27 Mar 2010
Tin Oo, the vice-chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Burma's former army chief, told The Irrawaddy that the army should stay out of politics and that past military coups in Burma have only harmed the country.
“The armed forces or Tatmadaw should serve the country by protecting the people and defending the nation,” said Tin Oo.
He said the image of the armed forces today has dramatically changed due to its role in oppression and involvement in politics. He also said that soldiers are not trained to govern or run the country or the government.
“We only learn about military matters and warfare and have little knowledge or informed opinion about issues such as education, health and the economy.”
He also said that soldiers in the army should not obey unjust orders coming from superior officers, although he acknowledged the heavy-handed military structure in the Burmese armed forces.
Meanwhile, Snr-Gen Than Shwe said at the annual Armed Forces Day parade held in the remote capital Naypyidaw: “We, the patriotic Tatmadaw, not only defend and protect the nation and the people with our lives but take part and serve in national politics whenever the need arises.”
His seven-minute speech focused on the coming election and the role of the armed forces in politics.
“This year's elections represent only the beginning of the process of fostering democracy,” he said.
No date has been announced for the upcoming polls, which critics have called a sham designed to keep the military in power with the facade of an elected government.
Tin Oo became Commander in Chief of the Tatmadaw in 1974 and was a respected army leader. He joined the NLD in 1988 after the military brutally crushed a nationwide pro-democracy uprising. He was placed under house arrest in 2003 and was released in February of this year.
In the 1970s, Than Shwe, who was then a staff officer in the War Office in Rangoon, sometimes accompanied Tin Oo when he traveled to the north to inspect military offensives against Communist and ethnic insurgents.
Tin Oo said that then Col Than Shwe never struck him as ambitious, but was a rather “slow and quiet person.”
However, Tin Oo now expressed doubts about whether Than Shwe would relinquish power after the election. He said the junta leader might decide to stay in power if he doesn't trust the people who take over the new government, many of whom he is expected to handpick.
Tin Oo lamented that some people seem determined to cling to power and said that Than Shwe could remain as a president in the future government.
“He then will feel he has legitimacy to rule the country.”