Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another changing of the guards for Burma's junta

by Solomon
24 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – An official within Burma's Ministry of Information has hinted there has been a changing of guards within the top ranks of the country's military authorities during the last quarterly meeting held in the capital city of Naypyitaw.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there have been a few changes among the ranks of the military leaders during the last quarterly meeting, held between November 17 and 21, but declined to give details, saying the government will soon make a public release of the reshuffle.

"There have been some changes and promotions of military personnel, but we cannot say anything at this movement," the official said.

Burma's military leaders regularly hold quarterly meetings, the most recent one ending last Saturday, at which they reportedly discussed matters and issues facing the military and conducted a reshuffling within the ranks. In the previous quarterly meeting, held in June, the junta reshuffled nearly 100 positions.

"This time there are some changes in the military, because they [the junta] have to strengthen the Army, so three Major Generals have been promoted to Lieutenant Generals," said Win Min, a Burmese analyst based in Thailand.

However, Win Min said the reshuffling was insignificant and the quarterly meeting, which is the last for 2008, focused more on the junta's planned election for 2010.

"I think this time there will be less changing within the Ministries, they will do that in the next meeting," Win Min iterated.

The last reshuffling in the top brass of Burma's Army was in June, which gathered members of the State Peace and Development Council, powerful military commanders and heads of Bureau of Special Operations (BSO).

However, sources told Mizzima that retired BSOs, such as Major Generals Maung Bo, Ye Myint and Kyaw Win, were seen at the most recent meeting, proving that they are still members of SPDC's upper echelon.

Sources told Mizzima that the head of the junta, Senior General Than Shwe, wants to keep them in the mix in order to handle ceasefire groups, and particularly due to their role in persuading the nearly one-and-a-half dozen mainly ethnic rebel groups to disarm.

"Than Shwe and his generals may become members of a defense commission; something along the lines of the Chinese model," said a source in Naypyitaw of the potential political landscape following the 2010 election.

The junta has been preparing for such offices in the post-2010 era by requisitioning some Defense buildings in the capital.

Sino-Burmese-based analyst Mya Maung said the recently concluded meeting aimed primarily at preparations for the 2010 general election.

"For the 2010 election, the generals are focusing on security, home affairs and the police department," said Mya Maung.

Burma's rulers have announced that they will hold a general election as part of their roadmap to democracy and will allow the winning party to assume power and form a government.

But it has also maintained strict vigilance over opposition activists in the run-up to the election by arresting and sentencing activists to long prison terms. Additionally, the junta has also stepped up security measures in several towns and cities across the country where pro-democracy activists had led mass demonstrations in August and September 2007.

According to Mya Maung, in preparation for the general election, the junta is likely to change several positions within the military – with some personnel retired and others sent into the civilian government. Police units might also be transformed into paramilitary outfits.

"They [junta] are enhancing police forces for the suppression of any kind of protest that might erupt, while the military will be maintained to sustain the fight against ethnic rebels," Mya Maung said.

He said the junta has thus far expanded at least 16 to 18 battalions of police across the country, with over 400 policemen in each battalion.

However Htay Aung, a researcher at the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), based in Thailand, said the junta during the recent quarterly meeting was likely to have discussed only a few important things such as the 2010 general election and the recent maritime boundary issue with Bangladesh.

"I think they [the junta] would have discussed important things such as the 2010 election, and the recent oil crisis between Bangladesh, and also about the economic crisis," Htay Aung explained.

It is likely that the junta decided who would form political parties for the 2010 election and who would remain in the distinct military apparatus, Htay Aung said.

However, he said changes within the military ranks in the quarterly meeting are normal and have little overall significance on the military structure.

(Additional reporting by Sein Win)

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