It was during a welcoming break during the negotiations with the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) on 19 May in the Shan State East capital of Kengtung that Naypyitaw’s veteran negotiator U Aung Min disclosed to SHAN that his maternal grandfather was a Shan.
“He came down from Shan State and married my grandmother in Phya Gyi (Pegu Region) and had a daughter, my mother,” the 63 year old U Aung Min, who doubles as Minister for Railway Transport and Vice Chairman representing the government in the newly reorganized Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC).
Earlier, he had told leaders of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) that he sympathized with the non-Burmans’ grievances because he had Shan blood.
He proudly calls himself “Minister Without Borders,” holding that jumping the border to meet leaders of Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni (Kayah) and Shan on 19 November 2011 in Chiangrai was not his first experience.
The first time he did it was almost twenty years earlier while he was serving as an infantry battalion commander in Kunlong, Shan State North. In 1992, following an internecine war in Kokang, now a Self-Administered Zone under the 2008 constitution, Peng Jiasheng was ousted by his rival Yang Moliang.
“I was summoned by Gen Khin Nyunt (then Secretary # 1 of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council, later to be renamed State Peace and Development Council) and ordered to find Peng and invite him back,” he recounted. “I met him in China and convinced him the best course for him to take was to return with me to Burma. I had to spend Y 15,000 smuggling him back through 3 Chinese checkpoints.”
Khin Nyunt’s efforts to reconcile the two Kokang leaders however did not succeed. Yang was later successfully removed by supporters of Peng and the latter returned to Laogai, the Kokang capital, a victor. But in 2009 he was again ousted by his deputy Bai Xuoqian, this time in collusion with the Burma Army. Peng is believed to be taking refuge with his Wa and Mongla allies.
As a reward for his remarkable feat, Aung Min was promoted to become a commander of an operations command (with 3 infantry battalions under his leadership) and later Commander of the Southern Region Command.
Before all of that, he was a military intelligence officer under Brig-Gen Tin Oo, Khin Nyunt’s predecessor. “He was brilliant,” Aung Min remembers. “He would never allow you to take notes. With him, everything seen or heard must be taken in your head and remembered.”
Fortunately Aung Min was not among those purged by General Ne Win along with Tin Oo for his failure to anticipate the 1983 Korean massacre at Aung San’s mausoleum. “Somehow I got lucky,” he said, “but I didn’t want to push my luck too far. So I applied for a transfer to a regular unit. And here I am.”
Since November he has been successful in negotiating ceasefire agreements with key ethnic armed movements: Chin National Front (CNF), Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA).
His biggest challenge now is the Kachin Independence Organization / Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) against which the Army has been fighting for more than 11 months. According to some reports, his informal meeting with the KIO/KIA leaders on 21 May was a happy one.
What remains is the formal one, the date and venue to be fixed by the KIO/KIA. The world may be his oyster if he passes this upcoming test.
But Aung Min says he is not reaching for the star. “How can I then hope to run around bantering with people like I do now?” he said. “I’m having the time of my life and I hope to keep having it.”