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Burma Shakeup Aims To Fix Image, No
- Subject: Burma Shakeup Aims To Fix Image, No
- From: RANGOONP@xxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 21 Nov 1997 14:51:00
By Deborah Charles
BANGKOK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The recent shake-up of Burma's military
government weeded out corrupt ministers and promoted some army officers but
was unlikely to yield major policy changes soon, analysts and diplomats said
Burma's surprise creation of a new ruling body, the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), replacing the State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC), was more of an effort to change the government's image than
to revamp its policies.
``The name change is better and some people here are quite hopeful,'' one
Rangoon-based diplomat said. ``There are a lot of reasons for the changes.
But we haven't seen anything on new policies at all.''
SLORC, abolished when the changes took effect on Saturday, had ruled the
country with an iron hand since it seized power in 1988. But the new SPDC is
headed by the same four leaders of the SLORC and is led by Senior General
Than Shwe, who also serves as prime minister and defence minister.
The rest of the 19-member SPDC is made up of new military officials, mostly
younger regional commanders. This move was seen as an effort to appease
younger officers who had been thought to be causing a split in the SLORC,
Unlike the former government, in which many SLORC officials were also in the
cabinet, Than Shwe is the only SPDC member to hold a cabinet portfolio.
Most diplomats agreed the main thrust of the changes was to improve the image
of a government accused of rampant corruption as the country suffered a
severe economic slump.
But although several new ministers are seen as capable, the fact few
technocrats were given portfolios showed the generals' main motive was not to
change economic policy.
``If they'd wanted a solution to the economy they would have promoted more
technocrats,'' the first diplomat said.
Four of the country's more prominent ministers dealing with financial issues
were removed from the ruling council and put on a newly-created 14-member
They include ex-SLORC member Lieutenant General Kyaw Ba, the former tourism
minister. He was often used as a spokesman for the SLORC as he worked to make
tourism one of the biggest money-making sectors for the country.
The other three were former trade and commerce minister Lieutenant-General
Tun Kyi, former forestry minister Lieutenant-General Chit Swe and the
previous agriculture minister Lieutenant-General Myint Aung.
``All those ministries had a lot of possibility for kick-backs and payoffs,''
said another Rangoon-based diplomat. ``Even within the government here they
were considered corrupt.''
Diplomats and analysts said the role of the Advisory Council -- made up of
several former SLORC members, most of whom were over the age of 60 -- was not
``Nobody's sure what the Advisory Council will do but it includes 14 people
who were not wanted in the government,'' the second diplomat said.
``It will be interesting to watch not only the Advisory Council but what
happens to these people. There's talk here that they are under house arrest,
and talk they are in total shock and don't know which way to turn.''
The main question after the shake-up was whether or not the hardliners within
the old SLORC -- said to be at loggerheads with Than Shwe and powerful
military intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt -- had gained
``It's still a bit too early to say who's who and who's in which camp,'' the
second diplomat said.
But the newly created post of Secretary Three was given to Lieutenant General
Win Myint, who was seen as loyal to General Maung Aye, the hardline
vice-chairman of the SPDC.
The new government had not given any hint as to any changes of policy, and
the SLORC's old objective and policy statements were being run as usual in
Diplomats said a key test for the government would be next week when the
National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi,
holds a party gathering.
``Under this new lot it is more likely that it will be held,'' the first
diplomat said, noting that could help relations on both sides. The SLORC has
cracked down on Suu Kyi's activities recently, leading to fresh condemnation