Than Shwe Consolidating Hold on Burma's Military?

A trusted disciple of Burmese Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the former dictator who is still believed to wield ultimate power over Burma's new government, has reportedly been appointed to lead the country's powerful military intelligence unit.

Maj-Gen Soe Shein, a personal assistant to Than Shwe, has recently taken the helm of Military Affairs Security, as the unit is known, replacing its former chief, Maj-Gen Kyaw Swe, according to security agency sources in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital.

“Before abolishing the former ruling military council, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Senior-Gen Than Shwe promoted Soe Shein from colonel to brigadier-general. Very recently Soe Shein was promoted to major general to take over as the director of the MAS,” a source told The Irrawaddy.

Many observers believe that Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) from 1992 to 2011, has retained his grip on Burma’s military, the country's most powerful institution, despite dissolving the SPDC and officially transferring his former position of commander-in-chief to Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Than Shwe continues to go to his office in the new capital of Naypyidaw on weekdays, working closely with a group of senior generals to keep an eye on the government’s operations. Defense Ministry sources told The Irrawaddy in April that reports from the War Office marked “Confidential” were still being sent to the 77-year-old former ruler, despite his official retirement as head of the military following last year's elections.

Soe Shein's promotion to the position of MAS chief reignites speculation about Than Shwe’s lingering grip on the Burmese military and the new administration led by former military general Thein Sein. For instance, Than Shwe is said to favor a hard line on the ethnic factions that have been fighting a low-level war with the central government for decades. Forces allied with President Thein Sein, the source said, favor negotiations

At least six top generals reportedly have been sacked and arrested since February on the pretext of an investigation into corruption. “Soe Shein is Senior Gen Than Shwe's most trusted man. His appointment as chief of the MAS means that the old man will be watching everyone through constant updates on the current situation,” a Military Affairs Security officer said.

The MAS was created following the dismantling of the former Military Intelligent Service, led by the once-powerful general and former prime minister, Khin Nyunt, who was purged in 2004 and later sentenced to 44 years imprisonment on charges of corruption and insubordination; he is now under house arrest. The MIS was notorious for keeping a watchful eye not only on the country’s ordinary citizens, but also on army officers and political exiles living in the West.