MILITARY RULE AND MYANMAR’S SUPERSTITIOUS, HIGH-LIVING AND PARANOID GENERALS

MYANMAR'S MILITARY REGIME

Until recently Myanmar was run by a military junta or regime made up of generals that collectively acted like dictatorship. The Burma-Myanmar military government changed its name from the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League in the 1940s and 50s to the Burma Socialist Programme Party in the 1960s and 70s to State Law and Order Restoration Council in the 1990s to The State Peace and Development Council in the 2000s.

A military regime known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was established in 1988 after the retirement of socialist-military dictator Ne Win, who seized power in a coup in 1962 and founded the the Burma Socialist Programme Party. SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997. The SPDC had 12 to 20 members and was headed by a chairman. It operated much like a Communist politburo. It was very secretive. Understandings its inner workings was as mysterious as the inner workings of the leadership groups in China and North Korea. Some of the generals reportedly used soothsayers and fortunetellers to make decisions.

The military's unbroken, 49-year grip on power officially ended in March 2011, when the ruling State Peace and Development Council made way for a nominally civilian government led mostly by retired generals. The President of Myanmar is a former general named Thein Sein. The Myanmar still controls the military. It is unclear how much political influence it has and how power it wields behind the scenes.

In addition to running the government and the economy, the Myanmar military controls infrastructure works, the transport business and road building. The generals are shown on television taking endless tours of dams, hospitals and other projects. The generals have been able to survive as long a they have by enriching themselves and their regime with the few sources of income that Myanmar has and paying off or repressing those that threatened them and making peace with and putting down ethnic insurgents.

Aung San Suu Kyi told the Washington Post:“Our present constitution gives the military far too much power. Although the president is the head of state, he is not necessarily the highest power in the land. The commander in chief can take over all powers of government at any time he feels it to be necessary. That must be very difficult if you are in the position in which our president is. I don’t know how much support he has within the army. He himself is an army man, so I assume there must be considerable support for him in military circles. But that is just an assumption. I think the president is genuine about reform. I think there are those who support him in the government. Whether all people support him, I can’t answer. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012]

Myanmar Military and Business

The military has a stake in nearly all the profitable enterprises in Myanmar. For Burmese to get a job they must a good friend or relative "with the rank of sergeant or above." Hundreds of state-owned companies and private firms are controlled by senior military generals. Cross-border business deals must be approved by the military. The generals often take bribes. They have been involved in border casino businesses.

To do business on a high level you need to make a deal with a general. On the lower level you have pay a 5 percent commission to a uniformed officer. A British firm advised businesses to "align yourself with individual members” of the military regime. A Burmese businessman told National Geographic, " Go day by day. What is true today could be false tomorrow. Do not look forward or back. Accept the risks. Accept the way things are or go crazy. Then you ca make big money." [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

In the 1990s, the generals reduced red tape and made the licensing process easier for local and foreign businesses they favored. They were especially accommodating after sanctions were imposed. One son of a hotel owner told Newsweek, "If they like you, they'll give you so many facilities. If they don't like you, they'll send you to jail.”

See Sanctions

History of Myanmar Under the Generals

The Tatmadaw was founded and trained by the Imperial Japanese Army. In World War II it helped expel the British-Indian Army and then switched sides and played a significant role during anti-Japanese campaigns. The Tatmadaw was driving force in establishment of Burma as an independent state and earned respect for that as well as for fighting insurgent groups in an effort to unify the country.

Because the Burma-Myanmar military has been dominant for so long it has it developed into an elite class. It attracts some of Myanmar’s best and brightest because it is one of few avenues of upward mobility in Burmese society. Many of Myanmar’s top generals were born in small villages and have humble backgrounds.

Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, “As such delusions of grandeur suggest, Burma is no ordinary military-ruled country. When the army first seized power in 1962, the country underwent a transformation entirely different from that of nearby countries such as Thailand, South Vietnam, Indonesia and Pakistan where the military was also in control. [Source: Bertil Lintner, Washington Post, September 30, 2007 ]

“That's because the Burmese army seized not only political but also economic power. What the generals branded "the Burmese Way to Socialism" meant that most private property was confiscated and handed over to military-run state corporations. The old mercantile elite, largely of Indian and Chinese origin, left the country -- as did many of Burma's intellectuals. Before the 1962 coup, Burma had one of the highest living standards in Southeast Asia and a fairly well-educated population. Afterward, its prosperity fled along with its best and brightest.

“The Burmese Way to Socialism was abolished after a massive pro-democracy uprising in 1988, following years of misrule. At the time, even larger crowds than last week's took to the streets in Rangoon and other cities to vent their frustrations with a cruel regime that had done nothing to improve the lives of ordinary people. Then as now, soldiers were sent out to disperse the demonstrators, but using far deadlier force than we've seen in the current crisis. At least 3,000 people were gunned down by an army bent not on seizing power but on shoring up a bankrupt regime overwhelmed by popular protest.

After the bloodshed of 1988, perhaps to appease the international community, which condemned the carnage, and perhaps because the military saw that there was money to be made, the junta permitted private enterprise and foreign investment. But in essence, there's not much difference between the Burmese Way to Socialism and the Burmese Way to Capitalism: The military is still involved in every aspect of the economy, and few enterprises escape the direct or indirect control of the men in green. “

see After World War II History

Military Rule in Myanmar

Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote:” The junta claims credit for modernizing Myanmar. It has doubled the size of the army and opened the isolated, impoverished country of 54 million people to foreign investment. It also ended fighting with several ethnic groups and built scores of new roads, bridges, pagodas and schools. [Source: Michael Casey, Associated Press, October 1, 2007 ><]

“But its aggressive push to develop the country was not matched by progress in the political arena. Fearful of another 1988 uprising, it responded to its loss of the 1990 elections by refusing to hand over power and imprisoning Suu Kyi. History suggests the military will stay united... Soldiers have plenty of incentives to remain loyal—they and their families get better food, housing, health care and other benefits than ordinary Burmese. ><

“The generals' problem, said David Mathieson, a consultant with Human Rights Watch in Thailand, is that "They don't listen to their own population. They honestly think they are the only ones capable of doing this." Mary Callahan, of the University of Washington, said, "The military leadership may have disagreements and personality conflicts but those have never erupted into anything politically significant because they realized they are all better off sticking together." ><

Senior General Than Shwe, who led Myanmar until 2011 and “launched his military career fighting ethnic insurgencies, embodies the regime he heads. In the top leadership post since 1992, he is regularly on the front pages of state media in his drab military uniform. "He commands loyalty. He seems like the archetypal soldier," said Razali Ismail, a former U.N. special envoy to Burma who has met Than Shwe numerous times. "He believes himself to be very much a patriot, a nationalist. He speaks often about the sacrifices that he and his generation and his soldiers have made." ><

Transition from Military Rule to Civilian Rule in Myanmar

Hannah Beech wrote in Time magazine: “Unlike South Africa's apartheid government when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Burma's dictatorship is not in its death throes. If anything, because of burgeoning foreign investment in Burma, especially over the past five years, the junta is even more entrenched than when Suu Kyi was last free, in 2003. Two previous attempts at popular protest have ended with the crackle of gunfire and the silence of a cowed populace. The most recent tragedy came in 2007 when soldiers ended weeks of monk-led protests by mowing down dozens of unarmed civilians. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010]

“When the top brass, led by the notoriously reclusive junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe, announced that Burma would hold elections in 2010 as part of a "discipline-flourishing democracy," the world scoffed. Sure enough, the polls were rigged and the military's proxy party prevailed. The choice of Thein Sein as President instead of other, more battle-hardened junta members hardly seemed to matter. Though considered placid and even kindly by some, Thein Sein had served as Than Shwe's right-hand man for years and was dismissed by critics as the Senior General's puppet. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, January 21, 2013 <>]

