Fairytale Wedding of Burmese General´s Daughter


2006.11.03

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Bride Thandar Shwe with her groom at her Rangoon society wedding, July 2006. Image: The Irrawaddy

BANGKOK—Dazzling images of pearls, flowers, golden cloth, and glittering jewels are not normally associated with Burma, where ordinary people are among the poorest in the world.

The money spent on this senseless spectacle might have saved the lives of HIV/AIDS patients dying in the thousands because of the regime’s ignorance and denial.

But these were clearly on display in a video clip released on the Internet of wedding festivities thrown by one of the country´s top generals, Than Shwe, for his daughter.

The 10-minute clip shows bride Thandar Shwe covered in pearls and diamonds during a lavish July ceremony at the Zeyathiri government guesthouse in Rangoon, the former state capital.

In the video, the bride, and groom Maj Zaw Phyo Win, shower their guests with champagne and a lavish feast in palatial surroundings, and are pictured standing before a richly draped bridal bed in a spacious five-star suite.

The provenance of the video isn't being publicized, and the civilian photographer hired to shoot the wedding, Sai Phone Htoo, said he had nothing to do with it.

“It’s not mine,” he told RFA’s Burmese service. “I gave the original and the edited copy to the Rangoon regional commander. I [also] made two copies for the bridegroom.”

Champagne and pearls

The video was posted on, and later removed from, YouTube, but remained on the Web site of the Thailand-based Burmese magazine Irrawaddy .

“Such mindless indulgence—smiling, well-fed guests wrapped in their finest clothing and most expensive jewels—is an affront to the millions of Burmese suffering under the incompetence and brutality of the country’s military leadership, and the millions of Burmese migrants trying to scratch out a living on foreign soil because no proper employment is available at home,” the magazine said in a commentary carried on its Web site.

“The money spent on this senseless spectacle might have saved the lives of HIV/AIDS patients dying in the thousands because of the regime’s ignorance and denial. Thousands of Burma’s children might have had the opportunity for a better education, or adequate healthcare,” said the magazine, which is staffed by Burmese exiles.

Photographs and video of the opulent ceremony show the bride “virtually encased” in strings of precious gems, most of them diamonds, with her more casually attired groom by her side, it added.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is one of the world’s poorest countries, where the United Nations estimates 40 percent of children are malnourished. Even the relatively well-off in Rangoon experience power outages that last up to seven hours a day and struggle to find fuel for their cars.

The government did not comment on the video and its authenticity could not be confirmed, but the junta leaders and their families were easily recognizable by people familiar with them.

Echoes of the past

It was unclear how the video was obtained. The note accompanying the video on YouTube said it was originally obtained from a private blog.

Burmese overseas were reminded of their late strongman Gen. Ne Win, who brought military rule to the country with a 1962 coup d’etat and whose family prospered during his 26 years in power.

The junta seized power after crushing the 1988 pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. The junta refused to step down even though Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide 1990 election victory.

Anu San Suu Kyi has spent nearly 11 of the last 17 years in detention, mostly under house arrest, despite worldwide calls for her freedom. Human rights groups say the junta is holding more than 1,100 political prisoners under brutal conditions.

The United States and the European Union refuse visas to members of the junta and their immediate families as part of a package of sanctions to punish the military government for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

Original reporting by RFA´s Burmese service. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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