Fri 27 Jun 2008
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
The June 20 shakeup in the Burmese armed forces has raised the question of whether the top military leaders are at loggerheads.
Though not confirmed officially, as many as 150 military officers were reportedly reassigned in last week’s reshuffle. In addition, four lieutenant-generals who headed the bureaus of special operations (BSOs) were given retirement, though initial reports suggest that some BSO commanders are resisting the order to retire.
Speculation about a shake-up within the Tatmadaw (armed forces) has been rife for months.
Larry Jagan, a British journalist who specializes in Burma, wrote in The Asian Times on March 27 that the regular army commanders’ meeting could not be held for nine months due to rising tension between Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the number two general, vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.
â€œThan Shwe wants to avoid the meeting because he knows-based on the evidence of his investigations-Maung Aye will demand the resignations of at least four BSO-affiliated officers, including Maung Bo and Ye Myint,â€ he wrote.
Maung Bo and Ye Myint are believed to have been removed in the recent reshuffle. They were under investigation on corruption charges.
Splits within the armed forces are nothing new.
Before the downfall of former military intelligence chief Gen Khin Nyunt in 2004, observers frequently suggested that Khin Nyunt was a moderate who had built a state within a state.
The trio of Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt had been locked in a bitter power struggle for years until, finally, the feared intelligence chief was purged.
The army faction of Than Shwe and Maung Aye seemed to be united against Khin Nyunt who was charged with insubordination and corruption. He is now serving a 44-year suspended sentence and is under house arrest together with his family.
Now that Khin Nyunt is out of the picture, observers say the love-hate relationship between Than Shwe and Maung Aye is back on again.
At the recent reshuffle, observers noted that both Maung Aye’s and Than Shwe’s men were purged-perhaps a sign that Than Shwe has given into Maung Aye to some degree.
However, there is little doubt that Than Shwe still commands the armed forces and has appointed all his trusted â€œyoung gunsâ€ in the defense ministry, such as 60-year-old Thura Shwe Mann and Myint Swe.
Businessmen who know Maung Aye say the army chief has no further political ambitions.
â€œIntra-junta rivalry is believed to be breaking down on institutional lines as much as on personalities, pitting those who graduated from the Officers Training School (OTS), like Than Shwe, against those who attended the Defense Services Academy (DSA), where Maung Aye is an alumnus,â€ Larry Jagan wrote.
Win Min, an exiled Burmese observer who studies military affairs, agreed that the reshuffle may be the result of a power struggle between Than Shwe and Maung Aye.
However, other observers say the recent reshuffle was a move to inject fresh blood in the army hierarchy.
Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burma political watcher at the Sino-Burmese border, doesn’t believe there is any serious disunity among Burma’s top generals.
â€œThe generals are united on a common ground to prolong the military rule,â€ he told The Irrawaddy.
The Tatmadaw’s famous jingle is: â€œOne blood, one voice, one command.â€
Factionalism and a â€œdog-eat-dogâ€ atmosphere are not feasible within the armed forces, some say.
As Kyaw Yin Hlaing, a Burmese scholar in Hong Kong, wrote in the February edition of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies: â€œIf the governments [of Burma] were controlled by a powerful hegemonic figure, then these struggles would end in an orderly manner.â€