News / Asia

Burmese Press Mention 'Retired' Former Leader Than Shwe

Gen. Than Shwe (file photo)
Gen. Than Shwe (file photo)
William Ide

As Burma moves to polish an image long-stained by repressive military rule, the man who led that government, former military General Than Shwe, has slipped into the shadows. At least until Thursday, when Burmese state media mentioned his name for the first time since the new government stepped into power in March.

Before Burma's new leaders rose to power, Than Shwe regularly made headlines in state media publications, highlighting his dominance in the political system. His name has slipped out of print until this week, when both the Myanma Alin and The Mirror newspapers carried stories about him.

The news, buried far from the front page, referred to him as retired.

Former military intelligence officer Aung Lin Htut, who used to work closely with Burma’s now-President Thein Sein, says this could be a signal to the United States. He says calling Than Shwe “retired” before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Burma next month could be an effort to convince Washington that the long-time ruler is out of power.

But what does retirement mean for a man who was almost single-handedly in charge of Burma for nearly two decades? Benedict Rogers, the author of the biography “Than Shwe - Unmasking a Tyrant,” says he’s probably not just golfing.

“One spokesman from the regime was recently quoted as saying he’s spending lots of time reading.  He’s also known to be a keen golf player. Is he really doing that or is he still involved in some way? He probably is not involved in day to day decisions, but I think he does continue to wield some influence particularly in the military,” Rogers said.

Aung Din, a former political prisoner who now heads the U.S. Campaign for Burma, says Than Shwe may still be influential but that is not what is most important.  

"He might be pulling the strings from behind the scenes, but we just need to monitor the current players, what they are doing and how they are making progress or whether they are going to turn back to their past," Aung Din said.

In March, Thein Sein, a former general and prime minister, became president following Burma’s first national elections in 20 years. Until then, analysts say executive decisions were based largely on Than Shwe’s personal preferences with little consultation.

David Steinberg, a Burma analyst at Georgetown University, says the dynamic seems to have shifted.

"People have told me that nobody could bring things up to him [Than Shwe] unless he brought them up first. Now that’s changed. Part of that results from a change in personality. Part of that may also be that we’re not sure where power is. Power is shared now," Steinberg said.

With this new dynamic, Burma has seen a flurry of reforms. This week, the parliament passed a bill allowing citizens to hold peaceful protests - with some conditions. Authorities also have freed several hundred political prisoners, passed legislation legalizing labor unions and canceled the construction of an unpopular Chinese dam.

The bill allowing peaceful protests still needs presidential approval. It requires protestors to apply for a permit five days prior to rallies and says demonstrations must avoid government buildings, banks, schools, hospitals and embassies.  

Aung Din says that while this is good progress, there is still much to be done. "Even though there is a law allowing people to protest, but at the same time people are looking at the political prisoners, arrested and in prison for their peaceful protest. This is a kind of irony," Aung Din said.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 1,000 political prisoners remain behind bars.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid