Dialogue: Only a Sideshow in the SPDC Power Struggle
By Moe Thee Zun Friday, April 9, 2004

A statement issued by the United Nations suggests the recent visit to Burma by its special envoy, Razali Ismail, has had little impact on re-starting talks between the military leadership and the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Although the dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) started nearly six months ago, no official word has been released on the results to date. It would appear that the secrecy surrounding the talks is benefiting only Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, the scheming military intelligence chief. By "playing the Aung San Suu Kyi card", Khin Nyunt is hoping to give the international community the impression that the SPDC is sincere in seeking a resolution to the "problem" of a transition to democracy. The real problem, of course, is that the generals have no intention of giving up power to make way for a democratically elected government. By continuing with the talks, however, Khin Nyunt is also attempting to build his own separate power base outside the Burmese Army in preparation for the power struggle that will ensue when SPDC Chairman Gen Than Shwe retires from military service, or in the event of former dictator Ne Win’s demise. Khin Nyunt’s competitor in the coming succession struggle, Gen Maung Aye, has played no role in the current dialogue. Analysts have pointed out that Gen Maung Aye has no interest in reaching a negotiated settlement with Suu Kyi or her National League for Democracy (NLD). He believes that any compromise with the democratic forces could result in a major resurgence of the democratic movement that could not be suppressed by force. There is a genuine fear that soldiers would not obey orders to slaughter thousands of citizens, as they did in 1988. In addition, the SPDC remembers that in the 1990 elections, the overwhelming majority of its soldiers voted for the NLD, not the National Unity Party, the party supported by the generals. Khin Nyunt has also outmaneuvered Maung Aye by limiting access to Suu Kyi, depriving him of information about cease-fire negotiations, and strengthening the capabilities of his Military Intelligence Services (MIS) to monitor and report on the criminal activities of the field commanders. The result is that the MIS has blackmailed several of the field commanders into accepting the rise of Khin Nyunt. This has resulted in the "early retirement" of senior generals in lieu of having criminal charges placed against them. Old Burma watchers recall that in the early 1980’s, Ne Win imprisoned Bo Ni and "One-and-a-Half Tin Oo" for corruption when the former dictator began to feel threatened by their growing popularity. Khin Nyunt is following the methods of his mentor, Ne Win, and seeks to replace him as the single source of authority in Burma. Khin Nyunt has played a very sophisticated political chess game. Dialogue has only a small place in the struggle for power, and neither Khin Nyunt nor Maung Aye is interested in moving towards democracy. Khin Nyunt has used dialogue only as means of strengthening his position for the coming power struggle. He has successfully convinced many both inside and outside Burma that he is a reformer. He has skillfully planted suspicions and rumors about the character and incompetence of other generals, and has kept himself closely attached to Ne Win. Moreover, he has manipulated the Sangha, or Buddhist clergy, to create the perception that he is a deeply religious and observant Buddhist. The stage is now set for the next move—to checkmate his opponents. That move will occur when Ne Win dies. The danger, of course, is that people who ride tigers cannot afford to miscalculate the strength, cunning, and agility of the beast. Moe Thee Zun is a former student leader living in exile.

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