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New blood joins Burmese junta

(Hongkong Standard Time) 17 November 1997
RANGOON: The country's military leaders have made a surprise move by
creating a new ruling body with fresh faces, but diplomats say it is too
early to say whether there will be significant policy changes. 

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), which had ruled the
country with an iron hand since 1988, said 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 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 said. 

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

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 minister. 

``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._ Reuters