“But over the past year, the presumed marionette has taken on a life of his own. Thein Sein's reforms are unfolding in a strategically vital nation that is the latest ideological battleground between China's authoritarian development model and a messier Western form of democratic governance. While Thein Sein expresses gratitude to a giant neighbor that was for years one of Burma's few international patrons, there's no question which side of the political divide the President has publicly chosen. "As we undertake reforms, my position toward democracy has become firmer," he says. "I believe we can't develop the Myanmar economy without democracy." As if to underscore the point, Thein Sein repeats the word democracy in English. <>

“Not so long ago, campaigning for democracy in Burma could have landed a person in a tropical gulag. Now basic rights like freedom of speech and assembly and the right to form labor unions have been enshrined. Last August, Thein Sein purged military hard-liners from his Cabinet and three months later welcomed Obama to a country whose xenophobic rulers once feared a U.S. invasion. Cease-fires have been signed with nearly all the ethnic militias. Jails have been emptied of thousands of political prisoners. Media censorship has mostly disappeared. <>

Justification for Military Rule

Myanmar’s military regime has attempted to use history and religion to legitimize their rule by evoking the ancient Burmese kings and their ties with Buddhist monks. They have used imaginary of and links to the ancient city Pagan to drive home the point. Rather than temples and monuments they build dams, bridges and fancy museums to trumpet their "successes." One Burmese man told Newsweek, They’re intent on reviving the glories of the past instead of coming to grips with changes in the world.”

The generals donate money to build and repair temples. See Shwedagon Pagoda.

Myanmar has a history of authoritarian rule and some argue that a strong military is necessary to hold together a country composed of diverse ethnic groups. There are worries that if authoritarian rule is removed, Myanmar could break up like Yugoslavia.

Problem are blamed on foreign influences.The 1988 demonstrators were described as “stooges of external influences.” The elections were nullified because the generals deemed Western-style democracy was “inappropriate” for Myanmar.

Some Burmese would like to a government and political situation similar to the ones in Thailand in which the country is ruled by an elected government but the military plays a major role in the background.

Isolation of Myanmar’s Generals

Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, ““The Burmese military became a state-within-a-state, an insular society in which army personnel, their families and dependents enjoy far more privileges than their counterparts ever had in, say, military-ruled Thailand or Indonesia. In both those countries, some degree of pluralism hung on even during the darkest years of uniformed dictatorship. But in Burma, the military is the only elite. [Source: Bertil Lintner, Washington Post, September 30, 2007 ]

“The new generals' town and their heavily fortified new capital are only the most extreme examples of how isolated Burma's military men are from the population. The officers live in secluded, subsidized housing, and their families have access to special schools, hospitals and shops larded with goods unavailable in ordinary stores. An army pass assures the holder of a seat on a train or an airplane, and no policeman would ever dare report him or her for violating traffic rules.

On why the new capital of Naypyidaw was created, David Steinberg of Georgetown University told Reuters: “It’s a retreat. A feeling that they can go it alone no matter what. They don’t need the outside world.” Anuj Chopra of U.S. News & World Report wrote: “This is their Xanadu, where they work in commanding, Stalinist-style buildings, live in luxury homes, drive along wide, paved streets, and enjoy 24-hours-a-day electricity—a standard of living far from electricity shortages, rutted roads, and other routine hardships faced by Myanmar's citizens. [Source: Anuj Chopra, U.S. News & World Report, October 12, 2007]

The move to Naypyidaw will be the undoing of the generals,” one foreign diplomat in Rangoon told The Times. “Their isolation from the population makes them less intimidating … and it’s a death blow to their intelligence gathering.”So perhaps this is the irony of the retreat to the jungle: far from being a demonstration of strength, it is a symptom of fear. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, October 16, 2007]

Life of Myanmar’s Generals

The military leaders live in isolated compounds with schools, hospitals and housing that are much better than those of ordinary Burmese. The expensive villas of the top officers have satellite dishes, huge lawns, polished teak floors, high ceilings and gorgeous gardens. These officers drive fancy cars, eat sandwiches with the crust cut off delivered by servants, and spend their time playing golf. Before the their new capital in Naypyidaw they like to play at the Yangon City Golf Resort, where the membership in the 1990s was $3,000 (20 times Myanmar's per capita income at that time).

