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    Southeast Asia
     Oct 2, 2007

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Cracks emerge in Myanmar military unity
By Larry Jagan

BANGKOK Myanmar's protests have lost steam as security forces clamp down, killing over a dozen and arresting as many as 1,000 people involved in the recent street protests that have grabbed global headlines. Now there are indications that the ruling State Peace and Development Council's (SPDC's) top two generals are at loggerheads over how to proceed in the aftermath of the crackdown.

SPDC second-in-command General Maung Aye reportedly opposed using force against the tens of thousands of monks who

took to the streets, bringing him into conflict with Senior General Than Shwe, according to sources close to Maung Aye. Some soldiers in the old capital of Yangon and the city of Mandalay last week reportedly refused to obey their senior officers' commands to attack or shoot at protesting monks, according to diplomatic sources in Yangon. Several aid workers in Mandalay reportedly witnessed soldiers there refusing to open fire when ordered by commanding officers.

General Than Shwe, the SPDC's top general, personally gave the orders to the local commanders in Yangon to shoot into the crowd, a military source told Asia Times Online. "The two main commanders in Yangon have told their subordinates that the senior general directly ordered the attack last week," he said. That shoot-to-kill policy has backfired on the junta, with international condemnation coming from the West as well as neighboring countries included in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.

United Nations special envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari met with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday and is reportedly now pressing to meet with both Than Shwe and Maung Aye. So far the SPDC leadership has declined to meet with the UN envoy, perhaps, some analysts speculate, precisely because the top two generals now view the next steps in dealing with the crisis differently.

There are unconfirmed reports that Than Shwe's wife and one of his daughters, as well as his top business associate, Tay Za, flew out of the country on a Air Bagan flight to Singapore last week and have since traveled on to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Their apparent flight came against the backdrop of growing questions about troop loyalty due to orders to shoot at monks and the possibility that they could have broken rank and joined with the street protestors.

"If the current crackdown results in more bloodshed, a mutiny within the 400,000-strong armed forces is a distinct possibility," said Win Min, a Myanmar analyst based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. "Family members of the grassroots soldiers are suffering from increasing food and fuel prices like the people who are demonstrating, though top level officers are getting amazingly rich."

Indeed, there have already been notable instances of a breakdown in the chain of command, according to diplomats. On September 20, for still unclear reasons security forces positioned at the barricades blocking access to Aung San Suu Kyi's house allowed marching monks to pass and pray in front of the house, an episode that was widely reported worldwide. The following day, however, another group of monks bidding to pass her compound was turned away by a larger number of security personnel.

On Saturday, Maung Aye personally took control of the operations in Yangon and he reportedly posted soldiers with sub-machine guns at the entrance to University Avenue where Suu Kyi is under house arrest.

It is unclear if the apparent divergent views between the SPDC's top two generals have resulted in a full-blown rift. But there are signs that Than Shwe fears a possible internal military power play, similar to the one in 1992 that resulted in his rise to power.

Maung Aye apparently believes the use of the civilian organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), to control the crowds is damaging the army's authority and threatens even broader instability, according to a source close to his family. Plainclothes USDA members have used crude weapons and taken the lead in brutally assaulting and detaining protestors. Notably, the organization is the brainchild of Than Shwe, which he helped to establish in 1993 to create the illusion of grassroots support for the military's civilian programs and has relied on in the past to crack down on political opposition.

Curfews and detentions
After detaining key members of the 88 Generation Student Group that started the protests on September 19, military authorities have apparently been at a loss in identifying who is leading the protests. They have recently swooped on Yangon's Buddhist monasteries and temples, arresting hundreds of monks, in an 

Continued 1 2 

Myanmar's blogs of bloodshed (Sep 29, '07)

The man behind the Myanmar madness (Sep 28, '07)

Monks in the vanguard for regime change (Sep 28, '07)

Moment of truth for Myanmar's military (Sep 27, '07)

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2. The man behind the madness

3. Anti-Iran hawks win partial victory

4. Myanmar's blogs of bloodshed

5. Unveiling men in the Arab world

6. The bin Laden needle in a haystack

7. Russia is far from oil's peak

8. How the 'gang of four' lost Iraq

9. The Iraq oil grab that went awry

(Sep 28-30, 2007)

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