U Zaw Htay, who served as the spokesman of the Aung San Suu Kyi-led ousted government of Myanmar, has been freed from military custody in capital Nay Pyi Taw after more than four months in detention, family sources said.
U Zaw Htay was the Director-General at Suu Kyi’s Office and also doubled up as spokesman for the President until the November 2020 parliament polls.
The former military officer had also served as spokesman for the U Thein Sein government (2010-15) that preceded the Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which was ousted following the February 1 military coup.
As the military takeover unfolded , government residences in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon, as well as in the states and regions, were ringed in by military vehicles, leading to the detention of a majority of senior NLD figures and senior civil servants.
Military vehicles surrounded U Zaw Htay’s house in the capital city on the night of February 1 and he had not been seen ever since.
Some reports suggested that the military junta wanted him to retain his position following the coup. But U Zaw Htay resigned in protest a day after his detention.
A military source, requesting anonymity, told the Irrawaddy Online that U Zaw Htay was released around 10 days ago from military custody and discharged from his position.
“It seemed he was told to stay out of view and keep quiet,” the source added
Now a family member confirmed U Zaw Htay’s release on a Facebook message.
She said that U Zaw Htay is staying at a location she could not disclose, but added: “He is definitely out of military custody and in reasonable health. Looks like he has to play it cautiously.”
NLD sources were not yet willing to read too much into U Zaw Htay’s release but at least one top leader of the party did not rule out ‘backroom parleys’ between the military junta and the NLD.
“U Zaw Htay could be useful in such parleys because he knows the army as a former soldier but he is also close to our leaders.”
At his last press briefing in Nay Pyi Taw on January 8, U Zaw Htay dismissed accusations of voting fraud made by the military and its allied political parties as a refusal to accept electoral defeat.
“These are the acts of those who can’t accept defeat. The voters know best about the election and whom they voted for and supported,” U Zaw Htay had said at the press briefing.
“Those who are making false accusations are committing political suicide,” he added.
Military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was believed to be furious at U Zaw Htay’s statement, all the more because he was a soldier brought into administration by former general U Thein Sein after he took charge of government after the 2010 polls.
General Hlaing is said to be have personally asked for U Zaw Htay’s detention, after he furiously denied that former President U Win Myint or Suu Kyi had breached the 2008 Constitution or Union Election Commission rules while campaigning ahead of the November 8, 2020, general election.
Hours before the newly elected Parliament was to convene, the military seized power.
The military claimed mass fraud and voting irregularities to justify its coup and says it will hold a new election.
Western diplomats in Yangon said that U Zaw Htay’s release indicated the military junta was under huge pressure.
“We can’t say they are buckling under pressure but surely they are trying to display some backing down from hard repression. May be it is cosmetic, just window dressing but surely indicative that pressure was felt,” said one European diplomat on the condition of anonymity.
“We can’t rule out some result from ASEAN counselling. Some gestures are expected,” said another American diplomat.