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Breaking News, 12/22/97
- Subject: Breaking News, 12/22/97
- From: RANGOONP@xxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 03:33:00
Burma Reshuffles Aims Economic Improve
By Deborah Charles
BANGKOK, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Over the past five weeks Burma's military
government has changed its name, abolished the former ruling council, fired
some ministers and reshuffled others in an effort to clean up its image and
try to revitalise the ailing economy.
Rangoon-based diplomats and political analysts said on Monday that all the
changes taken since mid-November, some of which came as a complete surprise,
seemed to have one main goal -- to bolster the country's sagging economy.
``They needed to root out corruption and needed to kick-start the economy,''
said one diplomat.
Another diplomat agreed, saying the country's top generals -- who retained
their positions even after the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)
was abolished -- realised they had to make some changes.
``I think SLORC looked around at its neighbours and asked how they had sunk so
low and how they could get out of it,'' said the second diplomat. ``Now
they're trying to realise some of their economic potential. They're trying to
enhance their economic performance.''
Burma, one of the world's least developed nations, is struggling to control
spiralling inflation, estimated between 30 and 40 percent a year, a plunging
currency and rising budget deficits caused mainly by high military spending.
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which was formed on November
15 in the surprise move that abolished the SLORC and created a new government,
said on Saturday it had reshuffled several financial ministers.
Diplomats and political analysts said the changes, which included the finance
minister and the minister in charge of attracting foreign investment, were
meant to better allocate portfolios.
Brigadier General Win Tin was replaced at the helm of the finance ministry by
former energy minister Khin Maung Thein, who was credited with bringing
billions of dollars in foreign investment in oil projects into the country.
``The new finance minister is a proven performer and a technocrat,'' said the
second diplomat. ``He has a track record and he can get the job done.''
Analysts were split on the future of Brigadier General David Abel, the veteran
Minister for National Planning and Development who played a key role in wooing
foreign investment to Burma since the economy opened up after SLORC seized
power in 1988.
Some say his new post as Minister in the Office of the Chairman of the SPDC is
a move sideways to a ``nothing job'' and was requested by Abel. Others say it
could give him more influence because he would have the ear of SPDC chairman
and prime minister Senior General Than Shwe.
Analysts noted that none of the civilians in the 41-member cabinet had been
fired -- a sign that the government realised that some of the top technocrats
were among the most capable members of the cabinet.
One of the major changes when the SPDC was formed last month was the decision
to make the cabinet separate from the ruling council. Only Than Shwe is on
both the council and in the cabinet.
Under the SLORC arrangement several ministers and council members overlapped.
The change to SPDC also weeded out the almost all the officers with the senior
rank of lieutenant-general, thus easing problems caused by certain ministers
pulling rank on others.
Several of the ousted ministers, seen by diplomats as being among the more
corrupt cabinet members, were moved to an Advisory Group which was later
dissolved. Diplomats said that helped clean up the image of the government,
which was widely accused of corruption.
``Now it's clear. The SPDC is the supreme organ of the state but there is
opportunity there now for change through the cabinet,'' said the second
All diplomats and political analysts were certain of one thing -- there was
little expectation that the changes would herald an easing of relations
between the opposition led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the
``There's not any preconceived idea of a change to the political policy of the
government,'' said the first diplomat.
Burma Military Determines To Hold Power-Suu Kyi
LONDON, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in
an interview published on Monday the military government was as determined as
ever to hang on to power and rebuff pressure for democracy.
Britain's Guardian newspaper said the interview took place at Suu Kyi's home
in Rangoon just days after several of her colleagues in the National League
for Democracy (NLD) were sentenced to lengthy jail terms and the military
authorities accused the NLD of scaring away foreign investors.
``I don't know if they (the military government) are nervous, but they
certainly seem as if they are on the defensive,'' said Suu Kyi, the NLD
``Why else would they say it is the NLD's fault that foreign investment is not
The Guardian said six NLD leaders were summoned to a meeting with the
government last Thursday from which Suu Kyi was excluded.
``They said they were a military government and they were not going to bring
in democracy yet,'' Suu Kyi said.
``They said they don't like us giving out statements, and that action could be
taken against us. They want us gagged, bound and impotent.''
A senior NLD member said on Friday the opposition was ``scolded'' at
Thursday's meeting with the military government.
Tin Oo, NLD vice-chairman, told Reuters the meeting between several members of
the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and NLD executive council
members was intended to warn the NLD not to disrupt the peace of the nation.
``I consider it merely a scolding,'' Tin Oo said. ``They accused us of
disrupting peace by issuing announcements -- but why can't we say that our men
are being arrested and sentenced without defence?''
Last week, the SPDC said it had sentenced seven NLD members, including two who
were elected to parliament in an annulled 1990 election, to long prison terms.
This enraged the NLD, which said the sentencing was illegal because the
government did not allow the accused to engage lawyers. The NLD said they were
merely acting as members of a legitimate opposition party.
All the accused were arrested in connection with meetings planned by Nobel
Peace laureate Suu Kyi at NLD offices in townships outside Rangoon. The
government had prevented most of the meetings from taking place.
