Is Than Shwe Still Pulling the Strings?
By AUNG ZAW Friday, December 9, 2011


Until recently, there had been no public statements by top Burmese government leaders or the country’s state-run press about the official status of previous junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, and there continued to be speculation about whether the former dictator was still making key decisions behind the scenes.

But from the moment that US President Barack Obama began his recent Asia-Pacific trip until the day US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Naypyidaw to meet with President Thein Sein, senior Burmese officials and the state’s media mouthpieces seemed determined to drive home the point that Than Shwe had formally retired and was no longer involved in government business.

In an interview published on Nov. 16, Burma’s Information Minister Kyaw Hsan told the Wall Street Journal that Than Shwe is “in his house, doing a lot of reading, and enjoying a peaceful time.”

Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

The speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Shwe Mann, was even more explicit. He told reporters that “The senior general is really retired,” and went on to state that “The senior general is absolutely not concerned with the party, nor the government, nor our parliament, nor legislative organizations.”

Then on Dec. 1, the New Light of Myanmar and The Mirror, both state-controlled newspapers, reported that “Snr-Gen Than Shwe (retired) and Daw Kyaing Kyaing's family donated US $1,300, 11 rubies, a pearl and a golden ring with 61 diamonds, which is valued at kyat 488,000, toward the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic from China, which is now being exhibited in Rangoon.”

Despite the fact that Than Shwe had appointed a new commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, just before a new president, Thein Sein, was sworn in at the end of March, this was the first time that the state media had referred to Than Shwe as “retired,” and a state newspaper would never take this major step without instructions from top government officials or Than Shwe himself.

In addition, since the time that the new quasi-civilian government was formally put in place, Than Shwe has not officially appeared in public or been directly linked to any decision or action by the government or the military. So by all outward appearances, it seems that the brutal sheriff who had an iron grip on power in Burma for almost twenty years has simply handed in his badge and rode off into the sunset.

This could be true, but it ain’t necessarily so, and prematurely assuming that Than Shwe has completely given up power both belies Burmese history and is naively dangerous.

A retired senior general once cautioned that Burma’s past military dictators never leave in peace, suggesting that they always come back to interfere in politics, and for evidence one needs to look no further than Than Shwe’s predecessor, Gen Ne Win.

Known by his subordinates as “The Old Man” or “Number one,” Ne Win ruled as Burma’s dictator for 26 years before officially announcing his resignation in July 1988 during the mass pro-democracy uprising.

Despite the fact that Ne Win had officially relinquished power in a public speech, in September of that year he personally orchestrated a military coup, appointed his own officers to the newly established State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and ordered the new junta to crush the uprising.

At the time, Ne Win did all of this behind the scenes, at least for the most part. But then in March 1989, the Burmese people were stunned and disgusted to open up the state-run newspapers and see photos of the supposedly ex-dictator at a dinner reception hosted by Snr-Gen Saw Maung, then the SLORC No. 1. Although the blood in the streets had barely dried and the secret police were still hunting down student activists, the official photo showed a laughing Ne Win sitting at the table with his cadre of sheepishly smiling coup-makers.

When an Asiaweek reporter asked Saw Maung that year whether Ne Win was still in power behind the scenes, the general replied that, “It’s most difficult for us to explain these rumors and allegations.... When people see me visit Ne Win, they think I am going for instruction or advice.

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Fred Wrote:
There is less of a concern as to who is steering the ship when it is traveling in a favorable direction. If it continues traveling in a nice direction, such issues will sort themselves out favorably.

Bill Gov Wrote:
Of course, he is still pulling the strings..this is for sure.

Norman Hla Wrote:
Arrogant Russian Putin appears again so there is up-rising. Shwe Man and Ant phobia minister need to re-assure than shwe’s studying. Than shwe is very busy for praying Chinese Buddhist statue so being unable to meet H Clinton. Those show that than shwe is still sitting on the self-make bama throne. Than shwe’s education as well as ethics and moral are very low so he also appoint the other rulers(see their cheating words) lower than him for his safety. Than shwe also counts that the present rulers are coward(puppets-yes man) enough in order to balance the power among them( see- the posts of ming aung laing, shwe man,tin aung myint oo, thein sein) and to prevent revolution against him. No developed country will accept rich than shwe and his for escape and asylum because of their brutality on his own people. So, what than shwe’s studying is how to become the next bama king again. His 3 bama brutal kings’ statues in Nay-Pyi-Daw are the signs of his greatest wish to be included him as a bama military thug in Burma history.