The generals enjoy things—such as cell phones, computers, air conditioners, Rolexes and Land Rovers—that not every one else in Myanmar has access to. They always have electricity and water unlike the rest of the country which often receives these services only a few hours a day. In 1997, the military paid $.15 a gallon for gasoline while ordinary people paid $1.75.

The children of the generals have become Myanmar's spoiled elite. They wear expensive hip-hop fashions, dance to rap and techno music, drink $3 beers at the Yangon's Galaxy disco and watch bootleg DVDs of Titanic or Star Wars: the Phantom Menace . The irony of all this is that ordinary Burmese are denied these things because they are regarded as too Western and decadent.

Many of the homes and offices of the ruling generals in Myanmar have teak-paneled reception rooms, teak-paneled bedrooms, and teak-paneled hideaway bars.

The generals in the military regime love to play golf. They play on courses built when the British controlled the country and on a few new ones built by businessmen with connections to the generals. Brook Larimer wrote in Newsweek: “Every mourning at the City Golf Course n Rangoon, dozens of military officers in creased khakis and saddle shoes traips off the first tee, followed by platoons of young female caddies. The girls, who wear bright red lipstick and easy smiles, perform different jobs for their 35-cent fee: one hauls the clubs, another holds the parasol, one lines up the putts—and all applaud politely after each successful shot.”

Hill Station for the Generals

The two military academies in Pin U Lain, a new town built from scratch near the British hill station Maymo, have new buildings and young cadets walk about in sharp uniforms. The golf course has a helipad.

Describing Pin U Lain, Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, “Built in the lush hills northeast of Mandalay, the new town is a kind of refuge -- but for the Burmese military. Instead of the British Victorian-style mansions of the old Maymyo, you'll find gaudy luxury villas in the new one. The town is also home to the Defense Services Academy, Burma's West Point, which trained many of the generals. [Source: Bertil Lintner, Washington Post, September 30, 2007 \>

“When construction on the officers' town began in late 2005, the Irrawaddy, a magazine published by Burmese exiles in Thailand, reported that "no expense has been spared to allow the generals to live in what basically is a resort, complete with an artificial beach and a man-made stretch of water to lap onto it." The theme-park retreat will also include replicas of a famous pagoda in Rangoon, the old royal palace in Mandalay and a popular beach resort -- which, the magazine dryly noted, "is probably where the fake beach comes in." \>

Thanks to a newly upgraded airport, the retreat is a quick plane ride to Burma's new capital, Naypyidaw, built in the wasteland and jungle 200 miles north of the old capital, Rangoon. Naypyidaw means "Abode of Kings," and kings are precisely what the Burmese generals see themselves as. On the capital's parade ground stand newly erected, larger-than-life statues of three famous pre-colonial warrior kings whom the junta's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, sees as his role models. \>

See Separate Article on Naypyidaw

Than Shwe’s Daughter’s Lavish Wedding

One of Than Shwe’s few trips outside the capital was to his daughter's wedding in Yangon, in 2006. The event angered many Burmese because it cost $300,000 and the couple received wedding gifts worth $50 million, according to The Irrawaddy. Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote: Than Shwe’s “government suffered a rare paparazzi-style scandal, when a 10-minute video clip, filmed at the wedding in the old capital Yangon, surfaced on the Internet purporting to show the bride, Thandar Shwe, swathed in sumptuous jewels - revealing the utter disparity in wealth between the military elite and the impoverished general population. The champagne, five-star comforts and other opulence became a sore point among exile-based dissidents and the butt of jokes mocking Than Shwe and the junta's insistence that his military regime is not corrupt.” The same week the video appeared Transparency International ranked Myanmar, along with Somalia, as the most corrupt country in the world. [Source: Michael Casey, Associated Press, October 1, 2007]

Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “Strings of diamonds, cascades of champagne and tens of millions of dollars worth of gifts would be considered ostentatious at any wedding. But in Burma - one of the poorest countries in Asia - people are said to be up in arms at the luxury on display in a video of the wedding laid on by the head of the junta, General Than Shwe, for his daughter...Opponents of the military regime claim that spending on the couple’s marriage in July was more than three times the state health budget. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, November 2, 2006 /\]

“In the most opulent sequence, the camera zooms in on glittering jewelled clusters in the hair of the bride, Thandar Shwe, then pans down from her diamond ear-studs to at least six thick strings of what appear to be diamonds. At a lavish reception, the groom - Major Zw Phyo Win, an army officer and deputy director at the ministry of commerce - pours champagne over a cascade of glasses and helps his bride slice into a five-tiered cake. What is not seen are the gifts, which reportedly include luxury cars and houses worth a total of $50m (£26m). According to south-east Asian newspapers, the rush to buy jewels as presents and decorations pushed up the price of precious stones in the run-up to the wedding. The wedding video appears to have been filmed with the approval of the the married couple and guests. It is unclear how it was leaked on to the internet or how widely it can be seen in Burma. /\

“Such mindless indulgence - smiling, well-fed guests wrapped in their finest clothing and most expensive jewels - is an affront to the millions of Burmese suffering under the incompetence and brutality of the country’s military leadership, and the millions of Burmese migrants trying to scratch out a living on foreign soil because no proper employment is available at home,” wrote editor Aung Zaw in Irrawaddy. “Than Shwe was the one who accused other top leaders of corruption whenever he wanted to remove them. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.” /\

“The minutiae of the wedding arrangements provided material for observers of the secretive regime who believe Than Shwe may be preparing to step back from the day-to-day running of the country. “In the seating arrangement, Than Shwe and his deputy were on one table and all the other junta members were on a very distant table. That tells you a lot about the hierarchy,” Soe Aung of the Bangkok-based National Council for the Union of Burma was quoted as saying by Reuters. In footage of the ceremony at a state hall in Yangon, Than Shwe walks beside his daughter in white shirt and a traditional orange wrap called a longgyi, a rare sight of a general almost always seen in military uniform. Many other guests were in uniform. /\

Wikileaks Cables: Myanmar General Considered Buying Manchester United

Former Myanmar leader Than Shwe once considered spending a billion dollars to buy Manchester United as a gift to his grandson, a soccer fan.

Robert Booth wrote in The Guardian: “The leader of Burma's military junta considered making a $1 billion (£634m) bid to buy Manchester United football club around the time it was facing rising anger from the United Nations over its "unacceptably slow" response to cyclone Nargis.Than Shwe, commander in chief of the armed forces and a fan of United, was urged to mount a takeover bid by his grandson, according to a cable from the US embassy in Rangoon. It details how the regime was thought to be using football to distract its population from ongoing political and economic problems. The proposal was made prior to January 2009; only months earlier, in May 2008, the Burmese junta had been accused of blocking vital international aid supplies after Nargis struck, killing 140,000 people. [Source: Robert Booth, The Guardian, December 6, 2010 ^]

“Than Shwe reportedly concluded that making a bid for United might "look bad" at the time, but the revelation that the proposal was even considered is likely to fuel criticism of the regime's cruelty. The senior general instead ordered the creation of a new multimillion dollar national football league at the same time as aid agencies were reporting that one year on, many survivors of the cyclone still lacked permanent housing, access to clean water, and tools for fishing and agriculture. ^

“The mooted price tag for Manchester United was exactly the same as the aid bill to cover the most urgent food, agriculture and housing for the three years after the cyclone, as estimated by international agencies including the UN. The proposal revealed that the regime, which is increasingly exploiting its oil and gas reserves, felt confident of finding such a sum. According to Forbes magazine's valuation of the club at the time, $1 billion would have been enough to acquire a 56 percent controlling stake. ^

