Myanmar's Tin Oo, pro-democracy general who co-founded Suu Kyi's party, dies at 97

FILE PHOTO: Tin Oo, a patron of the NLD, points out other party members at a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the NLD in Yangon

(Reuters) - Tin Oo, a towering figure in Myanmar's pro-democracy movement and close ally of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, died on Saturday at age 97, political associates and close friends said.

Tin Oo had a pivotal role with Suu Kyi in the 1988 creation of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which suffered two decades of persecution over its non-violent struggle against military dictatorship.

The NLD ruled Myanmar for five years until its overthrow in a 2021 coup, weeks after its second successive landslide election win during a decade of tentative democracy.

A former military commander who turned into a powerful advocate for democracy, Tin Oo had stepped back from active politics during the NLD's short stint in office due to health issues, but his influence and legacy continued to be felt within the democracy movement, according to his associates.

The cause of death was not immediately clear.

"A dutiful and loyal uncle U Tin Oo, may you rest in peace," Zin Mar Aung, foreign minister of Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government, posted on social media.

Suu Kyi, 78, is in detention at an unknown location, serving a 27-year sentence for a multitude of offences her allies say were trumped up by the junta to keep her at bay.

It was not immediately clear if she was aware of Tin Oo's death. A spokesperson for the junta could not immediately be reached for comment.


Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the military struggling to govern and stifled by an alliance of ethnic minority armies and an anti-junta resistance movement that have been battling security forces, posing the biggest challenge to the military since it first took power in 1962.

Born in 1927, Tin Oo joined the military after World War Two and rose to commander in chief. He was forced to retire in 1976 and spent four years in prison, convicted of involvement in a coup plot against military ruler Ne Win.

A popular figure among troops and the public, according to associates, Tin Oo re-emerged as a political figure during mass protests in 1988 that were brutally suppressed by the army, leading to the NLD's formation.

Like Suu Kyi, Tin Oo was detained for years, in jail and under house arrest, until his release in 2010 ahead of the military's transition to a quasi-civilian political system.

He ignored orders to stay out of politics and was released with Suu Kyi, who was allowed to enter parliament in 2012. The NLD, with Tin Oo as patron, emerged as Myanmar's biggest political force and was swept to power in a November 2015 election.

Tin Oo in 2016 told Reuters he was "too old" and had therefore ruled out becoming president to lead Myanmar alongside Suu Kyi, who was barred from the post but served as head of government in a specially created role of state counsellor until her overthrow in 2021.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Martin Petty and William Mallard)