Myanmar’s former military strongman, Senior General Than Shwe, has resurfaced after falling from public view, sparking speculation that he may aim to play a role in the country’s stuttering peace process.
According to a November 30 report in the local The Irrawaddy, the now retired military officer who served as chairman of the then ruling junta from 1992 to 2011 met recently with a delegation of ethnic Pa-O leaders at his home in the capital Naypyitaw. In the meeting, he reportedly urged them to devote themselves to building roads and educating their children.
The Pa-O delegation was headed by Aung Kham Hti, leader of the Pa-O National Organization, which entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar military in 1991 and has since maintained a self-administered zone south of the Shan state capital of Taunggyi.
It is uncertain what prompted the meeting, but observers note that Then Shwe’s wife Kyaing Kyaing is an ethnic Pa-O, and that other former military leaders are also active from behind the scenes.
Than Shwe’s old rival, former military intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt, likewise recently resurfaced at a military ceremony attended by ethnic Karen rebels near the Thai border.
Some speculate though it’s not certain that former factions of the old ruling junta may now be pulling different – and possibly competing strings – from behind the scenes of the peace process.
Khin Nyunt was ousted in a 2004 purge of the country’s intelligence agency orchestrated by Than Shwe and remained under house arrest until 2012.
Although Than Shwe had retired when a quasi-civilian government took over in 2011, he is still held in high esteem among Myanmar’s officer corps.
The 83-year-old former military ruler is often referred to as “the senior general” in private conversations, although that title also applies to the current commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The current military chief is a known protege of Than Shwe.
The PNO delegation also met Min Aung Hlaing on their visit to Naypyitaw as well, underlining the importance of the military in Myanmar’s politics and overarching role in the peace process.
A much smaller faction of Pa-Os, the Pa-O National Liberation Army, which, unlike the PNO and its Pao-National Army, does not maintain substantial armed forces, signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government in October 2015.