"One well-connected source reports that the grandson wanted Than Shwe to offer $1 billion for Manchester United," said the June 2009 cable to Washington. "The senior general thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma a league of its own." Than Shwe then reportedly coerced and bribed eight leading business and political figures to establish teams and ordered them to spend large sums on imported players and new stadiums. ^

“The cable revealed that in January 2009, selected Burmese business people were told "that Than Shwe had 'chosen' them to be the owners of the new professional soccer teams. [The informant, a top executive at one of the sponsor companies] said the owners are responsible for paying all costs, including team salaries, housing and transportation, uniform costs, and advertising for the new league. In addition, owners must build new stadiums in their respective regions by 2011, at an estimated cost of $1 million per stadium." ^

“The Magway team was spending $155,000 a month on salaries while the Kanbawza team, linked to a bank, had budgeted $2 million for the 2009 season. Rangoon United hired five players from Africa and Delta United recruited several Argentinians. "When asked why the owners would participate in such an expensive endeavour, [an executive with one company sponsor] observed that they had little choice," the embassy reported. "'When the senior general asks someone to do something, you do it with no complaints,' he stated." ^

“He added that several of the business people expected to receive incentives from the regime, such as construction contracts, new gem and jade mines, and import permits, which would more than offset their costs. The owners of the clubs in the Burma national football league, which launched on 16 May 2009, include "regime crony" Zaw Zaw, who also chairs Burma's football federation and drew up plans for the league with the senior general's grandson. "Zaw Zaw hired Senior General Than Shwe's grandson to play on the team," a separate cable adds. But according to the dispatch, "many Burmese businessmen speculate the regime is using it as a way to distract the populace from ongoing political and economic problems or to divert their attention from criticism of the upcoming 2010 elections". ^

What Motivates Myanmar’s Generals

In April 1999, Kevin Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post, the generals "have no discernable ideology. They seem to stand for nothing more than the promise of tomorrow will be much like today. They like to play golf in porkpie hats and saddle-shoe spikes. They put lots of people in prison for embracing democracy. But beyond that, their aspirations are unclear." A Yangon-based diplomat told the Thai newspaper the Nation, “The guys don’t take initiatives on their own—they need to be led into things, but it has to be done subtly.”

Myanmar’s generals are extremely paranoid and have a right to because they are so universally hated. One writer said the military government is "frightened of everything. They are frightened of shadows." A doctor told the Independent, "The regime is like a cornered dog. When a dog has nowhere to run. It bites." In March 1999, they had become so paranoid that their Armed Forced Day parade was held before dawn before an invitation-only crowd of mainly family members. Weeks before the military blocked off roads to the parade site and swept the area for bombs.

Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, “ As one Rangoon-based Western diplomat once told me, "They fear that if they don't hang together, they'll hang separately." In the Philippines, "people-power" uprisings have driven two presidents from power: Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001. But given the Burmese military's extraordinary powers and unique position astride the state, anything similar seems impossible in Burma. [Source: Bertil Lintner, Washington Post, September 30, 2007 \>

The warrior kings who had those luxury mansions built for them in Maymyo -- the hard men who make their own decisions regardless of what their own people say and think, let alone the outside world -- may well be beyond redemption. So Burma's only hope is the younger generation of army officers, who might come to understand the need to negotiate with the pro-democracy movement. But for now, no one has been able to identify any "young Turks" lurking in the wings.

See Superstitions

Twisted Thinking of Myanmar's Generals

Singapore’s Lee Kwuan Yew, according to Wikileaks-leaked American diplomatic cables, told diplomats that Myanmar’s military rulers were “stupid” and dealing with then was like “talking to dead people.” A Hong Kong businessman who set up numerous joint ventures for the military government told Time. "They've often told me they see Burma as being similar to the Roman Empire—without the army, it will fall part."

