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A trusted disciple of former Burmese junta chief Than Shwe will now head the country’s intelligence body following a major reshuffle last week of the military’s upper echelons.
Army sources told DVB that Major General Soe Shein, once Than Shwe’s personal security officer, will now take the helm of Burma’s intelligence unit, known as Military Affairs Security (MAS), replacing its former chief, Major General Kyaw Swe.
New regional army commanders have also been appointed in the first major shake-up of the military since the elections in November 2010, which saw the ascent of the powerful new commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing.
Sources said the reshuffle affected at least six regional military command (RMC) zones around the country, including Rangoon RMC, Southern RMC, Southwestern RMC, Western RMC, Eastern RMC and Triangle RMC, close the conjunction of the Burmese, Thai and Laotian borders.
General San Oo, commander of the Taunggyi-based Eastern RMC will replace his Rangoon counterpart Brig-Gen Htun Than, while Brig-Gen Soe Htut, commander of the Southern RMC, will move to the Taunggyi office.
The appointment of Soe Shein to such a senior position will likely reignite speculation of Than Shwe’s lingering grip on the Burmese military: defence ministry sources told The Irrawaddy Magazine in April that reports from the War Office marked ‘confidential’ were still being sent to the 77-year-old, despite officially retiring as head of the military following the elections.
His position alongside Min Aung Hlaing, another Than Shwe confidante, as one of the country’s most powerful military figures also suggest that Than Shwe is building a trusted network of comrades that will ensure his safety into the future – a pertinent concern for Burma’s leaders given the regime’s history of sometimes vicious power struggles.
The new military commanders are being introduced at a time when internal armed conflict is raging on an almost unprecedented scale, with at least four border states currently hosting fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic armies.
Reasons for the reshuffle remain unclear. It comes only 10 months after a major shake-up that saw more than 50 senior Burmese military officials nudged up the army hierarchy to fill spots made vacant by the mass ‘retirement’ of the country’s leading ringmasters before the polls.
As of last week, many of those men, including Kyaw Swe, have been replaced, but their destinations are not known.