01/14/2010, 00.00
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Military junta rewards arms traffickers with prize for their “contribution” to football developm

Two powerful businessmen get the “Thiri Pyanch”, a title once awarded on humanitarian grounds. The two men set up Myanmar’s national football league but are better known for arms and gems trafficking in the service of the junta.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Instead of people who made positive contributions to society, cronies associated with Myanmar’s military junta are given prizes. Tay Za and Zaw Zaw, two of the most powerful and richest businessmen in the country, were awarded on 4 January, Independence Day, one of Myanmar’s highest honours, the “Thiri Pyanchi,” a prize dropped in 1978 by then dictator Ne Win but recently reintroduced. State-run media made no mention of the honours conferred on the two men, both of whom are viewed as arms traffickers by the international community, The Irrawaddy reported.

Tay Za chairs the Htoo Group of Companies and Zaw Zaw runs the Max Myanmar Group of Companies. They were honoured with the title for their “outstanding work” in helping Myanmar develop its economy and for their contributions to the development of professional football (soccer) in the country. In fact, their close ties to the junta's top generals have won them lucrative business concessions in a number of key industries, including logging, gems and jewellery, tourism and transportation.

In complete disregard of the law and human rights, the two have been involved in international trade, exporting rice, rubber and other agricultural products and importing machines. Last year, they both entered the field of professional sports promotion, playing a key role in the creation of Myanmar’s new national football league. They are also among the largest investors in the regime’s newly built Yadanabon Cyber City near Mandalay.

Although dominant figures in Myanmar’s business world, they are international pariahs. Both they and their companies are under Western sanctions.

According to the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Tay Za is “an arms dealer and financial henchman of Burma's repressive junta,” whilst Zaw Zaw’s Max Myanmar has provided important services in support of the regime, particularly in the form of construction projects.

Chan Tun, a veteran politician in Rangoon, said that in the past, the title of Thiri Pyanchi was awarded to hardworking officials and businessmen whose efforts benefited the people. “Now it is for cronies who contribute to the businesses of the generals.”

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