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No major Myanmar policy changes see

The Straits Times (22 November 1997)
No major Myanmar policy changes seen 

BANGKOK -- The recent shake-up of Myanmar's military government may have
weeded out corrupt ministers and promoted some army officers but it was
unlikely to yield major policy changes soon, analysts and diplomats said.

Myanmar's surprising creation of a new ruling body, the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) which replaced 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," a
Rangoon-based diplomat said on Thursday. 

"There are a lot of reasons for the changes. But we have not seen
anything on new policies at all." 

Slorc, abolished when the changes took effect last 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 Slorc and led by
Senior General Than Shwe, who also serves as Prime Minister and Defence

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, analysts said. 

Unlike the former government, in which many Slorc officials were also in
the Cabinet, Mr Than Shwe is the only SPDC member to hold a Cabinet

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. 

Although several new ministers are seen as capable, the fact that 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. 

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 certain. 

"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 is talk here that they are under house
arrest, and talk they are in total shock and do not know which way to

The new government had hinted of changes of policy, and official media
reflected the status quo. 

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. -- Reuters.