YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s reclusive former military dictator, Than Shwe, appears to have surfaced in public for the first time in almost four years in a photograph on Facebook showing him being taught to use an iPad by a young girl.
The former strongman is reviled by many Burmese for the brutal methods used to suppress pro-democracy activists during his 19-year rule, and he disappeared from public view after his junta transferred power to a semi-civilian, reformist government in 2011.
On Thursday, Than Shwe’s grandson, Nay Shwe Thwe Aung, posted an undated photograph of the 82-year-old sitting in an opulent room looking intently at an iPad as a young girl, identified in local media as his granddaughter, points to the screen.
"Senior General Than Shwe and his iPad coach," reads the caption, followed by three emoticons of yellow smiley faces with sunglasses.
The photograph cannot be authenticated by Reuters and Nay Shwe Thwe Aung did not respond to a message requesting comment. While keeping a low profile, Than Shwe still casts shadow of Myanmar.
Many people suspect the retired general exerts influence in a government heavily dominated by military officers, who are constitutionally mandated to hold one quarter of the seats in parliament as well as key cabinet positions.
The Facebook photo garnered more than 4,500 “likes”, including one by Ye Htut, Myanmar’s information minister.
Despite the brutality of his regime, some of those posting comments under the photo looked back fondly on Than Shwe's time.
"My role model," said a commenter identified as Thant Zin. "We sure miss your leadership!"
Under Than Shwe rule, access to the internet and mobile phones in Myanmar was strictly controlled, with SIM cards sold for thousands of dollars, way out of reach for most of the country's impoverished people.
The situation has changed dramatically over the past couple of years and many of Myanmar’s citizens have embraced social media, especially Facebook.
Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore