(9 November 2004)
of the end
Khin Nyunt served three
dictators for twenty years as their intelligence chief - General Ne Win, General Saw Maung, and until recently,
Senior-General Than Shwe. Khin Nyunt became head of
intelligence at a time when the MI was at its lowest point. Ne
Win, had fired his Intelligence Chief Tin Oo and North
Korean agents taking advantage of the security breakdown planted a bomb at the
Martyrs' Mausoleum. It killed several visiting South Korean cabinet ministers
and President Chun Doo Hwan himself narrowly escaped
death. In a major reorganization, the National Intelligence Bureau was created
to coordinate all intelligence agencies. This gave Khin Nyunt enormous powers.
the 1988 democracy uprising was crushed, Khin Nyunt became a key figure in the
SLORC - State Law and Order Restoration Council. When the Communist Party of Burma collapsed and its ethnic nationality troops mutinied in 1989,
Khin Nyunt moved swiftly. He negotiated deals whereby the rebels could retain
their arms, cease fighting the Burma Army, and engage in trade (drugs, etc.) in exchange for not
joining the democracy movement. To this day, the cease-fire armies are more comfortable
dealing with the MI than with the regular army. When the National Convention to
legitimize military rule was convened in 1993, it was said that Khin Nyunt was
interested in becoming president to oversee a transition. It is interesting
that military intelligence agents arrested recently for corruption by the
regular army claimed that they were under orders to raise funds for Khin Nyunt's presidential campaign. Khin Nyunt who was Ne Win's protégé, found himself coming increasingly under
pressure in recent years. He began making overtures to the business community
and the intelligentsia as an open-minded general. The arrest in 2002 of Ne Win's son-in-law and three grandsons on treason charges,
spelt the beginning of the end for him. Khin Nyunt is by no means a democrat.
But the SPDC overture to ASSK in October 2000 and the cooperation with the
United Nations Special Envoy for Burma, Malaysia's Ambassador Razali, led many to believe that Khin Nyunt
was a moderate. When In Aug 2003, Khin Nyunt was appointed Prime Minister, some hoped that for his own survival, he would
make political concessions at the same time as try to reduce international
pressure against the regime. Khin Nyunt's cooperation
with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawattra's
Bangkok Process, and the growing international acceptance of Khin Nyunt and the
regime's road map, made the SPDC even more paranoid and uneasy about Khin Nyunt's ambitions. The Bangkok Process was scuttled when the SPDC pushed ahead with the
National Convention in May 2004.
came up through the ranks. Although not highly educated, he is considered to be
an expert in psychological warfare - well-versed in the art of deception to
confuse and unnerve the enemy. He replaced General Saw Maung as the Chair of
SLORC in 1992. At first he was seen as the neutral umpire keeping the balance
between the powerful intelligence service headed by Khin Nyunt and the regular
army. Than Shwe began to exert himself in 1993 when he became Prime Minister,
made himself a Senior-General (a rank he created), and convened the National
Convention. He also began appointing officers loyal to him to key positions.
Then in 1997, he changed the SLORC to the SPDC - State Peace and Development
Council. Than Shwe also became more vocal about past mistakes and began to
portray himself as the man to clean up the mess left by his predecessors,
especially Ne Win. In 2000, Than
Shwe launched an all out campaign to 'annihilate' the National League for
Democracy and ASSK. This culminated with her second house arrest in Sep
2000. He is also believed to have used Lieut-General Soe Win and the USDA - Union Solidarity Development
Association, to attack ASSK and her followers at Depayin
in May 2003. In recent years it was reported that Than Shwe was becoming
increasingly delusional, autocratic, and isolated.
is known about Vice-Senior-General Maung Aye, the Commander-in-Chief of
the Armed Forces and second only to Than Shwe. He is a graduate of the Defence
Services Academy (DSA) and is said to be more of a 'professional' soldier
than his less educated brother officers who came up through the ranks and were
trained at the Officers Training
(OTS). Both Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt are OTS graduates. Maung Aye, however,
does not seem to have been able in the past to exert much influence over
events. He is often portrayed as being frustrated and depressed. He is reputed
to dislike the cease-fire agreements negotiated by Khin Nyunt, the SPDC's dependence on China, and Thailand's 'interference' in Burma's internal affairs. But he was said to have been shocked by
the Depayin incident where Than Shwe went outside the
military chain of command to achieve his goals. Maung Aye is also reported to have a better
rapport with ASSK than either Than Shwe or Khin Nyunt. Some analysts speculate
that if Maung Aye is in charge, he could bring about real reforms.
the removal of Khin Nyunt looked like a power struggle just between the top
three - Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt. However, the scope and depth of
the unfolding struggle seems to indicate a much deeper and wider rift in the
Burmese military, pitting the regular army against the intelligence services.
It appears to be a generational shift that could maybe lead to real changes.
is interesting to note that General Thura Shwe Mann
is leading the campaign against Khin Nyunt and not Than Shwe or Maung Aye. Shwe
Mann is a DSA graduate (DSA-11). Prime Minister Lieut-General
Soe Win (DSA-12), SPDC Sectretary-1 Lieut-General Thein Sein (DSA-9), and the Rangoon Commander, Major-General Myint Swe (DSA-15), are all DSA graduates. Eight of the 12
current Regional Commanders are also DSA graduates. The Northern Military
Region Commander, Major-General Maung Maung Swe is an
OTS graduate (OTS-47) but he is Maung Aye's brother-in-law.
the current purge is a DSA take-over, this means that the attempt by Khin Nyunt
(OTS-25) and Than Shwe (OTS-9) to prevent such a take-over by creating four Bureau
of Special Operations commanded by OTS graduates, failed (The BSOs were to override the Regional Commanders and prevent
them from organizing a coup). In the event that this is a generational DSA take-over,
both Than Shwe and Maung Aye could also be replaced in the near future although
Maung Aye (DSA-1), a DSA graduate, may be retained as a figure head and to
is also interesting that Senior-General Than Shwe made
an unprecedented official trip to India less than a week after Khin Nyunt's
dismissal. Normal procedure in such situations for the man in charge is to stay
close to base in case of a counter strike. His trip could indicate that he is
not the man in charge. It could also indicate that the new regime wanted him to
visit India to send a strong message. Than Shwe himself
may not have been too willing to leave for fear of being replaced while abroad.
