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Thai Prime Minister Reports Political Tensions in Burma

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters Friday there are "political tensions" in neighboring Burma, but said they had not yet risen to the level of a coup d'etat. Mr. Thaksin said that information received by his government so far was sketchy.

Reports and speculation of political upheaval in Rangoon began circulating after the unexplained death last week of a high-ranking aide to Burma's second-ranked leader, General Maung Aye.

Speculation arose that Colonel Bo Win Tun may have been assassinated, or killed while trying to protect General Maung Aye. His obituary in state-run newspapers said only that he died "while serving his country."

Aung Zaw, editor of the Thai-based independent newsmagazine The Irrawaddy, says reports of tensions between top military leader General Than Shwe and his deputy have been floating around for some time.

"A lot of people are speculating that a lot of army intelligence officials are also unhappy with the top leaders," said Aung Zaw. "These could be starting from the purge last October. There has been a tension already and also there is cracks appear between Than Shwe and Maung Aye."

In October, then-prime minister General Khin Nyunt was ousted from power after initiating steps toward political reform. Thai officials were the first to announce that purge. This week, several associates of General Khin Nyunt, who also headed the Burmese intelligence agency, were put on trial for corruption.

The military has ruled Burma since 1960s. The current leadership refused to allow the democratic opposition, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to take power despite her party's landslide victory in the 1990 general election.

Thailand has led efforts toward a "road map for democracy" in Burma, but the initiative has yet to bring about the political reforms demanded by the international community.