Home News Myanmar democracy leader U Tin Oo dies at 97

Myanmar democracy leader U Tin Oo dies at 97

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U Tin Oo, a former commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces and defense minister who opposed the country’s authoritarian government and became a leader of the country’s democracy movement, died on Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar. He was 97.

His death in hospital was confirmed by his personal assistant, U Myint Oo, who said Mr Tin Oo had a weak heart and died of kidney failure and pulmonary edema.

Tin Oo was one of the most powerful men in Myanmar today. He founded the country’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, with Aung San Suu Kyi during a failed and violent pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

Three years later, Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest. She is now detained again and it is unclear whether she has been informed of Mr Tin Oo’s death.

Mr Myint Oo said: “Aung San Suu Kyi will be deeply saddened to hear the news of his death as she has lost a trusted confidant.”

In 2013, she told The New York Times that Mr. Ding Wu was “like a father to me.”

Mr Tin Oo served first as vice-chairman and then as chairman of the National League for Democracy, which won the 1990 election by a huge margin but was prevented from taking power by the ruling military junta.

Soon thereafter, he became one of dozens of pro-democracy activists and party members arrested by the military junta and sentenced to long prison terms.

He later became one of a group of former military officers known as “uncles” who advised Aung San Suu Kyi during her 15 years under house arrest.

After her release and the establishment of a democratic government, ending decades of military rule, Mr Tin Oo continued to speak out on human rights and Myanmar’s development.

“Personally, I know that transformation is difficult and challenging,” he said in a speech at a 2014 Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting.

“I have been a general, a political prisoner, a monk, a law student, a lawyer and a founding member of the National League for Democracy,” he said. “I must face up to the harm I caused to people during my time in the military. For that, I have apologized and am committed to human rights and democracy.”

“I love the military, but I love the people more. That’s why I’m on the side of the people,” he told The New York Times in 2020.

Mr Tin Oo was born on March 3, 1927 in Pathein, a port city on the Pathein River in southern Myanmar. He is the eldest of six siblings.

His party spokesman U Tun Myint said: “He served his country since he was 16, fighting against Japanese fascism and Chinese communists. He was awarded the highest title in the army, the title of Thura.”

Mr. Ding Wu joined the army in 1946 as a second lieutenant and was promoted to battalion commander in 1951.

He was decorated for his leadership in the campaign against the Karen National Union and other armed ethnic groups, as well as the Communist Party of Burma.

In 1974, Myanmar bloodily suppressed student protests that broke out to mark the funeral of former UN Secretary-General U Thant, who was then commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces.

In 1976, in the context of what some analysts saw as a power struggle, Tint Oo was accused of corruption and accused of involvement in an attempted coup. He was imprisoned and not released until 1980, when he was released in an amnesty.

A decade later, he was arrested again for his opposition activities and spent many years in prison and under house arrest.

He was last arrested in May 2003, when his motorcade with Suu Kyi was attacked by pro-government thugs in what some supporters called an assassination attempt. Both were released in 2010.

“When a group of terrorists approached Aung San Suu Kyi’s car, U Tin Oo got out of the car and shouted at the terrorists: ‘You, this is Aung San Suu Kyi’s car, move back,'” said Mr Tun Myint, who was in the convoy at the time.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo both managed to escape, but dozens of others are believed to have been killed. Both were subsequently arrested.

In 2015, the NLD won the country’s first truly democratic election and began its difficult transition from an opposition party to a ruling party.

The party won a landslide victory in a second election in 2020. But the following year it was overthrown in a coup. A nationwide uprising and an ongoing violent crackdown followed.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been arrested and convicted in a series of cases that appear designed to keep her detained indefinitely. Mr. Tin Oo has been allowed to remain at home and continue to speak out in support of democracy.

Mr Tin Oo’s survivors include his wife, Dr Tin Moe Wai, 99, whom he met while working as a doctor at a hospital where Mr Tin Oo was being treated for combat injuries, and his son Thant Zin Oo.

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