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Asia-pacific

Junta carries out army reshuffle ahead of elections

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-28

Burma's ruling junta has carried out a major reshuffle in the military, an unnamed officer told AFP on Saturday, a day after reports suggested several senior junta members had quit their army posts to stand in forthcoming elections.

AFP - A major reshuffle by Myanmar's ruling junta marks the biggest shift within the military in decades, with changes to more than 70 senior army officers' positions, an officer said Saturday.

News emerged from the country Friday that some senior leaders, including army number three Thura Shwe Mann, had retired from their military posts to stand in the November 7 poll -- the first held in the country in twenty years.

"More than 70 senior military officers' posts were changed. We can say that it's the biggest change within the military in decades," an army officer, who declined to be named, told AFP.

"Our leaders have been planning for a long time to keep the military active with the new generation," he added.

Win Min, a Myanmar academic based in Thailand, echoed the officer's comments saying the changes mark "the biggest military reshuffle since 1988".

Initial news reports on Friday said the junta chief Than Shwe -- who has ruled the country with an iron-fist since 1992 -- and his number two Maung Aye had stepped down from the army, but this was denied by a government official.

An unnamed government officer close to the regime said on Saturday that the 77-year-old and his deputy were "likely to retire soon".

"The order hasn't come out yet in paper though they have planned it," he said. "It's likely to be after the election."

The reshuffle was not officially announced by the Myanmar media and state television was silent on the subject.

It comes as the country gears up for its first elections since democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) was denied office by the junta after winning a landslide victory in 1990.

Critics and the West have said the upcoming vote, which will guarantee a quarter of the legislature for the army, is a sham aimed at putting a civilian mask on the junta.

The new military retirees are expected to join the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to run in the polls.

Prime Minister Thein Sein and other ministers stepped down from the military in April to contest the vote as the USDP, which is unconstrained by the financial and campaigning barriers faced by other parties.

The USDP has merged with the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a pro-junta group with deep pockets and up to 27 million members, including civil servants compelled to join for the good of their careers.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi has been in detention for much of the last twenty years and is barred from standing in the election because she is a serving prisoner.

Her NLD party -- which would have been the greatest threat to the junta -- is boycotting the upcoming poll, saying the rules are unfair. As a result, it was forcibly disbanded by the ruling generals.

A new democratic party, the National Democracy Force (NDF), was formed by former NLD members who decided to participate in the vote although it does not have the support of Suu Kyi, who favoured a boycott.

So far around 40 political parties have been given permission to stand in the polls, but some have expressed concerns, including over intimidation of their members.

Election hopefuls face a formidable set of hurdles, including a tight timetable for registering candidates as well as restrictions on campaigning.

Myanmar has been the focus of international concern in recent weeks, with Western nations dismissing the planned election as not free and fair, while reports that the country had nuclear weapons ambitions also raised tensions.

 

Date created : 2010-08-27

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