Myanmar: Some Shake-Ups

2002

Frank Milne

The top leadership of the Government has undergone a major shake-up, with the dismissal of two senior generals, and the sacking of five other senior officials. In addition, ten of the twelve regional military commanders are being promoted to new positions in the Ministry of Defence in Yangon. The overall effect of the changes is a further concentration of power at the centre, and the reining in of regional fiefdoms. The downfall of Lt-Gen Win Myint, Secretary 3 of the State Peace and Development Council, and Lt-Gen Tin Hla, Deputy Prime Minister and Military Affairs Minister, apparently involved corruption arising from their responsibilities for state business enterprises. It may have been triggered by complaints from Malaysia, also echoed by Japan and Singapore. The leadership group is now reduced to three - Senior General Than Swe, Army Commander General Maung Aye and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt (Secretary 1). With Than Swe in indifferent health, the contest for power will be between Khin Nyunt and Maung Aye. Intelligence chief Khin Nyunt is comparatively a moderniser and inclined to pragmatic solutions to Myanmar's problems, but the conservative General Maung Aye has the weight of the army behind him. The long running saga of the talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi continues, without obvious progress in recent months. Aung San Suu Kyi is still restricted to her house, but a few more political prisoners were released. The UN Envoy, Razali Ismail, who visited Yangon again in late November said he was pleased with his visit after talks with both sides, and U Lwin, Secretary of the National League for Democracy, was cautiously optimistic that positive developments could occur in the New Year. When pressed by Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi at an ASEAN Summit on the need for progress towards democracy, General Than Swe hinted vaguely that Aung San Suu Kyi would not be ineligible for office, if chosen by the people, but this may be no more than a quid pro quo for a further $15 million of Japanese debt relief. The unofficial exchange rate of the kyat declined further to around 800 to the US Dollar. Though exports, including rice, are showing some improvement, the trade deficit for the first eight months of the year amounted to nearly US$400 million. External debt now amounts to $5.6 billion, and foreign reserves are around $200 million, or one month's imports. Actual foreign investment for the first six months of 2001 amounted to $44.5 million, a decline of nearly 40 per cent from the same period in 2000.

WATCHPOINT: Will the conflicting agendas of the current leaders lead to an active power struggle?

 

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