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Burma's Ailing PM Apparently Replaced

Burma's ruling military appears to have appointed another top-ranking general to take over the duties of the country's ailing prime minister. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, regional analysts say the move is not likely to have a significant impact on the military government's policies.

Burma's secretive military government did not make an official announcement that it was replacing General Soe Win as prime minister, after months of speculation about his health.

Instead, a brief report in the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper referred to another senior officer, Lieutenant General Thein Sein, as acting prime minister and said he had invited Cambodian leader Hun Sen for an official visit.

Soe Win, who was appointed in late 2004, is reported to be seriously ill and receiving medical treatment in Singapore. He succeeded former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who was purged from the leadership and lives under house arrest.

The acting prime minister is a former regional commander in northern Burma, and also oversees the constitution drafting convention that is part of the military's so-called "road map" to democracy.

Carl Thayer, a defense analyst at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, says he sees little chance of a significant shift in policies with Thien Sein as acting prime minister.

Thayer says the last crucial change came with the ousting of Khin Nyunt and his supporters, who had backed steps to respond to international criticism of Burma's human rights policies and the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The cleaning out of the stables over a year ago got rid of those people who were in favor of opening up or playing games, trying to integrate Burma with the region - on occasion make concessions to Aung San Suu Kyi - they've gone," he said. "The remaining are pretty hard core committed to what they're doing and I personally don't see any change."

Human rights activists have accused Soe Win of involvement in the attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi in northern Burma in late May 2003. The 1991 Nobel laureate has been under house arrest since the attack. The order governing her detention is due to expire later this month.

The European Union and the United States, which this week renewed sanctions on Burma, have called on the military government to immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi. The U.S. sanctions date back to May 1997 and were strengthened in July 2003.

Burma's military government is headed by Senior General Than Shwe, whose own health was in question earlier this year until he appeared at national day celebrations. The current group of generals has been in power since 1988.