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Interview: Retiree Than Shwe Exerts 'No Influence Whatsoever' on Myanmar Politics

RFA Myanmar Service director Nancy Shwe interviews Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Naypyidaw, Aug. 20, 2015.

August 21, 2015

In an interview with Nancy Shwe, director of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, said former junta chief Than Shwe advises his former army colleagues on military affairs but exerts no influence on the country’s politics. He also denied that the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s armed services] played any role in the ouster last week of ruling party chairman Shwe Mann.

RFA: Is former Myanmar junta chief Gen. Than Shwe still involved in Myanmar’s affairs?

MIN AUNG HLAING: I would say this is impossible. He’s living peacefully by himself in retirement. I sometimes go to see him to pay my respects on religious occasions, but I do this because he’s the father of the Tatmadaw. He gives advice on the betterment of the Tatmadaw, but he won’t say “do this” or “do that.” He often stresses the need for us to maintain unity and to work for the country. We don’t discuss the current political process. The government and the Hluttaw [legislature] are also doing their best within their rights. There is no influence whatsoever being exerted by retired Gen. Than Shwe.

RFA: What is the military doing to provide relief to Chin State, which has suffered from flooding, heavy rains, and landslides?

MIN AUNG HLAING: We are carrying out everything according to our program. We use helicopters for emergency supply, and use the roads for whatever can be transported by land. The Tatmadaw is using lots of cars, helicopters, and airplanes in these efforts. I myself have been to [Chin state capital] Hakha and feel very bad about the landslide there. We are sending 1,000 tons of cement, 5,000 sheets of corrugated iron, and other construction materials. We will soon be sending another 5,000 sheets. I believe this will contribute to the reconstruction in Chin State.

RFA: People are happy about the Tatmadaw’s assistance in disaster relief efforts, but at the same time the ethnic parties are worried that the Tatmadaw is now also buying more arms to build up its military strength.

MIN AUNG HLAING: First, we are not doing this relief work because the law tells us to; it is because we believe we must do it. Second, all countries must build their defense capabilities. We have bought fighters, trainers, and transport planes, but these are only for building our strength. This has nothing to do with the ethnic groups. And even still, we have not reached our goals.

Many countries build up their arms on the pretext of defending the peace, and others then expand their own militaries in response, and these arms buildups go on and on. The late Gen. Aung San himself said in 1947 that the country’s air force would need at least 500 airplanes, with another 500 in reserve. That was in 1947, and we are not even close to that yet. But if relations among our neighboring countries and other countries around the world improve, I don’t think that any harm will come to our nation. 

RFA: There have been reports in the media that you are supporting President Thein Sein during the latest political developments in Myanmar.

MIN AUNG HLAING: The Tatmadaw must stand up for the government, and we are helping Thein Sein’s government in the work of successfully rebuilding our country. Although I am the head of the military, Thein Sein is the head of state, and so I have to work under his leadership. That is my duty. Regarding the recent political changes, this is the business of the [ruling USDP] party. The party is simply doing its work. Some have said that these things happened because of the involvement of senior retired military officers. But they can take any path they choose, because they are retired. Our military is not involved. All this is speculation, I would say.

RFA: You once said that the Tatmadaw would withdraw from politics when peace comes to the country. Can you set a time frame for that?

MIN AUNG HLAING: Since 1948, when Myanmar achieved independence, the Tatmadaw has involved itself in the country’s changes in one way or another, and now we have reached the present situation. We do not yet have complete stability in the country. We are still trying to solve the problem of the armed ethnic groups, and we can see that some of these groups’ activities are affecting national peace and stability.

We cannot deviate from our goals. We are marching toward a parliamentary democracy. The people have asked us for this. The Tatmadaw has tried to create this, and we will not let it fall apart. Stability means economic security, political security, food security—everything connected to “human security.” And when all of this is stable, other things will fall into place automatically. We want to see the country peaceful and developed, and the Tatmadaw will play any role necessary to accomplish this.

RFA: Can you set a time frame for this?

MIN AUNG HLAING: This will happen when the ethnic groups come into the legal fold, give up their arms, and participate peacefully in building a democratic nation. Another concern is our three main tasks: nondisintegration of the Union, nondisintegration of national unity, and perpetuation of national sovereignty. We need to guarantee that these tasks are not compromised, and we will need to wait until we have achieved this. So all this depends on the other side. Maybe in five or ten years. Now we are trying to create a national cease-fire agreement. Once they have signed it, political dialogues will follow, and things will fall into place if we all work together with trust.

RFA: Is progress toward the signing of this pact not meeting expectations yet?

MIN AUNG HLAING: The onus is on both sides, though some might say that the army is mainly responsible. My sincere wish, the Tatmadaw’s wish, is to see peace. But if the government stops functioning after we get a pact, that would not be good. Right now, we can see that armed ethnic groups are involved in some sectors of the country’s administrative machinery. Everything should be in accord with the law.

They should have a genuine desire to achieve peace, and all parties will need to participate in this endeavor. Look at any country. No one will accept an armed movement inside that country. That’s what we are pointing out and asking from them. We would have absolute peace if they would work with us in trust.

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