The weight of Burma's military has been thrown behind efforts to locate and rescue one of the country's wealthiest businessmen – and a close ally of its military leader – after he became stranded on a remote mountain.
In events that underline both the wealth and influence of Tay Za, a military helicopter has been dispatched to try to rescue the businessman, whose own helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on Fukanrazi mountain in a remote area of Burma's northern Kachin state on Monday. His company has separately chartered a private helicopter from neighbouring Thailand to fly to the mountain and locate the tycoon and his party.
Concerns about the safety of the 43-year-old and his group have increased after they were forced to spend two nights at an elevation of 12,000ft, where overnight temperatures have fallen to -15C. The MI-17 military helicopter dispatched to help in the rescue effort was apparently not able to fly high enough to reach the stranded group and so new measures were undertaken.
Last night, it was reported that rescuers, being co-ordinated from a Burmese Air Force site in Putao, 50 miles north of Kachin state's capital, Myitkyina, had made contact with the businessman and his party. It was unclear when precisely they might be rescued but reports added that once Tay Za was found, he would then be flown overseas for a medical check-up, most likely in Thailand or Singapore. "A military helicopter has located them and has dropped them food," a government official told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. "We expect to get them out soon."
Tay Za, who owns a string of luxury hotels, an airline and a mobile phone company as part of an extensive portfolio of business interests, is sometimes said to be the third-richest man in Burma and is known to be a close friend of senior general Than Shwe. In the aftermath of the "saffron revolution" of 2007, when the military authorities brutally repressed a democracy movement led by monks and ordinary people, the US imposed a visa ban on the businessman, who also heads the Htoo Trading Company.
"Tay Za is Burma's best-known crony with very close ties to Than Shwe and the military regime," said Benedict Rogers, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide and author of Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma's Tyrant. "The mere fact that he was travelling by helicopter, that his company can hire another helicopter from Thailand, and that he can even contemplate travelling to another country for medical treatment, indicates his wealth and influence. Ordinary Burmese in a similar situation would be left completely unaided."
Reports suggest that the businessman, who spends much of his time in Singapore, had been in Kachin state with six other people pursuing opportunities to develop tourism. Their helicopter was forced to land on Fukanrazi, which is also known as Ice mountain, because of bad weather and was then unable to take off again. The privately chartered helicopter, rented in the Thai city of Chiang Mai, first flew to Mandalay for refuelling before continuing on to join the rescue efforts, which also involves troops from the army's Northern Regional Military Command.
Tay Za is the owner of a handful of private banks in Burma. His son Pye Phyo Tay Za was last year involved in a legal battle with the EU over financial matters. Travel sanctions were imposed against him.