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The strongman with a bunker mentality from Yangon

Updated On: Jul 26, 2005

Yangon – The current No.1 military man in Myanmar, Senior General Than Shwe, is a dyed-in-the-wool hardliner who goes berserk at the mention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s name and regards all international or foreign organisations as his enemies. He also has a "bunker mentality": To protect his regime from future invasions or uprisings, the military is shifting its headquarters to a series of underground bunkers in a town called Pyinmana, some 400km north of Yangon in central Myanmar

    "The new capital will house the military war office, government ministries and a new parliament," according to a Myanmar government official who had seen the blueprints.
    A Western diplomat in Yangon said: "The whole area is 10 square kilometres. It's one of the biggest constructions I have ever seen."
    Other buildings being built include military mansions and the  national headquarters for the country's ethnic groups and the United Solidarity Development Association (USDA), Gen Than Shwe’s pet grassroots organisation.
    Several ministries are scheduled to move to the new capital in the next few months. But an acute shortage of timber has delayed the completion of many of the buildings.
    The delay in the reconvening of the National Convention and the drafting of the constitution may actually be related to the completion of the new capital, a Western diplomat in Yangon said.  
    According to an Asian diplomat, Aung San Suu Kyi is unlikely to be released from house arrest before the new capital is completed.
    Even as he prepares to protect his regime from assault from within and without, Gen Than Shwe and his men are tightening their hold on power and centralising authority. 
    The top generals are now drawing up a new strategy to control all international organisations. For the past six months, the United Nations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have found it increasingly difficult to operate in Myanmar
    "Health Ministry officials have been told to give all the NGOs a hard time," a Myanmar government official was reported to have said.
    Some diplomats and aid officials fear that the junta may even be preparing to kick out select organisations, including those under the UN.  

* Generals strengthen their hold on power (Bangkok Post, July 22)