Norman Hla Wrote:
Than shwe is now starting to dig a well for water to get democracy for Burma. Thein sein admits his premature to learn from China for democracy. All need to come for praying than shwe as their God father regularly. Designed Nargis 2008 constitution and all retired military can be their military again within 5 years. Aung Zaw pointed above. Use the military intelligent security instead of his personals body guards while than shwe’s going out.

TheinWin Wrote:
This Govt is a Puppet Government.

Max Wrote:
The state-run press says Than Shwe is retired, so Aung Zaw has to say, "Well, maybe he isn't". He then proceeds to spew out 2,000 words of speculation, complete with the usual potted history about Ne Win.

The fact is Aung Zaw doesn't know any more about this than anyone else. It's safe to assume that Than Shwe is probably involved in the background, but unless you have some new information, why bother going on about it ad nauseum?

kerry Wrote:
Very few dictators in the modern world who move vast sums of money gained through losses of human lives escape karmically to live peaceful lives.

Corrupt Westerners do move money, but they die too, and things fall apart.

I seriously doubt that Than Shwe and his family and others will ever get visas to travel to, and enjoy their cruel ill-gotten wealth at, many places other than Dubai, Singapore and Beijing.

Than Shwe had his chance at directly effecting great changes openly, and blew it. He held on too long, like the fabled Monkey's Paw. He alone is responsible for any deaths and the health of all political prisoners, among others.

Leon Nicholls died a horrible death, also his responsibility, and Michael Aris was prevented from visiting his wife when dying. Than Shwe has left generations of karma for his tragic and spoilt family. Just thinking about all the the lives lost gives me the shivers.

Heller Wrote:
Nobody believes his activities and never trust what he does. We know well he is a wicked man on us and horrible gun.

We believe, he is still pulling the strings on the new make up government. We never believe them and careful them forever.
They are selfish and no kindness. I believe that their result of last exam is the hell.
They love the evil and they will go soon their hell paradise.

I wish all the people.If you do the evil action, you'll see the same reaction. This is the truth.


WM Wrote:
From your Title “Is Than Shwe Still Pulling the Strings?” it seems you would be able to answer “yes” or “no” OR can say something with some evidence. But when I read it, it’s quite disappointing- only speculations and guesses. You do not give much new evidence or facts but some of your thoughts why senior general would not give up power.

Terry Evans Wrote:
Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of.

Hlamyint Wrote:
This is past & future true story.

One important thing average ordinary Burmese people need to know is:
We all knew Ne Win was lousy leader for us. 1) We all noticed nobody cry when he died.

2) Ne Win trained Than Shwe
to be 100% worst than him for Ordinary people.

3) Than Shwe trained his top 100 Leaders to be 100% worst them him in DSA.

Present changes for Santion to be lifted for better economy & future of ordinary Burmese:

When Than Shwe, top 100 Generals & their relatives & closed friends get one million, ordinary Burmese will earn ONE kyat because they are holding top Businesses in Burma at the moment.

Good Luck for hoping better life to All ordinary Burmese people. ( Keep hoping for better life next 50 yrs equal to today 2011 Thai & S'pore ordinary people life ). Hope is everyone daily wish to happen better life SINCE 1962.

Zaw Min Wrote:
Another extremely good and thoughtful article. Thanks a lot Irrawaddy in particular and Aung Zaw specifically. You and Irrawaddy is definitely one of the important pillars for our country and people that we are all trying to rebuild to its worthy pride and dignity. Thanks again and best wishes for speedy success in reaching the destination that we all are striving for.

Nyunt Shwe Wrote:
Are you sure usd 1300+11 rubies+1 pearl+61 diamond studded gold ring only worth 488,000 kyats?

Should we care that much who is behind the power as we move to democracy. If the players were patience and tactful, I don't think the regime is going to turn the tide. Of course, every one of us knows that he is behind the power in some ways, this is very understandable. Don't forget that the regime is betting this game with its life, dignity, and wealth and if you were in its place, you will behave or do the same thing. No authoritarian countries has changed over night except Cuba and Nicaragua. Even Argentina whose junta collapsed didn't change over night. Please be patient, but don't instil distrust in the hearts of the players. Think about opening your HQ in Yangon now!

Moe Aung Wrote:
He still wants to take his wife and family on a pilgrimage to Paris, London and New York, to Champs-Elysées, Oxford Street and Manhattan. Bodh Gaya was just a photo op.

The instrument to wield real power is not parliament, not the president, nor Min Aung Hlaing, but the National Defense and Security Council controlled by Than Shwe we were all led to believe.

