U Aung Thaung, Burmese Politician Accused of Abuses, Dies at 74

YANGON, Myanmar — U Aung Thaung, a senior Burmese politician who was implicated in violence against dissidents and accused of personal corruption, died on Thursday in Singapore. He was 74.

His death, in a hospital, was caused by complications of a stroke, said U Win Tin, an official in his party and the editor of its newspaper.

A military veteran and close associate of U Than Shwe, who led Myanmar’s governing junta from 1992 to 2011, Mr. Aung Thaung was the country’s industry minister from 1997 to 2011. He was accused of using that position to financially benefit himself, his family and aides. The Irrawaddy, a website and magazine dedicated to news of Myanmar, said he was believed to be one of the country’s wealthiest men.

Mr. Aung Thaung was placed on a blacklist last year by the United States Treasury Department, which said he was undermining Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

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He was a leader in the Burmese junta’s political wing, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, which was accused of a 2003 attack in northern Myanmar on a motorcade of pro-democracy figures, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who now leads the country’s opposition.

Dozens of her supporters from the National League for Democracy were reported to have been killed in the attack, and she was placed under house arrest. She was released in 2010. Mr. Aung Thaung denied Burmese dissidents’ claim that he was the mastermind of the assault.

“Serious allegations have been made against Aung Thaung both for his complicity in past crackdowns and for his abuse of government posts for personal and familial gain — including in business ventures involving human rights abuses like land grabs and forced labor,” John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters last year after the United States sanctions were announced.

As Myanmar embarked on a more democratic path, the Union Solidarity and Development Association became the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is now the country’s governing party, backed by the military. The party was accused of widespread vote manipulation during the 2010 election. Mr. Aung Thaung was a senior adviser to the party and became a member of Myanmar’s lower house of Parliament in 2011, representing his hometown, Taungtha.

Two minutes of silence were observed on Thursday in Parliament after his death was announced, the party said on its website.

In recent years, Mr. Aung Thaung was accused of playing a role in the sectarian violence that killed more than 300 people, most of them Muslim, from 2012 to 2014. He called those allegations “nonsense” in a 2013 interview with The Irrawaddy.

The Treasury Department sanctions, which were announced before a visit to Myanmar by President Obama, barred Americans from doing business with Mr. Aung Thaung and froze any assets he held in the United States. The move was carried out under an executive order targeting Burmese officials who engaged in human rights abuses.


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“By intentionally undermining the positive political and economic transition in Burma, Aung Thaung is perpetuating violence, oppression, and corruption,” Adam J. Szubin, the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement announcing the sanctions.

U Aung Thaung was born on Dec. 1, 1940. A graduate of Mandalay University, he was a schoolteacher before joining the army in 1964. He remained active in the military until 1993, when he became a deputy commerce minister, the first in a series of government posts.

He is survived by three sons and a daughter. His son U Nay Aung is the chief executive of the IGE Group, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates; another son, Moe Aung, is a commodore in Myanmar’s navy.

In interviews with Burmese news media, Mr. Aung Thaung said he was one of a handful of figures with whom Mr. Than Shwe, the junta leader, regularly met to discuss politics.

“He helped and led the ruling party with his political ideas and advice,” said Mr. Win Tin, editor of the party’s newspaper, The Union Daily. “His seniors respectfully listened to his advice.”

He added that Mr. Aung Thaung had been an important negotiator between the legislature and the administration in recent years amid power struggles between the country’s elites.

Source: The New York Times

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