Maj-Gen Zaw Hein, a key loyalist of Myanmar coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has been appointed to head the military’s Naypyitaw Regional Command.
The move, which was made during a reshuffle on August 25, places the long-time protégé of the junta chief in one of the military’s most sensitive positions.
Zaw Hein, who was headmaster of the elite Defence Services Academy (DSA) in Pyin Oo Lwin prior to his appointment as Naypyitaw commander, also once served as Min Aung Hlaing’s personal service officer.
Naypyitaw is regarded as the most important of the military’s 14 regional commands because it controls security not only for the country’s administrative capital, but also for its top general.
“The Naypyitaw commander is mainly responsible for security of the commander-in-chief,” said Capt Nyi Thuta, who defected from the military after the February 1 coup.
Zaw Hein is the son of Thein Aung, a former brigadier general who served as chief minister of Ayeyarwady Region under the quasi-civilian administration of former President Thein Sein. Thein Aung was also a member of the junta that ruled Myanmar until Thein Sein assumed office in 2011.
According to a former military officer who spoke to Myanmar Now on condition of anonymity, Zaw Hein has climbed steadily through the ranks since distinguishing himself as a member of the DSA’s 38th intake.
“He won two outstanding awards in the DSA. He later served as a second-grade officer in the Naypyitaw command, and then as a first-grade officer and commander of Light Infantry Division 11, based in Bago. After that, he became headmaster of the DSA, and now he is the Naypyitaw commander,” he said.
The officer added that the trajectory of Zaw Hein’s military career was typical of someone who had been groomed to assume a high position in the armed forces.
“These juniors are well-protected, as they will be important in the future. They are never placed in an area where they will face trouble or any real risk. The job of DSA headmaster is an easy one, with nothing to worry about. The top generals always keep their favourite juniors for future use,” he said.
Zaw Hein is 19 years younger than Min Aung Hlaing, who was a graduate of the DSA’s 19th intake. There are also a number of other high-ranking officers in the military who are at least a decade younger than the senior general, who turned 65 in July.
Gen Maung Maung Kyaw, the commander of the air force, who is seven years his junior, and navy commander Gen Moe Aung, who is nine years younger, are among the few who are closer to him in age.
Like Zaw Hein, Maung Maung Kyaw and Moe Aung are both sons of high-ranking generals in the former junta.
Lt-Gen Moe Myint Tun, the army chief of staff, is more than 10 years younger than Min Aung Hlaing, who is expected to succeed as commander-in-chief. He is also a member of the State Administration Council (SAC), as the current junta calls itself, and chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission.
Adjutant general Lt-Gen Myo Zaw Thein, chief of military security affairs and SAC joint secretary Lt-Gen Ye Win Oo, and chief of police and deputy home affairs minister Lt-Gen Than Hlaing, are also at least 10 years younger than Min Aung Hlaing.
Another staunch Min Aung Hlaing loyalist is Lt-Gen Kyaw Swar Linn, the quartermaster general, who was just 49 years old when he was promoted last year to become the youngest lieutenant general in the history of the Myanmar military.
One of Min Aung Hlaing’s first acts upon overthrowing the country’s elected civilian government was to remove a rule requiring the commander-in-chief to retire at the age of 65. By doing this, he ensured that he would be able to hold onto power indefinitely.
To further cement his control over the military, he also reshuffled a number of high-ranking generals from positions they held before the coup.
This included Gen Mya Tun Oo, who went from joint chief of staff of the army, navy and air force to defence minister. In the latter position, he replaced Lt-Gen Sein Win. Lt-Gen Ye Aung, who served as border affairs minister under the previous government, was also removed from his ministerial post.
The junta also stripped Gen Tin Aung San of his position as navy commander, making him transport and communication minister instead.
Myanmar’s military operates differently from most armed forces, according to army defector Maj Hein Thaw Oo, who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement in late March.
“In the military, for whatever reason, you’re always scared of anyone who has a higher rank than you,” he told Myanmar Now in an interview in April. “It doesn’t feel like a military. It’s almost like there’s a system of monarchs and slaves.”