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Burmese Government Reaffirms Intention to Relinquish Power

Burma's military leadership has reaffirmed it intends to relinquish power one day but says the time will come only after peace and stability have been restored in the country. The remarks came in the first public speech by the head of the military government since it announced three weeks ago that it had uncovered a coup plot.

Senior General Than Shwe said Wednesday the Burmese military wants to ensure that when the time comes to hand over the responsibilities of the state, "the succeeding governments will be able to provide leadership in a climate of stability and peace."

The General added the armed forces should work together with the people for a peaceful and modern nation, but urged the military to guard against internal and external dangers.

The head of the ruling military council was speaking in Rangoon to 7,000 representatives of the military during ceremonies marking armed forces day.

Longtime observers said the speech reiterated earlier pledges by the military to hand power to a civilian government one day, but did not provide any indication that such a transition is foreseen in the near future. And they noted the speech did not make any reference to the secret talks with the opposition National League for Democracy, NLD, or the reported coup plot announced three weeks ago. Security was tight at Wednesday's ceremonies.

But there have been recent indications that the military leadership feels the crisis is easing. Senior General Than Shwe and the second and third ranking officers on the military junta, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt, appeared in public together Monday for the first time since the reported plot. And the Burmese government announced that U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail, whose visit was postponed because of the crisis, would be coming to Burma in late April.

A member of the Forum Asia democracy group, Sunai Phasuk, says the leaders of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, are signaling their commitment to continue the talks with the NLD, because they both have a stake in political settlement.

"What he [they] would like to achieve is some form of political settlement that may allow the NLD to operate as a political party again. And at the same time it will allow new political space for the SDC to compete with NLD without using arms," Sunai Phasuk said.

Professor Sunai says the reported plot was likely used to sideline elements that opposed the dialogue with the opposition. The authorities three weeks ago, confined Burma's former military strongman Ne Win and his daughter, Sandar Win, to their homes. They also detained the daughter's husband and three sons in connection with the plot.

Three senior military commanders were also dismissed. Officials say the husband and sons were scheming to kidnap the three senior leaders of the military council and force them to back a government loyal to General Ne Win. One hundred individuals have been questioned in connection with the reported plot.