The SPDC had said that during the talks on Thursday, the NLD was told to stop
holding mass gatherings or risk losing meaningful dialogue.
It also wanted the NLD to refrain from making accusations and statements
against the government's security measures. ``If they keep on doing this, the
chances of dialogue and national reconciliation, which the NLD has been
talking about, would go further and further away,'' the SPDC said.
Tin Oo dismissed the remarks as the government's version of the meeting.
``They are writing it as they like,'' he said.
Tin Oo said NLD chairman Aung Shwe declined the government's invitation to
join the talks on Thursday because Suu Kyi was not included.
The NLD said meaningful dialogue between the two sides must include the
party's co-founder Suu Kyi who has been seeking a dialogue with the government
since she was freed from six years of house arrest in July 1995.
NLD officials last met government leaders in July, when Aung Shwe and two
central committee members met the powerful Secretary One, Lieutenant General
Khin Nyunt, to discuss political issues.
Ex-Students Still Fight For Democrcy
The Associated Press
DAWN GWIN CAMP, Thai-Burma Border (AP) - A decade ago they were among Burma's
best and brightest, young idealists on the road to becoming lawyers, engineers
and doctors in what they dreamed would be a democratic society.
In that year of revolt, 1988, student activists manned the front lines in the
attempt to bring down entrenched military rule. Some fell to bullets and
bayonets. Others were tortured and imprisoned. And some fled to remote
frontier areas to carry on the fight.
Today, the hard-core remnants are just hanging on. They live in disease-ridden
jungle camps, dependent on foreign donors and the fickle sympathies of Thai
officials. Although dedication to the cause remains strong, their road seems
headed for a dead end.
``Some revolutions are long-term, but we believe that all dictators must fall.
So we will never give up our objectives or beliefs,'' said Sai Myint Thu, a
one-time chemical engineering student and now a leader in the All Burma
Students Democratic Front.
Many have in fact given up. Originally 10,000-strong, the Democratic Front
fighting force has dwindled to 1,700. And some among these hope for asylum in
The international focus isn't on these forlorn guerrillas but rather on Aung
San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner locked in
an indecisive struggle with Burma's military rulers in the capital, Rangoon.
Her portrait hangs inside many of the guerrillas' huts.
Camp life is hard, sometimes lethal. The rebel movement's headquarters, once
inside Burma, has been forced to relocate seven times in the past three years
under attack from Burmese troops. Several hundred former students have been
Now, the headquarters is just inside Thai territory in the rugged northwestern
province of Mae Hong Son.
The Dawn Gwin camp, housing 160 rebels, is a collection of thatch and bamboo
huts on a jungled hillside. Almost inaccessible by vehicle during the rainy
season, the area is rife with malaria and other diseases. Food and medicine,
provided by Western humanitarian groups, are basic. Loneliness and fatalism
No longer devil-may-care students, most of the fighters are now men in their
late 20s or early 30s who haven't been able marry. Only 10 percent of Dawn
Gwin's residents are women, some trying to raise a new generation in the
``I won't return to see my homeland and my family until there is democracy in
Burma. I may die in action,'' Thant Zin Oo said sadly.
Like most of the guerrillas, he hasn't had contact with his family since 1988.
Their blueprint for a future Burma is not be detailed and the jargon of
leftist causes is sometimes used. But the aims are clear: an end to 35 years
of military rule, free elections, reconciliation between ethnic Burmans and
the country's many ethnic minorities.
The Democratic Front operates out of nine camps, seven along the Thai border
and one each on the Chinese and Indian frontiers.
They mingle with more than 150,000 other refugees, mainly from ethnic minority
groups that once battled Burma's government seeking autonomy.
The Burmese army has forged cease-fires with most of the groups, leaving the
Karen National Union as the only major military opposition - and one the ex-
students still depend on for weapons and protection.
Thailand plays a chameleon-like role. Officially it maintains good relations
with Burma's government, and the rebels are sometimes harassed, jailed or
forced to pay bribes. Yet, the Thai government allows rebel camps and offices
on its territory, and some officials are openly supportive.
The rebellion has been hampered from the beginning by its division into a
welter of resistance movements. Although they nominally operate under the
umbrella of a self-styled government-in-exile, the National Coalition
Government of the Union of Burma, the groups have never forged a unified
``Some governments and NGOs would prefer to deal with and support one united
group. They are confused,'' said Sai Myint Thu, the Democratic Front leader,
sitting on a bamboo bench outside his makeshift hut.
Night falls and parents teach their children Burmese reading by candlelight.
The clatter of an old typewriter is replaced by the sounds of the enveloping
forest, and music.
``I am a rock, I am an island,'' someone sings the Simon and Garfunkel song,
along with other protest anthems of the 1960s. It lends an aura of the past to
a place where the words ``comrades'' and ``revolution'' are often heard.
The onetime students, some of whom count battered guitars among their only
possessions, have composed four cassettes worth of songs about democracy,
patriotism and suffering.
``Like a little bird deprived of a license to fly,'' one goes. ``Though full-
fledged, our lives are little appreciated. We're just young outcasts.''