Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thein Htay: Burma’s Terminator?

The Irrawaddy News

To win respect and rapid promotion in the Burmese military you have to play hardball. Maj-Gen Thein Htay, who is deputy-chief of Defense Industry l, is one of the toughest players on the field.

Military insiders say that Thein Htay has played a key role in the modernization of the armed forces, and he is one of the prime promoters of the idea of purchasing missiles.

Maj-Gen Thein Htay, center, with Gen Thura Shwe Mann, right, and a delegation of North Korean officers in 2008.

If reports are true that Burma is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, then he is likely to be a key player in that effort.

Last year, he accompanied Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the regime’s No 3 general, on his clandestine trip to North Korea. During the visit, he and Shwe Mann visited several arms factories and a military hardware deal with the Communist regime was signed.

Known to be an extreme nationalist, Thein Htay didn’t serve long at the infantry battalion level, and he was quickly given an important position at the military industry ministry because of his extensive knowledge of the weapons industry.

Thein Htay received special attention when he advised junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe on how to upgrade the Burmese armed forces. He received a “jump” promotion when Than Shwe grew more serious about buying missiles and missile technology after a series of border skirmishes with Thai forces in 2001-2002.

In 1998, Thein Htay was a lieutenant-colonel on the general staff. In 2006, he was promoted to major general, followed by deputy-chief of Defense Industry 1—a sign that he had the trust of Than Shwe.

Sources say that the junta leader sometimes comes to weapons tests when Thein Htay demonstrates newly bought missiles or other weapons.

Defense Industry 1, one of Burma’s main military industrial complexes, operates 22 manufacturing or procurement facilities, many located on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River west of the Pegu mountain range. Several weapon testing grounds are located near Pegu and Pyi.

Military sources said that Thein Htay has been involved in the upgrading and creation of military facilities, including tunnels for missiles, aircraft and even naval ships. He has also expanded technological assistance of Russia, China, North Korea and Singapore.

Under Thein Htay’s command, military factories manufacture conventional weapons, including automatic rifles, light machine guns and landmines. Sources said that at least two military facilities are believed to be involved in refining uranium.

In earlier decades, the Defense Ministry purchased most of its arms and ammunition under contract with the Federal Republic of Germany’s state-owned Fritz Werner, according to defense analysts.

Burma has procured small arms, jet fighters and naval ships from the West particularly the US and EU countries. However, after the 1988 democracy uprising, Western countries imposed arms embargo and stopped selling arms to Burma.

Thein Htay often travels abroad to look for new sources of weapons and ammunition, upgrade missiles, defensive rockets, anti-aircraft radar and command and control technology.

Should Burma be trying to acquire a nuclear capability, Thein Htay and the Defense Ministry will be key players in that effort.

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