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Junta's cosmetic changes 'may stren

South China Morning Post (17 November 1997)
Junta's cosmetic changes 'may strengthen grip' 

Ambitious scheming, gross corruption, a crashing economy and
international disapproval - these may all have played a role in the
Burmese military regime's surprise name change and reshuffle.

However, observers have agreed that any attempt by the ruling generals to
re-invent themselves would be aimed at strengthening their grip on the

The 19-member junta will now be known as the State Peace and Development
Council. Although it is a sweeter-sounding title than the State Law and
Order Restoration Council (SLORC), its leaders remain the same.

"I suspect there are quite severe tensions within the military, but
they've never appeared to disagree over their core belief - that they
must never give up power," one Rangoon-based diplomat said yesterday.

By retaining the core leadership under chairman Than Shwe, and bringing
in the powerful, and younger, regional army commanders at the expense of
older, possibly more corrupt generals, the junta may have strengthened
its rule.

The SLORC entered the scene in September 1988, several months after
dictator Ne Win stepped down in the face of mass protests.

Many people detected the shadowy hand of the reclusive Ne Win in the
SLORC's creation.

Observers are already saying it is no coincidence that the father of the
Burmese military emerged from retirement to visit an old friend,
Indonesian President Suharto, two months ago.

The SLORC was clearly designed to allow a new leadership to distance
itself from Ne Win's 25-year rule that even the old dictator admitted had
badly damaged the economy.

The junta quickly ended decades of disastrous isolation and partially
freed up the economy.

Yet the regime's vile human rights reputation and economic meddling has
stymied the economic take-off that was supposed to distract the
population from seeking political change.

Plucking a new name from the air and freshening up the leadership may be
a sign that the military establishment wants to change tack again as they
approach the millennium.

But intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt and army chief
General Maung Aye are still at the top - with the less assertive
chairman, General Than Shwe, mediating.

"They could call themselves the 'Warm and Fuzzy Council'," Debbie
Stothard, co-ordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said.
"But a junta by any other name would still sink."