It was very unusual that the wife of Lieut-General Thein Sein and Major-General Myint Swe were included in the official delegation, perhaps
as a guarantee or a token of good will.
China like Thailand, had been
banking on Khin Nyunt. Than Shwe's
visit to India definitely signaled to China that the SPDC is no longer going
to be a docile client state.
Than Shwe also sent a message to the international community
which emphasized that the SPDC is committed to democracy. Significantly,
Than Shwe used the word, 'national reconciliation'. Normally, he prefers
'national reconsolidation'. But the new SPDC may have realized the danger of
antagonizing China. To balance the tilt towards India, Prime Minister Soe Win was dispatched
to China to convey the message that Burma's problems will be solved by the Burmese themselves.
remains to be seen whether the new SPDC will be able to bring about changes and
at the same time negotiate the dangerous international waters it is entering.
Such a thorough purge of experienced intelligence/ foreign
service personnel does not bode well. However, the upcoming ASEAN Summit in Laos may provide some more clues as to the intention and
capability of the new SPDC.
addition to an internal power struggle and a fight for scarce resources, the
new SPDC may also have been alarmed by Khin Nyunt's
wooing of the ethnic nationalities whose goal is a federal union. The
international community's recognition of the ethnic nationalities aspirations
may also have alarmed conservative elements.
The Burma Army's concept of national unity is "One blood, one
voice, one command". Federalism is to them equivalent to the
'disintegration of the nation'. Rumours are already
making the rounds that the regular army will be dis-arming
the cease-fire groups. Troop movements to the cease-fire areas are fueling the
fears. While such a move does not make sense militarily, it could gain the new
SPDC some much needed popular support from Burmese dissidents in exile who
would prefer to see the problem between the SPDC and ASSK resolved first,
rather than have a much more complicated 'Tripartite Dialogue' as called for by
the United Nations. Should this be a significant factor, the SPDC may move
sooner towards a reconciliation with ASSK.
have in the past feared that without a strong military, the Union
of Burma could break up along ethnic lines like the former Yugoslavia. However, it is more likely that if the new SPDC is not up
to the task, this could be the beginning of the breakup of the Union
of Burma, but not
along ethnic lines:
of the Burma Army is under strain. Clashes have occurred between the
regular army and intelligence/security units over resource allocation, and
field commanders have also been reported to be ignoring orders from their
of the intelligence service could effect the security of the nation;
A return to
hostilities is a possibility if the regular army decides to restrict the
privileges enjoyed by the ethnic armies under arrangements made with Khin Nyunt
and the intelligence services. The SPDC is at the moment trying to reassure the
ethnic cease-fire armies that nothing will change. Should hostilities resume, China, India, Thailand and Bangladesh will be tempted to protect their interests by providing
certain ethnic nationality armies with covert logistical support;
structure of the Burma Army has also been weakened by the rapid expansion of the
military from 200,000 men in 1988 to 500,000 men today, in a stagnant economy.
Local and Regional commanders have had to make their own arrangements to feed
their troops. This has led to widespread land confiscation, forced labour, and corruption. As neighbouring
countries step up cross-border economic projects and make arrangements with
local commanders to facilitate their business, this trend will accelerate;
economic pie in Burma is shrinking, the struggle to secure resources will
intensify. Regional Burma Army commanders will become more autonomous as they cut
deals locally with cease-fire armies, businesses and drug lords, in order to
current SPDC power struggle is seen by many as a 'reformers' versus
'hardliners' struggle, with the hardliners gaining the upper hand. This is not
the case. Both factions are hardliners.
current reshuffle is more an internal power struggle between the regular army
and the intelligence services over resource allocation, rather than a reformer
- hardliner struggle. The regular army tends to be more isolationist
since it has had little exposure to the outside world and believes it can solve
Burma's problems without engaging the international community.
The intelligence services are more adept at using international diplomatic
norms to achieve the SPDC's goals. Both factions
believe in the supremacy of the military and the need to strengthen the
military's grip on power.
is a slight possibility that the power struggle is bringing about a
generational change in the army with DSA graduates dominating policy. If this
is the case, both Than Shwe and Maung Aye could also be replaced in the near
future. In such an event, it will not mean an immediate transition to democracy
but a reconciliation with ASSK could become a reality.
A new SPDC with some form of dialogue with ASSK could give the new SPDC enough
legitimacy to take on the ASEAN chair in 2006.
the new SPDC is playing a dangerous game with China and India. It could also be embarking on a dangerous collision course
with the ethnic nationalities. If it over estimates its capabilities or
underestimates the dangers given its limited world view, Burma could be entering into a period of increasing instability.
outlook for the survival of the Union of Burma as an independent nation is also becoming more uncertain.
The SPDC's focus on consolidating power at the
expense of the economy and the welfare of people can have very serious
consequences, especially if the army's command structure is further weakened
because of economic forces.
outlook for the region is also bleak. A failed state at the intersection on India, China and ASEAN does not bode well. The stability of the region
may be threatened in the near future.
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