Burma’s state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, published two articles on Tuesday that clearly indicate that former general Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, had been promoted to vice-senior general, the second highest rank in the Burmese military hierarchy.
One headline read: “Vice-Senior General Min Aung Hlaing receives Chief of the Air Staff of the Bangladesh Air Force,” while under the lead story, “President U Thein Sein leaves for Cambodia to attend 20th ASEAN Summit,” the report stated that the president’s delegation was seen off at the airport by a list of dignitaries, including “Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Vice-Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.”
Military appointments are rarely announced in Burma, or Myanmar as the country is officially known. Rather, the public traditionally finds out who is who by the titles given in the state media and the prominence that each receives in press clippings.
Min Aung Hlaing, 55, has been recognized as a rising star in the Tatmadaw, or Burmese armed forces, for several years. He rose to prominence in 2009 when he led an offensive against the insurgent Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in the Kokang area, forcing some 37,000 ethnic Kokang locals to flee to China.
He held the position of Chief of Bureau of Special Operations–2 (Shan and Karenni states) until almost exactly a year ago when he took over as commander-in-chief of the military from former dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
Min Aung Hlaing represented Naypyidaw at negotiations with China in November when he signed a bilateral agreement on defense cooperation, and also held talks with Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping.
It is widely believed that Min Aung Hlaing’s agenda in Beijing included seeking cooperation from China with respect to the Burmese army’s ongoing conflict with Kachin rebels near the Sino-Burmese border.
Insiders say that the army chief ignored a presidential order in December telling Burmese commanders to cease launching attacks on Kachin positions as a part of a prelude to peace talks.
As commander-in-chief of the army, Min Aung Hlaing is a key stakeholder in Burma’s emerging parliamentary democracy—under Burma’s 2008 Constitution, the commander-in-chief has the ability to assume power in times of “national emergency.”
In a speech to mark Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27, Min Aung Hlaing defended the military’s continued role in national politics.
Since taking over as commander-in-chief from Than Shwe last year, Min Aung Hlaing has been suspected of opposing the democratic reforms put forward by President Thein Sein’s administration.
However, he has rejected the allegations, saying that “while the county is marching towards democracy, the Tatmadaw will support the functions of government.”
Observers are quick to point out that several military generals suspected of corruption have been dismissed or reshuffled since Min Aung Hlaing took over the reins as army chief last March.