Nyi Nyi Wrote:
The simple question is why should Than Shwe give up his power easily for nothing when his position was not in danger? The simple answer is of course he did not give up his power. He simply put a plan to secure his life and his family, and his enormous wealth. That is why we are seeing these "reforms" but soon we will discover these reforms are limited. As long as he is alive Burma will never see a true democracy.

Peter Ole Kvint Wrote:
I must assure all readers that a doll can only be moved by a puppeteer.

Ohn Wrote:
Where goes all your effusive "Reform" crap Aung Zaw? Which particular book is Than Shwe reading in his retirement? Kyaw San wouldn't have a clue even where Than Shwe is.

The BS of military lying to the public and the international community was tremendously enhanced by mindless support of so-called "exile media outlets" and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Wake up and face the truth.

The Kachins are dying in hundreds everyday in most horrible ways. That blood is on the hand of the people of the rest of the country who do not vocally object but even praise the killers!

The "Peace deals" are business deals.

And the opening is simply to entice more money from more sources. Chinese with their ruthless, cruel ways are becoming stifling even for Than Shwe. That's all.

There has never been people's victory over the Myitsone dam as idiots imagined.

shwe moe Wrote:
Like Duncan in Macbeth - Than Shwe spirit hovers around like a bad omen which needs to be flushed down the toilet - and that is... give him no mention; not even if he croaked, let him just rot away.

Maung Maung Wrote:
Dear Ko Aung Zaw,
Your analysis on Than Shwe's hiding is most logical and likely that I agree totally. But will the US and Europeans leaders see the same for lifting the sanctions on Burma will benefit the senior general and his cronies the most. I'm intrigued by the latest moves of Than Shwe's close ally U Tayza. What about you?

Tettoe Aung Wrote:
If history can be used as a fall-back then your suspicion that Than Shwe hasn't totally removed himself could be correct. One thing that I'm watching is if there be any meeting between Daw Suu and the two retired generals. Remember she requested the meeting when she met Thein Sein? If you look at what happening to all they dictators there is no such thing as 'quiet retirement'. They must be worried that the law of karma is going to catch up with them. Can they escape from the fate they gave to their benefactor U Ne Win? We'll just have to wait and see. How are people going to get the social catharsis without going through some process of 'truth and reconcialiation'? The demands for 'war crimes prosecutions' are now growing in the mainstream, can we become 'bystanders of genocide' even after changes and political reforms have taken root? I doubt it.

Frank Thaung Oo Wrote:
The best article of current political situation and the author hits the bull eye. It is factual and logical, well done job.

Aung Aung Wrote:
Focusing whole group of current and ex-generals together with TSein govt than TShwe alone would be comprehensive. They have different role to play dirty tricks for the same goal- buying time. Because, they have comitted sins together, are guys on the same boat.

The recent changes are real but they do not represent “workable” one. It is a trick making you happy but you can’t apply it. The worst, as a report warned: Rights abuses remain "systemic, deeply entrenched and vast in scale" in Burma today.

Despite a crafty group they can’t beat their Oppositions, who always know their “mischief” before they play. What either TShwe or TSein or any guy maneuvering will be countered in the end, because their playing cards are too old to be affected.

It is clear that the group can’t buy unlimitted time. The Opposition will dictate them speeding up reforms shortly. They can’t say”no” because TShwe and TSein aware they are loosers already. Otherwise, reform wheel roll over them without mercy.

A.M.O Wrote:
Well, the way Shwe Mann pull up this issue, in an interview, is showing their own guilty consciousness of Gen Than Shwe meddling in affairs of Thein Sein administration.

Very obvious thing, is why Gen Than Shwe & Gen Maung Aye never move out of Naypyidaw - whereby these guys have their own houses in Yangon.

And these guys are really worried they might get the same fate of their former boss Gen Ne Win who was terminated by them in an unceremonious end.

Remember ! You guys ! What goes up must come down no matter what ! Hm ?

Good reading, Aung Zaw !

timothy Wrote:
Once upon the time, a king called Mindon of Burma asked the visiting French diplomat whether the outgoing French Prime minister was well enough to escape the persecution, which was and still the the whole truth nothing but the truth the ways dictatorial kings and generals of Burma ends, of course for most of the brutal Asian politics.
It is naive to believe what the lies nothing but the lies came out from the filthy mouths of the murderous generals. In deed they can not trust each others and that is the recipe for the violent unnatural death of dictators when they retire. I warned Gen Thein Sein to cooperate with people to escape from this ill cycles/

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