Myanmar democracy champion Tin Oo, dead at 98

Friends and family mourn the NLD party patron’s passing while the junta remains in power.
By RFA Burmese
Myanmar democracy champion Tin Oo, dead at 98 The body of Thura Tin Oo at his residence in Myanmar, June 1, 2024.

Tin Oo, the patron of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy party, which was overthrown by the military in a 2021 coup d’etat, has died at the age of 98, according to family and party members.

He was admitted to Yangon Hospital’s cardiac care unit on May 29 due to deteriorating health and later transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit, where he passed away on Saturday morning, his grandson Thet Thut Oo told RFA Burmese.

“We will be keeping grandpa at Windermere House No. 30 for the next five days” for funeral proceedings, Thet Thut Oo said, referring to the family’s estate.

Sai Nyunt Lwin, another champion of democracy and the chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy Party, told RFA that he and Tin Oo had “shared a strong bond.”

"We knew each other since our early days working in the NLD,” he said, using an acronym for the National League for Democracy. “His passing on a day when the NLD is facing significant challenges adds to our grief."

Born on March 12, 1927, in Ayeyarwady region’s Pathein township, Tin Oo served as the fourth Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar army from 1974-1976, and was awarded the country’s prestigious Zayya Kyawhtin and Thura Medals.

He joined the NLD party in 1988 at its inception, alongside former state counsellor and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who was jailed by the junta along with other party leaders in the aftermath of the military’s Feb. 1, 2021 coup.

The junta refused to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to attend Tin Oo’s funeral, although she was permitted to send flowers via junta officials, NLD members told RFA.

Suu Kyi, 78, was initially sentenced by the junta to 33 years on 19 charges, a sentence that was later reduced to 27 years. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is believed to be in solitary confinement in Naypyidaw Prison, in the capital, but her exact whereabouts are unknown.

A previous junta imprisoned Tin Oo for eight months and kept him under house arrest for five years following the Depayin massacre in May 2003, when a junta-backed mob killed dozens of NLD members in Sagaing region.

He suffered a stroke in 2017 after falling at his home and had difficulty speaking because of his condition.

Dedicated to serving others

But writer Htin Lin Oo, who cared for Tin Oo during his hospitalization, said that despite his health problems, the politician had remained dedicated to serving others up until his passing.

"If we were to liken him to cranes that risk their lives for the survival of their descendants, then Thura Tin Oo was a crane that flew relentlessly from the front lines until his last breath," he said, using an honorific for the NLD leader.

ENG_BUR_TIN OO FUNERAL_06032024.2.jpg
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, flanked by vice-chairmen Tin Oo, left, of the National League for Democracy, makes her weekend speech to her supporters from her residential gate in Yangon Sunday, July 7, 1996. (Richard Vogel/AP)

Nay Phone Latt, the spokesperson of the Prime Minister's Office of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, or NUG, expressed sadness that Tin Oo had died before the junta was removed from power.

"During a period when there is significant potential to completely eliminate the military dictatorship, we want leaders like Thura Tin Oo to remain with us until the rebellion’s conclusion,” he said. “It saddens me deeply that he passed away before reaching the end of the journey, as he was instrumental in leading the struggle for democracy."

The NLD also suffered the loss of Nyan Win, a top party official and former advisor to Suu Kyi, when he died from COVID-19 in prison in July 2021.

A resident of Yangon told RFA that the loss of leaders like Tin Oo and Nyan Win is “truly disheartening” for the country.

"Thura Tin Oo made significant sacrifices for the country throughout his life,” said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “Losing such an esteemed patron is akin to Suu Kyi losing one of her pillars of support … My sole concern now is for Suu Kyi’s well-being."

Translated by Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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