08/25/2005, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Myanmar: has Than Shwe been ousted from power?

Rumours abound that the Commander-General and head of the military Junta running the country has been deposed and arraigned by a group led by his number 2, Maung Aye.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Than Shwe, supreme commander of the Burmese army may have been ousted from the top position of command. According to rumours, the military man, who has run former Burma in various ways since 1962, has been replaced by number two in the military hierarchy, General Maung Aye.

A member of the Thai secret services said Yangon seemed calm, adding that his organization was seeking to confirm the truth in the rumours, given a lack of official declarations from the Myanmar government.

"We heard," he said, "that Maung Aye has chased Than Shwe out of power and that he has accused him of corruption and illegal weapons sales." General Thura Shwe Man, member of the government Council for Peace and Development – also very high up in the military hierarchy – appears to be the official accuser.

Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkon said: "So far, everything is just a rumour. I am still sticking to my plan to visit Myanmar late this month."

Soe Myint, editor of the pro-democracy Mizzima News website, which is based in New Delhi, said there had been tension among the generals for some time.

"From what I have heard, a five-member group of generals led by General Maung Aye staged the coup during a weekly cabinet meeting on Monday," he said.  "The group accused Than Shwe of nepotism and said he was incapable of running the country. Ever since, there has been a total blackout and there has been no news from the cabinet meeting."

Than Shwe has not appeared on state television since Saturday 20 August when he met a United Nations envoy. Diplomats in Yangon said they believed he was on a provincial tour.  "We understand he is out of town and this rumour did not start in Yangon, but outside the country," a Southeast Asian diplomat said.

Even the National League for Democracy, the opposition party, does not appear to believe the rumours and is playing them down. The party, led by Nobel peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is ever more marginalized from the supposed democratic process launched by the military Junta which is meant to culminate in the signing of a democratic constitutional charter. Meanwhile, the Junta has prolonged the democracy leader's house arrest by a year.

This morning, there was a dry denial from Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra who said: "Our sources confirm that the rumours about a coup d'etat are untrue. The news was circulated by some factions but it is not true."

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