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A limited time to play

Nyo Ohn Myint

Feb 8, 2008 (DVB), Naypyidaw, the jungle capital of Burma, has been very busy in past weeks with top advisers in greens and generals in charge of internal security responsibilities.

Senior general Than Shwe reportedly instructed them to find a short-term solution to appease the angry and hungry Burmese people and international players.

Before the Saffron Revolution, Than Shwe had tried to avoid a political solution, but regional and international pressures have made political engagement unavoidable.

The senior general has not given up, but is preparing better political, social, and diplomatic strategies to achieve his own aims; he has chosen general Ye Myint to approach and receive the support of ethnic ceasefire groups, while he has designated foreign minister Nyan Win and prime minister Thein Sein to neutralize the mounting international pressures and raise funds to combat the shortage of hard currency.

U Aung Thaung and general Htay Oo have been given outright power to control the domestic political and social turmoil, and U Aung Kyi has been tasked to perform various magic tricks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Consequently, Nyan Win approached India for financial assistance, investments and bilateral cooperation in early January 2008. Along with other issues, the main purpose of the discussion for the SPDC was to seek financial assistance from India.

Perhaps China has indicated its unwillingness to provide financial and political support until it has successfully staged the Beijing Olympic in August 2008.

Sources say that Than Shwe has limited his public appearances since the Saffron Revolution last year. There is as hard-line an undercurrent as ever in Burma, but interestingly, the generals who oversee the military institutions have also disappeared from the public scene.

Rumours spread that general Thura Shwe Mann, the front runner to be the next SPDC leader, was even losing control over mid-level super hardliners, as was the junta's second-in-command vice-senior general Maung Aye.

It is crystal clear that Than Shwe and the hardliners tightly control all power and decision-making processes.

U Aung Kyi has had both international and local audiences to play with; providing false hope, diluting commitments, and most importantly trying to marginalize Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's role as much as he could.

Than Shwe knows she has no option of refusing to meet with U Aung Kyi if there is to be a political negotiation process.

Regardless of whether an agreement is reached, things will still be dangerous. Indeed, Than Shwe has bunch of cards in his hands but time may not allow him to play them, as a diplomat said.

In addition, there is no affinity between policy-making group of super hardliners backed by decision-maker Than Shwe and the implementation team or cabinet led by prime minister Thein Sein.

A few hardliners who are also cabinet ministers refuse to accept any suggestions from Thein Sein, according to a close associate of the regime. A para-SPDC cabinet and secondary security forces exist alongside the official institutions, and this has caused problems.

A recent major challenge has been allocating funds for government spending.

The army has made a request to replace two-decade-old Chinese-made military hardware with more modern alternatives, but internal security , run by super hardliners , has hesitated to approve the army's request, believing small arms to be good enough for suppression.

Than Shwe may withdraw from the UN-initiated dialogue process with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi if the international community fails to resume normal humanitarian assistance.

He has used her image to get aid, assistance and contain possible unrest; if this strategy is not working, why would he bother to send someone to meet her?

Reducing the strength of the opposition is a very important factor for Than Shwe in ruling Burma, and so security forces continue to make arrests, search activists door-to-door and put pressure on civilians.

The fabricated bombings in Burma over the last few weeks allowed the regime to set up roadblocks, search political activists in the local community and impose travel restrictions on opposition members.

Than Shwe's shadow cabinet and close associates are facing opposition from different sectors of society, challenges from monks, and the hostility of a new anti-government generation all within a limited timeframe.

The more battlefronts he and his men have to fight on, the lesser chance he has of winning each battle.

Even if they are successful, they will have to reshuffle the whole army and SPDC for their future destiny while the country remains at ground zero.

If not, and they fail to prove that a hard-line strategy is the most efficient, a new generation army will take over power and determine the role for the military to take in Burmese politics.


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