Army reshuffle focuses on ceasefire areas

Jan 13, 2010 (DVB), Part of a reshuffle within the Burmese army has included the promotion of a number of middle-ranking officials to positions in close proximity to a fragile ceasefire area, according to leaked information.

At least six Lieutenant Colonels were recently promoted to Tactical Operations Commander (TOC) and Military Operations Commander (MOC) positions, four of these in Shan state, which is largely controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

Despite holding a ceasefire agreement, relations between the Burmese army and UWSA are growing increasingly strained. The ruling junta has pressured all of Burma's ceasefire groups to transform into border patrol forces, and thus come under direct control of the junta, prior to elections this year.

The refusal by the UWSA and the majority of the 17 other ceasefire groups has led to speculation that fighting will erupt in ceasefire areas in the run-up to polling.

Another army official, Lieutenant Colonel Aung Zaw Oo, has been sent to Burma's western Arakan state, while Lieutenant Colonel Thike Soe will serve as Tactical Operations Commander in Mandalay division's Light Infantry Division 99. Troops from the LID 99 were sent to fight in the Kokang conflict in Shan state last year.

Furthermore, Colonel Win Thein, who previously served in the office of Joint Chief of Staff General Thura Shwe Mann, has become vice commander of the North Eastern (Regional) Military Command, based near the Kokang region.

Burmese military analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw said that the recent reshuffle that came after the junta's quarterly meeting was incongruent with the normal practice of promoting people from TOC and MOC ranks to those higher.

"So we are wondering where the [previous] TOC and MOC commanders have gone," he said. "Were they transferred to civilian postings as a preparation for the elections?"

He added that the Burmese government was also "siphoning off officials in the foreign ministry". Around 30 high-ranking Burmese embassy officials have been reshuffled in what analysts have said could be a diplomatic offensive prior to the elections.

But according to Aung Kyaw Zaw, in previous years the military generals have assigned TOC and MOC commanders to the foreign ministry, while current foreign minister, Nyan Win, was formerly a headmaster in the Defence Services Academy.

He said that this could account for the "disappearance" of current TOCs and MOCs from the military following the promotions, although the Burmese government rarely publicises details of army reshuffles.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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