Myanmar retires elderly junta lieutenant generals

June 23rd, 2008 - 8:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Yangon, June 23 (DPA) Amid signs that Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Than Shwe has tightened his grip over the military, at least five lieutenant generals have been retired from the regime for “health reasons”, military sources revealed Monday. Former senior members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) - as the Myanmar junta styles itself - lieutenant generals Aung Htwe, Khin Maung Than, Kyaw Win, Maung Bo and Ye Myint were retired Saturday for “health reasons”, said a source close to military.

The state-run Myanmar media rarely publishes news on reshuffles or dismissals within the military establishment, which has ruled the country since 1962.

All of the retired lieutenant generals, in their late 60s and 70s, were members of the Bureau of Special Operations. They were replaced by five younger military commanders.

The dismissals follow the arrest on May 29 of Aung Zaw Ye Myint, 29, the son of Lieutenant General Ye Myint, the chief of the Bureau of Special Operations, one of the retirees.

Aung Zaw Ye Myint was reportedly arrested for drug trafficking.

“Than Shwe may have just used the arrest to hasten the retirements,” said Win Min, a lecturer on Myanmar affairs in Chiang Mai University in neighbouring Thailand.

The retirements follow a small cabinet reshuffle Friday, that saw three ministers switch posts.

On Friday, Social Welfare Minister Major General Maung Maung Shwe, who has been busy with cyclone relief efforts since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar’s central coast May 2-3, lost his secondary post and more lucrative post as minister of Immigration and Resettlement, according to state radio reports.

Although the move can be seen as allowing Maung Maung Shwe to spend more time on cyclone relief, political watchers saw it as a slight for General Maung Aye, the army commander-in-chief and Number 2 man in the junta.

Than Shwe and Maung Aye have long been rivals for power within the military.

The new immigration minister is Major General Saw Lwin, the former head of the Industry 2 Ministry which is now led by Lieutenant-General Soe Thein, the former Navy commander-in-chief.

Soe Thein is known to be close to Than Shwe’s favoured successor, Lieutenant General Shwe Mann.

“Than Shwe strengthened his hand in Friday’s reshuffle and so one can expect more of the same from his replacements of the retired lieutenant generals,” said Win Min.

Politics is primarily a military affair in Myanmar. The junta staged a general election in 1990 that handed a landslide victory to the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the military ignored the election outcome, saying a new constitution was needed before civilian rule could take place, and has kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

The junta has promised a general election in 2010, now that it has already pushed through a new constitution that essentially allows it full control over any future elected government.

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