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Burma Changes Keeps Generals United
- Subject: Burma Changes Keeps Generals United
- From: nyeinchan@xxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 17:36:00
By Robert Horn
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, November 16, 1997; 2:58 p.m. EST
An AP News Analysis
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- During Gen. Ne Win's decades-long rule of
Burma, he had a simple method for periodically reorganizing his
government: the purge.
Whenever other generals became too powerful or popular, Ne Win jailed
them or banished them to the borderlands. He retained power, but he also
created enemies who either plotted against him or joined the democratic
The top four generals who rule Burma today are more clever than that.
On Saturday, they dissolved the sinister-sounding SLORC, the State Law
and Order Restoration Council, which has ruled since September 1988, and
replaced it with the State Peace and Development Council.
Burmese democracy activists-in-exile said generals Than Shwe, Maung Aye,
Khin Nyunt and Tin Oo had done nothing more than give the government a
more palatable name while furthering military rule.
They did, however, manage to achieve more than that.
In one sweep, they brought younger blood into the ruling body, broke up
empires built by some of their rivals and essentially retired the old
guard apparently without alienating them. The latter move could have
created a rift in the government large enough to bring it down.
The military leaders answer to no one and almost never explain their
decisions to outsiders, but the changes appear to have been carried out
in a way in which no one loses face or leaves embittered.
Ne Win, who ruled from 1962 to 1988, rarely carried out a major change so
Life probably will be harder for the country's democratic movement, led
by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. By keeping most military officers
relatively happy, it is less likely that the disgruntled among them will
break ranks and push for democratic reforms.
In moving former SLORC members into ceremonial posts on a 14-member
advisory board, the leadership broke up a logjam in the upper echelons of
the military that had denied younger officers upward mobility.
The new makeup of the regime also consolidates power held by the top
four, who are all in their 60s. Their new supporting cast is from the
next generation. Most are in their early 50s, with a few in their 40s.
With little known about the younger council members, it is unclear
whether there might be any reformers among them, but it isn't likely.
The generation gap gives the top four an added dimension of authority;
age and seniority are important in Burmese culture. The new council
members also are beholden for their new positions.
The former SLORC members were contemporaries of the top four. Having held
their positions for many years, several had built up virtual fiefdoms in
the ministries they controlled.
Stories of payoffs to SLORC members for business deals were common, and
there were corruption investigations involving the SLORC forestry
minister and commerce minister's underlings.
Some corruption in Burma's military is unavoidable, as a general's salary
is only about 3,500 kyats a month, or about $140 on the widely-used black
market exchange rate. But analysts said some SLORC members apparently had
amassed enough wealth to displease the top four generals.
In Ne Win's day, that would have been a one-way ticket to jail or some
jungle outpost fighting guerrillas. Such humiliations and hardships
turned some officers against him.
The four generals have appeared more adept at ruling than Ne Win by
maintaining military unity while at the same time overhauling their
government. They also were able to sign cease-fire agreements to end
But despite attempts to attract foreign investment, Burma's economy is
deteriorating. Inflation is about 40 percent and the kyat is plummeting.
The international community also is increasingly turning against the
regime because of its repressive rule and alleged complicity in the drug
The top four generals have learned a few lessons, but it remains to be
seen whether they are clever enough to deliver the ``peaceful and
prosperous nation'' that they have promised the people of Burma.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bangkok-based correspondent Robert Horn has been
covering Burma and Southeast Asia for The Associated Press since 1995.
© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press