a paper published by the Singapore-based Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, defense analyst Maung Aung Myoe wrote that the junta’s number two is already transferring some of his responsibilities to Shwe Mann.


“More importantly, he [Shwe Mann] appears to have the support and confidence of both senior and junior commanders. He is known for his good leadership, both in command and in staff positions,” Maung Aung Myoe wrote.


If Shwe Mann is given a top-ranking command position, he may be the first ethnic Karen to make it so far since 1949. Shortly after Burma gained independence from the British in 1948, there was serious tension between Karen and Burman, or Bamar, officers in 1949. Karen officers who served under the British were not trusted, and were viewed as “pro-British” or “rightists”—they were removed from top military positions and replaced by Burman officers who belonged to the Patriotic Burma Forces.


Some observers may express doubt about whether Shwe Mann, now 59, is heading for the top. But if he is not, is there any alternative candidate? It is a military tradition that top ranking officers, including the Tatmadaw commanders, are normally picked with great care.


The late strongman Gen Ne Win, chairman of his ruling Burma Socialist Program Party, was head of the armed forces for more than 20 years. But unlike Than Shwe he did not overstay as commander of the Tatmadaw when he reached 60.

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