Changes Within Burmese Military Take Shape
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Changes Within Burmese Military Take Shape

By WAI MOE Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Current Tatmadaw commanders are juniors of the former top generals who now occupy all of the major government leadership positions. (Photo: AP)

Just days before a new quasi-civilian regime assumed power in Naypyidaw on March 30, Lt-Gen Thura Myint Aung was sacked from Burma's military for refusing to accept a new civilian post as Minister of Defense. It was a surprising move that abruptly sidelined a rising star: Myint Aung was popular among the army's rank-and-file, and had even been tipped to become the commander-in-chief of the armed forces under the new government.

But Myint Aung's sudden removal was just the first in a series of changes at the senior levels of the Tatmadaw, or Burmese military, leadership since junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, transferred their respective commander-in-chief posts to Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Lt-Gen Soe Win.

In mid-May, the Tatmadaw held its first triannual meeting under the new administration of President Thein Sein. According to leaked information from the military, there was serious disagreement among commanders concerning a number of issues, including ongoing armed conflicts in ethnic areas and the economic struggles of ordinary soldiers and their families.

About two weeks after this meeting, the War Office began a reshuffle of regional commanders affecting six Regional Military Commands (RMCs). These included Rangoon commander Brig-Gen Tun Than, who was moved to the Southern RMC in Taungoo; Brig-Gen Soe Htut, who  was moved from Taungoo to the Eastern Regional Military Command in Taunggyi; and Brig-Gen San Oo, who was shifted from Taunggyi to Rangoon.

However, three days after the regional commander reshuffle, Tun Than was forced to retire from the military. Although no official reason was given for his resignation, the Tatmadaw's military intelligence arm, the Military Affairs Security (MAS), spread rumors among political sources and businessmen that Tun Than had been removed for corruption.

About two weeks later, Maj-Gen Tin Ngwe, the chief of the Bureau of Special Operations-5 (BSO-5), which oversees the Rangoon RMC, was also forced to retire. In this case, too, the MAS  hinted that he was sacked for corruption. He was the highest-ranking military official to be fired since Myint Aung was forced out in March.

The resignations of Tin Ngwe and Tun Than came as a surprise, as both were expected to receive promotions in late August. But all indications suggest that theirs won't be the last heads to roll, as the current upheaval at the highest levels of the Tatmadaw continues.

Last week, more information leaked by military sources suggested that at least five generals—Maj-Gen Myint Soe, chief of BSO-1; Maj-Gen Kyaw Phyo, the inspector and auditor general; Maj-Gen Khin Zaw Oo, the adjutant general and chair of the military-run Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd; Brig-Gen Thein Tun Oo, commander of the Triangle RMC; and Brig-Gen Khin Maung Htay, commander of the Coastal RMC—are all under investigation.

Once again, the MAS has linked all five to corruption. However, military observers and businessmen in Rangoon are not buying this, and say they believe that it is just the latest sign of internal conflict in the Tatmadaw.

The Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News, which often covers Burmese military affairs, reported on July 27 that Myint Soe and other officers at the brigadier-general and colonel level had complained about worsening poverty among soldiers and their families.

“The Tatmadaw formed a welfare committee to assist troops and their family members after Gen Min Aung Hlaing took over as commander in chief, but unfortunately it hasn't been very successful,” said Bo Htet Min, a former battalion commander living in exile.

“Sadly, high-ranking military officials are getting richer, while ordinary soldiers are struggling to get by,” he added, suggesting that this has become an increasingly divisive issue in the Burmese military.

Even Min Aung Hlaing has begun to publicly acknowledge the need to address economic deprivation among rank-and-file soldiers. Speaking at conference held by Burma's War Veterans Organization on July 13, he said that the current government would strive to surpass the previous regime's record on poverty alleviation.

“In the time of the Tatmadaw government, concerted efforts were made for reducing the poverty rate from 32 percent to 26 percent by laying down five rural development tasks. The [current] government is striving to reach 16 percent poverty rate in 2014-15,” he said, according to the state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar.

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Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Chin Lay Wrote:

"The statues from above picture depict Ne Win, Saw Maung and Than Shwe. It will keep haunting us." WHAT A STUPID INSULT!
Such ignorance. A kingdom is the very symbol of civilisation. Burmese culture, heritage and identity had prospered under the emperors.
Primitive tribes never achieved the status of kingdom and thus remained backward.

Chin Lay should be ashamed of himself.

Chin Lay Wrote:
The statues from above picture depict Ne Win, Saw Maung and Than Shwe. It will keep haunting us.

Oo Maung gyi Wrote:
Until and unless Tatmadaw becomes professional soldiers, there will be benefit of interest. So why not create and separate politics and soldiers. Let soldiers stays at barrack, not in civil administration. Tatmadaw should engage security affairs of state alone. Once Tatmadaw involves in politics it will automatically take shape corruption and undesirable conflicts within.

tocharian Wrote:
It's all patronage in Burma.

If I may use my twisted logic, this rampant corruption within the army ranks might actually be good for Burma. This level of economic inequity within the Army itself might lead to some sort of mutiny from the foot soldiers and the lower ranks.

In my opinion, Burma needs to do 2 things for the good of its people:
1. Make the Army less powerful (a split in the Army would be good)
2. Get rid of the Chinese exploitation and crony capitalism (which is the root cause of coercion and corruption).
Of course, these two factors are very closely related!

Mualcin Wrote:
Pack of wolves kill animal and the wolves are biting each other to get more meat. These generals are no more than wolves.

shwe moe Wrote:
It is a rendition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 all over again - the Old Boar is dead, long live the Old Boar; the Tatmadaw will always be watching you with younger and stronger boars in wait; so don’t hold your breath

Maung Maung Wrote:
It's not the power struggle between the senior generals and recently promoted junior generals in Burma. It's the circus created by the over-lord to keep all the generals in tow. He wants every general insecure so that each will kowtow to him. All the rumours are spread by the MAS to make the people on toe(Alert). Burma will be peaceful only with a professional army that Bogyoke Aung San had envisioned!

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