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NEWS - Burmese Reshuffle Maintains

Burmese Reshuffle Maintains Unity among Military Rulers


               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

               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 ethnic

               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