covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
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Aung Thaung: Burma’s Untouchable Minister


By Aung Zaw JUNE, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.6


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He is ‘well off’ and ‘well connected,’ two things that ensure protection

 
Burmese dissidents at home and abroad were disappointed when China and Russia vetoed the US initiative earlier this year to pass a resolution o­n Burma in the UN Security Council. Even some Burmese government officials may have shared that disappointment after hoping that the world body would move towards tackling the political problems plaguing the country.

There is no doubt, however, that the regime’s senior leaders and hardcore members were happy at the veto and interpreted it as a signal to adopt a more aggressive policy towards dissidents and pro-democracy groups inside Burma.

Foreign residents and western diplomats in Rangoon who closely monitor political developments within Burma confirm that regime hardliners are clamping down o­n opposition and dissent. o­ne of those hardliners is Minister of Industry-1 Aung Thaung.

Born in Thaung Tha, 80 km west of Mandalay Division, Aung Thaung served in the army for several years, fighting communist insurgents and earning the trust of regime leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

The bespectacled minister is known to see eye-to-eye with Than Shwe and is so much in the elderly general’s confidence that he sometimes breakfasts with him and his family, a special privilege in the Burmese hierarchy.

Aung Thaung is a leading member of the government-backed mass organization Union Solidarity and Development Association, and Western diplomats and some former student leaders in Rangoon believe he is behind attacks by USDA thugs o­n pro-democracy activists, which have increased in number and ferocity since the UN Security Council vote. He is also thought to have organized demonstrations against the US-led initiative outside the American and British embassies in Rangoon.

The minister’s influence clearly extends a fair distance—staff from his ministry were seen helping out with transport and other logistical support for journalists attending a recent press conference in Mandalay.

His anti-Western stance surfaces o­n public occasions, and commentators note that the area where he was born was the alleged scene of a World War II massacre said to have been committed by British troops as they retreated from Japanese and Burmese nationalist forces. In the early 1990s, the government organized a propaganda trip for journalists to the village where the massacre was alleged to have occurred.

In a recent flamboyant address to villagers in Pyaw Bwe Township, in Mandalay Division, he declared that should the US, Britain or any other foreign force invade Burma he would fight to repel the aggressors. He conceded, however, that such an invasion was unlikely.

At the same meeting, he made clear the anger he feels towards opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He didn’t name her directly but referred to the kalama, a derogatory slur used for Indians and Westerners.

Aung Thaung is well-off and well-connected, two advantages that ensure protection within Burma’s ruling echelons.  o­ne of his sons, Pye Aung, an army major, is married to Nanda Aye, daughter of Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.

Another of his sons, Nay Aung, runs the trading company Aung Yee Phyoe Co Ltd, which has received handsome concessions from the military government. Established in 1994, the company trades in timber and rice. 

Despite his good connections, a rumor surfaced in July 2003 that Aung Thaung would be sacked, along with Forestry Minister Maung Phone, for alleged malpractice. The forestry minister went, but Aung Thaung survived. Than Shwe evidently decided he still had his uses.

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