Bangla Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Myanmar military chief expected to appoint loyalists as reshuffle looms

Expect to see a shakeup in the senior ranks of Myanmar’s armed forces in the coming months. Military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is preparing to appoint another group of trusted officers and loyalists to key positions.

Lieutenant General Soe Htut, Myanmar’s chief of military security affairs, was appointed home affairs minister last week and formally sworn in to the position Thursday by the Union Parliament. He replaces Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe, who will return to service with the armed forces.

 Lt-Gen Soe Htut graduated from Intake 64 of the Myanmar military’s Officer Training School and was named Best Cadet in that intake. He is close to Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Known as a moderate with a mild temperament, Lt-Gen Soe Htut is a good fit for the post.

 Defense Minister General Sein Win is also likely to return to his duties in the armed forces. Known as an honest and professional soldier, Gen. Sein Win’s low-key style allowed him to play a neutral role between the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi government and the military while serving as defense minister.

Under the 2008 Constitution, three ministries—Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs—are controlled by the military.

The heads of the three ministries are nominated by the military chief and the President appoints them with the approval of the Union Parliament.

While serving as home affairs minister, Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe was seen as close to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Or was he? Observers say that might have upset the army’s top brass.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in an interview during her visit to Singapore in 2018 that her relationship with the military was “not that bad” and that the generals in her cabinet were “rather sweet.”

Senior military leaders are also believed to be upset by Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe’s allocation of a large security budget to protect top government leaders during their domestic and overseas trips.

In late 2018, it was falsely rumored on social media that 14 military leaders had been abruptly transferred or forced into retirement as part of a revamp that included Defense Minister Lt-Gen Sein Win and Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe, who (the false claims suggested) were allowed to retire with full pensions.

 Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe came out to deny the rumors. But sources close to the military said at the time that some top leaders in the military were playing a “high-risk game,” and observers said the rumors reflected unhappiness among the top brass that some ministers under the control of the military seemed to be moving closer to the government. But exactly who was behind the active rumor campaign remains a mystery.

 As Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe departs the powerful ministry, speculation is rife in the capital that the government leaders want him to come back to serve in the cabinet in the future – perhaps after the election in November, if the current ruling party wins again. But if it is true, it remains to be seen who would make this decision.

This time, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has handpicked Lt-Gen Soe Htut as home affairs minister, hoping he can serve as a bridge between the country’s two administrations: the civilian government and the military.

There is no doubt that his loyalty will be constantly monitored during his stint as home affairs minister—a position that will require him to accompany government officials including the President and State Counselor on domestic trips. The military chiefs are aware that the government leaders including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are skilled at winning over opponents. Lt-Gen Soe Htut will have to walk a tightrope. In addition, all eyes will be on how he handles and shakes up the police force, which is under the Home Affairs Ministry, as a number of senior police officers are seen as close to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the government. Some observers go further, suggesting his appointment will improve civil-military relations. But this remains to be seen.

Major General Ye Win Oo will replace Lt-Gen Soe Htut as chief of Military Security Affairs. He attended OTS (officer training school) 77 and his last posting was as chief of the Southwest Command.

He has both combat and administrative experience but faces a steep learning curve in the intelligence arena. However, what is important is that he has the trust of the senior general. His appointment comes at a time when both the government and military are thinking of reviving the once notorious National Intelligence Bureau (NIB).

The NIB was decapitated in 2004 when the military purged then intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt. The intelligence apparatus underwent a wholesale purge, and many corrupt senior officials, who were also known to have committed human rights violations and acts of political repression, were thrown into prison.

In any case, nearly 30 senior military positions will be reshuffled in the latest round, according to a reliable source with knowledge of the military’s recent quarterly meeting.

The story will be repeated when the defense minister position changes hands in the near future. Gen. Sein Win will relinquish his position and return to the army. More professional and loyalist officers will be appointed.