The military government showed a group of Japanese businessmen a video from 1988, showing an accused government informer being stabbed and decapitated with knife. The government's point was to show the business what can happen without strong leadership. [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

In the spring of 1995, U.S. Sen. John McCain met with Lt. Gen Khin Nyunt, who "harangued" the senator for an hour and showed him a video tape of villagers being decapitated by machete wielding "communist." McCain's wife had to leave the room during the showing of the videotape and later described the generals as "very bad people."

Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times, “In considering a military dictatorship such as the Government of Burma, it is easy to see only its crudity and absurdity — the needless poverty of its people, the ludicrous verbiage of the official rhetoric and the judicial persecution of the country’s rightful leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. It is also easy to assume that such governments have an inbuilt obsolescence. But if Burma’s generals are cruel, stubborn and pompous, they are also cunning and strategic. [Source: Richard Lloyd Parry, The Times, August 12, 2009]

Myanmar Blacklist

Myanmar government kept a blacklist—presumably of people that were not supposed to be allowed into Myanmar—that gives an insight into the paranoia of its former military junta. Among those that were on it were former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Aung San Suu Kyi's sons Alexander and Aris, two dead U.S. congressmen, the late Philippine President Corazon Aquino, U.S. singer-turned-politician Sonny Bono as well as journalists, academics, human rights campaigners and exiled Burmese activists. [Source: Reuters, August 30, 2012 \=/]

According to Reuters: “No reasons were given for why they had been blacklisted, but many were critics of the reclusive and thin-skinned generals who ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for 49 years and persecuted politicians, reporters and dissidents. The list included plenty of discrepancies, including individuals mentioned several times under different name spellings. British historian Timothy Garton Ash appears as "Gartonash, Timothy John", while some unknown individuals had only one name, like "Mr. Nick", "Li Li" and "Mohammed". \=/

Others on the list included retired diplomats once based in Myanmar, the director of Human Rights Watch Brad Adams, late U.S. congressman Tom Lantos, Suu Kyi's former physician Khin Saw Win and Yuenyong Opaku, the lead singer of popular Thai rock band, Ad Carabao. Among journalists were British author and documentary maker John Pilger, CNN's Dan Rivers, the BBC's Sue Lloyd-Roberts and Reuters photographer Adrees Latif, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo of a Japanese photographer shot dead in Yangon during a crackdown on 2007 pro-democracy protests. \=/

Authors that made the list included Bertil Lintner, whose books on Myanmar include "Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy", which detailed the military's savage crackdown on the 1988 protests that first brought Suu Kyi to prominence. Also on the list was John Yettaw, a Vietnam War veteran jailed in 2009 after swimming across Yangon's Inya Lake in home-made fins to warn Suu Kyi of an assassination plot, resulting in the extension of her house arrest. In August 2012, all the people mentioned above were removed from the blacklist. "I feel good, of course, to be able to visit the country I have written about for so many years," said Lintner. \=/

Myanmar Military Junta, Money and the Economy

The capability of the military has increased as money has come in from the gas pipeline and presumably drugs. Military officers and their families play an important role in economic affairs outside the formal activities of the military. This is true both in the formal economy through government economic entities and in the black market, especially narcotics smuggling.

In September 2009 AFP reported: Th US-based rights group “EarthRights International had said in a report released that energy giants Total and Chevron were propping up the Myanmar military regime with a gas project that allowed the junta to stash almost $5 billion in the two Singaporean banks. [Source: AFP, September 11, 2009]

“The report said the junta had kept the revenues earned from the project off the national budget and stashed almost all of the money offshore with DBS and OCBC. "Total and Chevron's Yadana gas project has generated $4.83 billion for the Burmese regime," one of the reports said, adding that the figures for the period 2000-2008 were the first ever detailed account of the revenues. "The military elite are hiding billions of dollars of the peoples' revenue in Singapore while the country needlessly suffers under the lowest social spending in Asia," said Matthew Smith, a principal author of the report. French energy giant Total has also rejected the report, saying the document was riddled with errors and false interpretations.

