Maung Aye, formerly the deputy senior-general under Than Shwe’s military junta and No. 2 in the hierarchy of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, is currently in Singapore receiving emergency treatment after falling victim to a stroke.
The Burmese press has been tight-lipped about the 74-year-old’s condition, though the Yangon Times reported on Monday that Lower House speaker Shwe Mann had visited Maung Aye at a military hospital in Naypyidaw prior to his transfer to Singapore where Burma’s military generals have routinely sought medical treatment in the past. Shwe Mann previously served as joint chief of staff (army, navy, air force) under Maung Aye.
Sources in the capital said this was Maung Aye’s second stroke, and that he had suffered his first in the early 2000s.
Maung Aye joined the 1st Intake of Burma’s Defense Services Academy (DSA) in 1955 alongside other founding members of the junta, such as the future Minister of Commerce Lt-Gen Tun Kyi and the late Maj-Gen Nyan Lin who would become Southeast Regional Commander. The three would rise to prominence following a military coup in 1988 while Maung Aye was the commander of the Eastern Regional Military Command in Shan State’s Taunggyi.
In his junior official life, he was involved in battles against communist insurgents in eastern Burma and served as a military instructor at the DSA, mentoring many who have risen to high ranks in the current administration, such as peace negotiator and Railways Minister Aung Min, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister for Finance and Planning Hla Htun, and newly nominated Vice-President Myint Swe.
Before he became the Eastern Region commander in 1988, Maung Aye served as head of the Directorate of Ordnance and then the commander of the Light Infantry Division 77. In a late 1980s military reshuffle, Maung Aye and other DSA 1st Intake students became regional commanders.
A year after Than Shwe took power and assumed the position of commander-in-chief, Maung Aye was brought in as deputy commander-in-chief and the former dictator’s right-hand man.
Although he was evidently popular among his junior officers, Maung Aye’s name became synonymous with the abruptness of military rule in the early 2000s when the riding of motorcycles was banned in Rangoon after an incident involving motorcyclists who followed his convoy and pointed their fingers in a gun-like manner at him through the car window.
He was a key player in the arrest of former strongman Ne Win and his family members in 2002, reportedly acting on a personal grudge that developed when one of Ne Win’s grandsons had an affairs with his daughter, Nandar Aye.
Later Nandar Aye was married to Pyi Aung, the son of then Industry-1 Minister Aung Thaung who is currently secretary of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. United, the Aye-Aung family owns Burma’s richest company, the IGE Group, which is heavily involved in the energy sector from mining to hydropower project.
Maung Aye retired from the deputy commander-in-chief post at the end of March 2011 as the ruling junta dissolved in favor of President Thein Sein’s new administration. It has generally been accepted that he has genuinely retired and wields no influence behind the scenes. He has rarely been seen in public since March 2011, once pictured in the media attending a water festival party last year in Mandalay where Ye Myint, one of his students at DSA, is now chief minister.
He owns organic farms north of Naypyidaw where he spends most days inspecting produce at the farms. His closest government connection is believed to be the officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation whom he regularly invites to tour the facilities.
One official who has done the organic tour with Maung Aye spoke of the former military man as “friendly” and “congenial,” and said he was fond of sharing his homemade palm toddy during tours of the farms.