Myanmar Junta Crony in New Venture With Regime-Allied Ethnic Armed Group

U Aung Aung Zaw, a known associate of the Myanmar regime, recently visited the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northeast Shan State in early January as part of a...

U Aung Aung Zaw, a known associate of the Myanmar regime, recently visited the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northeast Shan State in early January as part of a partnership between individuals connected to the junta and ethnic armed groups allied with the regime.

U Aung Aung Zaw, the chairman of the 24 Hour Group of Companies which operates two airlines, Air KBZ and Myanmar Airways International (MAI) recently signed an agreement with Kokang Border Guard Force (BGF) during his visit to the Kokang region. The agreement is for the use of helicopters for passenger flights, with the Kokang BGF purchasing the helicopters and the 24 Hour Group operating and maintaining them. Additionally, the two sides plan to build an airport in Kokang and will jointly conduct preliminary work such as conducting a survey and applying for a license for the new airport. Kokang region is located near the Myanmar-China border, controlled by the Myanmar military-affiliated Kokang BGF, Laukkai is the capital city of Kokang region and is known as a notorious sin city.

China-based political analyst Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw has stated that the partnership between the Kokang BGF and a regime crony is not unexpected and believes that U Aung Aung Zaw was sent by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing to provide an incentive to Kokang BGF to counter the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) which is fighting the regime in Kokang. Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw suggests that Kokang BGF is more than rich enough to buy its own helicopters and this partnership is a way for Min Aung Hlaing to keep control over the region. The MNDAA, a splinter group from the Communist Party of Burma, lost control of Kokang after the Myanmar military moved into the region at a time when the MNDAA was riven by infighting, it was masterminded by Min Aung Hlaing while he was the head of the military’s Bureau of Special Operations 2.

The MNDAA, led by Peng Jiasheng, lost control of Kokang after their leader was deposed and fled to China, and was replaced by a Kokang MNDAA officer, Bai Suoqian, who was handpicked by the Myanmar military. The MNDAA faction loyal to Bai also became a government-recognized BGF. Kokang businessman Liu Jiangxiao is also one of the founders of the Kokang BGF. Liu was awarded an honorary title by Min Aung Hlaing in December 2021. The Kokang BGF leaders, backed by generals, are free to run illegal businesses in the self-administered zone and are also involved in military-controlled businesses.

U Aung Aung Zaw established 24 Hour Group in 2003. Initially, it was a medium-sized firm with interests in real estate, mining, services, as well as a 5,000-hectare palm oil plantation in Tanintharyi Region. However, over the past decade, the company has grown to become a conglomerate encompassing two airlines, fuel and aviation fuel importation and distribution, hotels, electricity generation, real estate and construction, mining, agriculture and cement production. The group’s expansion has been unusually rapid for a Myanmar company, which usually struggles to obtain bank loans and to raise capital.

According to company records, members of Min Aung Hlaing’s family and crony U Zaw Win Shein, the owner of Ayeyar Hinthar Holdings Company Limited, were on the board of directors of 24 Hour Group’s general service company, the first of the group’s companies. This suggests that there may be connections and possibly influence from Min Aung Hlaing and his associates in the management and operations of 24 Hour Group.

Source: The Irawaddy

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