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NEWS- Burma's Military Rulers Bring

Burma's Military Rulers Bring in New Faces


               RANGOON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Burma's military leaders have
made a surprise move
               by creating a new ruling body with fresh faces, but
diplomats said it was too early to
               tell if the announcement would lead to major policy

               The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC),
which ruled the country
               with an iron hand since 1988, said late on Saturday that
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, who asked not to be named, 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 SLORC. 

               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. 

               Another diplomat said rampant corruption prompted the
SLORC to improve its
               image. ``Growing economic problems have forced SLORC to
look at themselves
               hard and say if there are any corrupt people, let's get
them out...it may start with
               something like the corruption crackdown which may lead to
something bigger and
               more positive.'' 

               Analysts said it was no secret in Rangoon that foreign
companies winning major
               government contracts had been asked to make hefty
donations to public welfare
               organisations like the Karuna Foundation which opened
remote rural health clinics
               run by the ministry of trade and commerce. 

               Rangoon residents said Burma's inflation this year ran at
about 40 percent although
               the government put the figure at only about 25 percent. 

               Burma in July became a member of the Association of South
East Asian Nations
               (ASEAN) which also groups Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, the
Philippines, Singapore,
               Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. 

               This has led to strains with the West and on Friday
Burma's membership of ASEAN
               resulted in a meeting of officials from the European
Union being postponed because
               of objections by Britain about Burma's participation.