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NEWS - Critics of Burma Junta Unimp

Critics of Burma Junta Unimpressed by Name Change

               By Rajan Moses 

               BANGKOK, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Burmese exiles and student
groups said on Monday
               the ruling military junta's surprise move to alter its
name did not indicate any
               change in policy. 

               But they expressed hope that the change could lead the
military government to
               break from its past and hold talks with the opposition,
led by democracy leader
               Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic minorities to restore
democracy in the country. 

               Burma's military leaders on Saturday dissolved the ruling
State Law and Order
               Restoration Council (SLORC), which had governed the
country with an iron fist
               since 1988, and created a new ruling body, the State
Peace and Development
               Council (SPDC), with some fresh faces. 

               The 19-member SPDC's core consisted of four former top
SLORC leaders, including
               SLORC chairman Than Shwe and Secretary One Lieutenant
General Khin Nyunt,
               the powerful intelligence chief. 

               ``The new name changes nothing. The top brass remain in
power and we don't
               believe we'll see any positive policy change emerge from
this new body. It's merely
               the wolf attempting to hide in sheep's clothing,'' said
the Thailand-based All Burma
               Students Democratic Front (ABSDF). 

               ``It is disturbing the military continues to look after
itself rather than tackle the
               severe economic problems facing the country and work
towards solving the ongoing
               political crisis,'' it added in a statement. It urged
talks between the SPDC, Suu Kyi's
               National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic minorities
and rebels in Burma. 

               The self-styled Burmese government-in-exile based in
Washington, the National
               Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), said
SLORC's abolishment
               was long overdue. 

               ``The change, which came after several months of
investigation into corrupt
               practices and scandalous deals of the SLORC generals,
only confirms what we
               knew all along -- that the generals are divided and only
their survival instinct is
               holding them together,'' the NCGUB said. 

               ``Now that a change has taken place, the SPDC has a good
opportunity to rectify
               the socio-political and economic conditions in the
country,'' it added. 

               The Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, a network of
Southeast Asian Burma
               activists, said in a statement that the SPDC could take a
first step to genuine
               peace in Burma by holding a dialogue with various groups
seeking greater
               democracy in Burma. 

               ``Such talks should lead towards the stabilisation of the
crisis and a transition to
               civilian rule,'' it said. 

               Diplomats said on Sunday that most SPDC members were new
faces whose
               backgrounds were unknown and their stances on dialogue
with Suu Kyi's opposition
               forces could not be ascertained. 

               Suu Kyi's NLD and the SLORC were at loggerheads over the
military's alleged
               human rights abuses and its curbing of the political
activities of the opposition.
               SLORC has also came under political and economic pressure
from Western
               countries for limiting the political movements of Suu
Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate for
               her struggle against SLORC. 

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

               The state-run media said the changes 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 the
desire of military rulers
               to introduce young blood into the ruling regime. He said
all those placed on the
               SPDC's advisory board -- away from real power -- were
over 60. 

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

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