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Burma's Military Rulers Bring In A

RANGOON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Burma's military leaders have made a surprise
move by creating a new ruling body with fresh faces, but diplomats said it
was too early to tell if the announcement would lead to major policy changes.

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which ruled the country
with an iron hand since 1988, said late on Saturday that it was being
replaced by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). 

State media said the 19-member SPDC was made up of four former top SLORC
leaders, including its chairman Than Shwe and Secretary One and intelligence
chief Khin Nyunt. 

One Western diplomat, who asked not to be named, said most SPDC members were
new faces whose backgrounds were unknown. 

``The trouble for all of us is many of the people coming in are new names.
Nobody knows where they come from. It is very difficult to know what camps
they belong to or how are they going to react when talking about improving
dialogue with the NLD (the National League for Democracy),'' the diplomat

The NLD is headed by opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi
whose landslide election victory in 1990 was not recognised by the SLORC. 

Fifteen members of the SPDC are high-ranking military commanders including
navy and air force chiefs of staff. 

Analysts said many retired SLORC members were shifted to a new 14-member
Advisory Board including Minister of Trade and Commerce Tun Kyi. 

Announcing the changes on Saturday, state-run media said they were designed
to foster ``the emergence of disciplined democracy in the country and to
build up a peaceful developed nation.'' 

One analyst in Rangoon said the SPDC may represent a wish of military rulers
to introduce young blood to the ruling regime. He said all those placed on
the advisory board, in other words away from real power, were over 60. 

The military leaders formed a new 40-member cabinet and launched new
ministries of military affairs and electric power. The cabinet comprised 15
new faces but retained 25 former ministers with Than Shwe keeping his job as
prime minister, Maung Maung Khin as deputy premier and Ohn Gyaw as foreign

``This is clearly a major revamping of the government, a huge cabinet
reshuffle,'' a foreign diplomat said. 

Some diplomats said the unexpected changes opted by the SLORC may be related
to growing economic problems in Burma rather than to sustained heavy Western
pressure on Rangoon to improve its human rights policies. 

``It probably relates to economic problems including worsening inflation and
balance of payments,'' a diplomat said. 

Another diplomat said rampant corruption prompted the SLORC to improve its
image. ``Growing economic problems have forced SLORC to look at themselves
hard and say if there are any corrupt people, let's get them out...it may
start with something like the corruption crackdown which may lead to
something bigger and more positive.'' 

Analysts said it was no secret in Rangoon that foreign companies winning
major government contracts had been asked to make hefty donations to public
welfare organisations like the Karuna Foundation which opened remote rural
health clinics run by the ministry of trade and commerce. 

Rangoon residents said Burma's inflation this year ran at about 40 percent
although the government put the figure at only about 25 percent. 

Burma in July became a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations
(ASEAN) which also groups Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines,
Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. 

This has led to strains with the West and on Friday Burma's membership of
ASEAN resulted in a meeting of officials from the European Union being
postponed because of objections by Britain about Burma's participation.