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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                       26  August 2011

Who’s in charge in Myanmar?

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Five months after a nominally civilian government took power in Myanmar, the country is awash in uncertainty about who is really in charge.

Workers have taken down the once-ubiquitous portraits of Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the dictator who ran the country for nearly two decades, from the walls of government offices. But rumors circulate here that Than Shwe, who stepped down in March, still has the final word on important decisions.

An impoverished population, downtrodden by years of military rule, is parsing a raft of initiatives by the new government and trying to understand whether the country's transition from military dictatorship to what the state news media describe as "discipline flourishing democracy" is real.

''As far as I can see, there has been no change," said U San Shwe, a retired civil servant whose comments typify the skepticism heard frequently in Burma, which is now officially called Myanmar. "The new government consists of former generals who have habits that they can't break. They are accustomed to taking bribes, mistreating people and making a lot of money from their positions. They confiscate things, and no one can complain."

Trying to guess the direction of this country has, in the past, been a fool's errand. Burma has zigzagged from paranoid isolation under decades of military rule to flirtations with openness. The country seems propelled by the competing impulses of conservatives and reformers within the military.

In recent weeks there have been signs that reformers, led by Thein Sein, a former general who was elected president in February, have the upper hand.

The government has proposed peace talks with armed rebel groups that are battling the military for control over resources and for more autonomy. Officials have met three times in the last month with Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's leading dissident, who was released from house arrest in November.


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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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