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BO ZAW MIN WAR CRIMINAL


CONTRIBUTOR

Who and What is Zaw Min?


By AUNG LYNN HTUT IRRAWADDY Zaw Min, the minister for Burmas Ministry of Electric Power-1 (MEP-1), recently stood in front of the press andin a manner disdainful to criticsdeclared that the highly controversial Myitsone Dam project would go full speed ahead and nothing would stop its completion. So who is this man who so easily stood up and dismissed the fact that the Myitsone Dam is certain to have an adverse affect on the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Burmese citizens? In May 1998, the Burmese military killed 81 innocent civilians, including women and children, on a sandy beach on Christie Island off the far southern coast of Burma. Zaw Min, then an army colonel, was the tactical commander for the operation, which was ordered by then junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe. After the slaughter, Than Shwe rewarded Zaw Min by appointing him the chairman of the State Peace and Development Council for Magwe Division. Then over the next few years, the man who was promoted to the rank of colonel much later than his classmates after graduating from Intake 15 of the Defense Services Academy, became the minister for the Ministry of Cooperatives and the joint-general secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, which in 2010 was transformed into the now ruling political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Zaw Min went on to become the minister for the MEP-1 under the Than Shwe regime, and he held onto that position when the new government was formed earlier this year. So why was Zaw Min, a man of sub-par qualifications and capabilities, appointed to top-level positions and allowed to remain there to this day? Monday, September 19, 2011

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Burmese Polaris Burmese Library Collection The Fight For Freedom in Burma The Christie Island massacre was an undeniable incident, and Burmas top military brass may still be haunted by its ghosts. Toms Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, has recommended a commission of inquiry to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, and many powerful countries in the world have endorsed its formation. As a result, Than Shwe and the other top generals from the previous regime have to keep people like Zaw Min happy and in their hip-pockets. The Christie Island operation involved many top officers in the Burmese military. The attack was a joint army-navy-air force operation designed by Than Shwe. Along with Zaw Min, the senior general assigned many officers to participate in the operation as well. Myself, Maj Aung Lin Htut from the Military Intelligence Unit (MI), were assigned. On the day of the intended operation, however, when Col Zaw Min and the military columns arrived at Christie Island they did not find the enemy. Instead, they found 59 men, women and children, including a new-born baby, from the Kawthaung area who had gone there to collect firewood. Col Zaw Min reported the presence of the civilians to the operation command center, and the commander-in-chief of the navy, head of the operation, ordered Zaw Min not to do anything unless they were established to be the enemy. Operation chief then informed Snr-Gen Than Shwe about the people Zaw Min had found on the island. Afterwards, commander-in-chief of the navy and other members of the team assigned to the Christie Island operation, including myself, went to the island a number of times to inspect the situation. On one occasion, I noticed that commander-in-chief of the navy was giving snacks to children, and that Zaw Min seemed unhappy about what his commander was doing. Then at 9 p.m. On the day we arrived back from our last visit to the island, a telegraph from Snr-Gen Than Shwe arrived. The telegraph contained an order to kill all civilians on Christie Island. That same night, the commander-in-chief of the navy summoned all commanding officers and told them about the order. Most of the officers were not happy about the instructionssome officials thought the order was a mistaken command given by a drunken Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye, then the second-in-command of the Burmese armed forces, and proposed that a clarification be requested the next morning. By Democracy and Human Rights Without Borders ( ) 2

Burmese Polaris Burmese Library Collection The Fight For Freedom in Burma majority vote from the navy and air force, it was decided to ask the War Office for clarification. The next morning, the commander-in-chief of the navy talked to General Staff officer of the Office of Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services. After his conversation, the commander-in-chief of the navy was told that the order came from Big Uncle [SnrGen Than Shwe] and he was asked to follow it. He then directed Col Zaw Min to carry out the order. According to the then commander of No. 19 Intelligence Unit in Magwe, Tenessarim Division who is currently serving a long-term imprisonment, Col Zaw Min told his junior officers in detail how to slaughter the innocent civilians. Then upon Zaw Mins order, all civilians, including children, were made to stand on the beach and shot to death. Photographs of the scene were secretly taken and kept in MI headquarters, and I showed the photos to former Gen Khin Nyunt, the then MI chief, in a morning briefing. Now Zaw Min, the man who oversaw the Christie Island massacre and whose hands are stained with the blood of those civilians, is the man in charge of the MEP-1 overseeing the Myitsone Dam project, which will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. He has demonstrated no kindness or prudence in the past, and he will not care how many people will be displaced, lose their livelihoods or die because of the massive dam. As in the past, Zaw Min will just focus on his own interests. He can do this, and get away with rude responses to those that question the propriety of the Myitsone Dam, because the Big Uncle is still behind the scenes, masterminding the operation and protecting those that carry out his orders. If President Thein Sein really had the authority to freely make decisions, he would not let Zaw Min respond the way he did to critics who have raised legitimate concerns about the dam. But men like Zaw Min remain in place to say and do what Snr-Gen Than Shwe wants them to say and do.

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(Ex-Maj Aung Lynn Htut is a former military intelligence officer and deputy ambassador to the US. He sought political asylum in Washington DC in 2005.)

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