The two Singapore banks also rejected the report. DBS Group Holdings and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) said in separate statements that there was no truth in the report by EarthRights International (ERI). "ERI's report is categorically untrue and without basis," a DBS spokesperson said in the brief statement. A spokesperson from OCBC also rejected the report.

See Global firms provide lifeline to Myanmar's junta, Economics

Opium and Myanmar’s Generals

The military regime in Myanmar is believed to (now or at one time) control or have a stake in much of the drug trade in Myanmar, using the money it earns to purchase weapons among other things. In spite of token drug raids by the military regime, opium production doubled and heroin production quadrupled after they took power. While no direct links between drug trafficker and the generals have been made it is widely believed to that laundered drug profits helped keep the economy afloat and the generals in power.

The Burmese government is believed to be making millions from the sale of amphetamines. According to a U.S, state department report, "there are persistent and reliable reports that officials, particularly in the army personnel in outlying area are involved in the drug business." A 1999 report entitles Burma and Drugs: The regime’s Complicity in the Global Drug Trade , Myanmar-expert Des Ball called the Myanmar military a bunch of “drug runners and criminals.”

The U.S. State departments says that it has evidence of "police, customs and army personnel who are paid to acquiesce or participate in drug trafficking" but only "occasional, unsubstantiated allegation of corruption among senior Burmese officials."

An Australian television networks did a piece claiming that it had irrefutable evidence that the Myanmar military regime was dealing drugs. The network aired film of Shan insurgents capturing a a large amount of metamphetamines stored on a Myanmar Army military post. There is also evidence the military regime is guarding methamphetamine labs and escorting caravans carrying drugs.

The generals are also said to be involved gem and timber smuggling enterprises.

Important Generals and Rising Stars in the Myanmar Military Regime

Members of the 12-member SPDC council before th SPDC gave up power in 2011 included Col. Hla Main. the regime’s point man on public relations; Brig, Gen. Thein Shwe, an air force commander; Brig. Gen. Kyaw Their, the counter-narcotics chief; Lt. Gen. Ye Myint, the “field” commander” in charge of the Mandalay Division and the rest of Myanmar’s northeast frontier; and Lt. Gen. Muang Bom who heads Special Operations 4, which includes Mon and Karen states and Tenaserim Division.

Rising stars in Myanmar’s military regime include Lt. Gen. Sen Soe Win, who replaced Khin Nyun as Secretary General 1 of the SPDC when Khin Nyun became Prime Minister; Lt. Gen. Thura Shwe Man, the chief of staff of the armed forces; and Lt. Gen. Maun Bo. All three men are in their 50s, which makes them youngsters compared the aging ruling elite. All three were reportedly put on the “fast track” by Than Shwe to bolster his position in his rivalry with Khin Nyunt.

In August 2012, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar's parliament appointed the country's politically moderate naval chief as one of the nation's two vice presidents, ending weeks of speculation over who would fill the post. Vice Admiral Nyan Tun, 58, replaces Tin Aung Myint Oo, whose resignation for health reasons was officially announced the previous month. Tin Aung Myint Oo was considered a hard-liner, and there has been speculation he had disagreed with the reformist agenda of President Thein Sein, who has instituted sweeping political and economic change since taking power from the country's former military junta last year.

Nyan Tun was nominated by military lawmakers, who make up 25 percent of the legislature and have the right to name one of the country's two vice presidents. Nyan Tun has been Myanmar's naval commander since 2008. He served briefly with military intelligence in the 1980s and has since held various positions within the navy. Myanmar has two vice presidents who have equal power under the constitution. The other, Sai Mauk Hkam, comes from the large Shan ethnic minority. [Source: Associated Press, August 15 2012]

A Western diplomat said the generals hobbled their own intelligence operations by turning against former prime minister and intelligence chief Gen. Khin Nyunt, who was placed under house arrest in the mid 2000s.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.