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Reshuffle maintains unity among Bur

Reshuffle maintains unity among Burma's military rulers

The Asian Age (New Delhi) November 17, 1997


Bangkok, Nov. 16: When Gen. Ne Win ruled Burma with absolute authority
for more than two decades, he had a simple method for periodically
reorganising his government: The purge.

Whenever any other generals became too powerful or popular.  Gen. Ne Win
jailed or banished them to the borderlands.  He retained power, but he
also created many enemies who either plotted against him or joined the
democratic movement.

The top four generals who rule Burma today are smaller 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 innocuous sounding State Peace and Development

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.  But in fact, they
did more than that.  In one sweep they managed to bring in younger blood
to the ruling body, break up the empires built by some of their rivals
and essentially retire the old guard without alienating them and causing
a serious rift in the government that could lead to its downfall.  Gen.
Ne Win, who ruled from 1962 to 1988, rarely managed a of major change so

The new changes probably will make life harder for the country's
democratic movement, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The top
four generals reduced the likelihood that any disgruntled officers might
break ranks and push  for democratic reforms by keeping most members of
the military relatively happy,.

In pushing the former SLORC members into ceremonial posts on a 14-member
advisory board the leaders broke a logjam in the upper echelons of the
military that denied younger officers with ambitions the upward mobility
they covet. The new makeup of the regime also consolidates the power of
the top four. All in their 60s, their supporting cast in the SPDC are
now 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
not clear whether there might be any reformers among them. But with so
few military men educated abroad it isn't likely.

The generation gap gives the top four an added dimension of authority by
virtue of age and seniority, important traits in Burmese culture. The
new council members are, also beholden to their elders for their new
positions. 71at's something that was weakening among the former SLORC
members, who were contemporaries of the top four.  Having held their
positions, for many years, several had built up virtual freedoms in the
ministries they controlled.

Stories of payoffs to SLORL members for business deals were common, and
the regime had initiated corruption investigations into the SLORC'
forestry minister and the underlings of the commerce minister. Some
corruption in Burma's military is unavoidable, as a general's salary is
only about 3,500 kyats ($140) a month on the widely-used black market
exchange rate. (AP)