- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

BANGKOK — Burma’s military regime ousted Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and replaced him with hard-line Gen. Soe Win in a setback for pro-democratic opposition forces of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Authorities in Thailand, who first disclosed the change yesterday, said Gen. Khin Nyunt, 65, had been sacked and placed under house arrest.

“Khin Nyunt was removed from his position,” Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters.

“The person who signed the order said Khin Nyunt had been involved in corruption and not suitable to stay in his position,” Thai government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said.

Burma’s government-controlled television and radio made no mention of any arrest and instead announced yesterday that Gen. Khin Nyunt retired for health reasons and was replaced by army Gen. Soe Win in an appointment signed by Senior Gen. Than Shwe, Reuters news agency reported.

Gen. Soe Win, a former air defense chief who climbed into the regime’s top ranks only last year, is believed to be in his mid-50s.

Burma watchers characterize him as espousing a hard line in dealing with the pro-democracy movement led by Mrs. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and with the United States and other Western countries that have imposed sanctions.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, the world’s most famous political prisoner, has suffered more than seven years under house arrest in Burma’s capital, Rangoon.

Mrs. Suu Kyi had hoped to bring democracy to the troubled, impoverished country even though the junta blocked her National League for Democracy party from power after it won a landslide election victory in 1990.

The junta frequently criticizes Mrs. Suu Kyi as a puppet of the United States, Britain and other foreign powers interested in exploiting Burma’s vast, untapped natural resources.

Gen. Khin Nyunt met her at least twice and once said, “I think of her as a younger sister.”

Burmese soldiers took up positions outside Gen. Khin Nyunt’s house in Rangoon and increased their presence in front of military intelligence headquarters, witnesses told the British Broadcasting Corp.

There were no immediate reports of unrest in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

Burma was expected to continue its friendly commercial and diplomatic links with China, Thailand, India and other countries willing to circumvent U.S.-led international sanctions.

Mr. Shinawatra said Gen. Khin Nyunt’s removal allows hard-line generals to consolidate power.

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