Officer in charge of Myanmar’s interrogation centres named deputy home affairs minister

Myanmar’s junta has appointed Maj-Gen Toe Yi, the military intelligence official responsible for running the country’s notorious interrogation centres, as its new deputy minister for home affairs.

The deputy chief of the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs (OCMSA) was handed his new position last Friday, a day after his predecessor, Maj-Gen Soe Tint Naing, was reappointed to his former military duties.

The OCMSA, also known by it Burmese acronym Sa Ya Pa, was formed in 2004 as the successor to the Directorate of Defence Services Intelligence, the military intelligence agency disbanded following the ouster of its leader, Khin Nyunt.

“[Toe Yi] has been active in the OCMSA for many years. He was head of counter-intelligence before becoming a deputy chief,” according to a former army captain who defected from the military after it seized power in February 2021.

“There are two deputy chiefs—one for domestic affairs and one for foreign—and Toe Yi headed the domestic operations. The interrogation centres were under him. He was mainly in charge of counter-intelligence activities such as arrests by undercover officers and interrogations,” he added.

There have been numerous reports of anti-coup protesters being tortured and killed inside Myanmar’s interrogation centres since the military takeover two years ago.

The new appointment comes amid a reshuffle of cabinet and military council members that was announced after the junta extended its rule by another six months on February 1, the second anniversary of the coup.

It also comes after the assassination of two military intelligence officers in Bago Region late last month. 

Maj Than Htut, who served in the No. 1 Military Security Affairs Auxiliary Unit in Yangon, and Sgt Myint Aung were killed on the Yangon-Mandalay highway just south of Naypyitaw on January 22 by a local chapter of the anti-junta People’s Defence Force.

Early last year, the regime divided the OCMSA, based in Naypyitaw, into two departments covering upper and lower Myanmar. Two brigadier generals were promoted to major general to head each department. 

Military observers noted that this gave the two top intelligence officers the same rank as regional commanders, indicating that it represented an elevation of the OCMSA’s authority under the regime.

Among those arrested following operations carried out by the OCMSA were Kyaw Min Yu, a veteran activist also known as Ko Jimmy, and Phyo Zayar Thaw, a former lawmaker from the ousted ruling party, the National League for Democracy.

Both were executed in July of last year along with two other anti-coup activists after being found guilty by a junta-controlled court of plotting to carry out terrorist activities.

As deputy minister for home affairs, Toe Yi will serve under Lt-Gen Soe Htut, who was head of the OCMSA until he was appointed to his current ministerial position after the coup.

Last month, Toe Yi received the title of Zaya Kyaw Htin for “outstanding performance” in military service at a ceremony held in Naypyitaw to commemorate Myanmar’s Independence Day. Two military intelligence officers—a major and a warrant officer—were among four military personnel to receive the rarely conferred title of Thura (Courage) for at the same ceremony.

Before the coup, Toe Yi was credited with meeting leaders of the Arakan Army in Rakhine State to negotiate a ceasefire that went into force ahead of the November 2020 election.

Toe Yi graduated from the same class of the military’s Officer Training School as Lt-Gen Ye Win Oo, the current chief of the OCMSA and joint secretary of the State Administration Council, as the junta calls itself.

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