BANGKOK — ; Burma's highly secretive junta has announced that hardline senior leader Lt.-Gen. Soe Win will replace Khin Nyunt as prime minister. Soe Win is described as a member of junta leader Gen. Than Shwe's inner circle.
State-run media said Khin Nyunt had been permitted to retire for health reasons, although Thai officials reported earlier that he had been forced out, accused of corruption, and placed under house arrest.
Sources told RFA's Burmese service that some ethnic minority groups engaged in years of military skirmishes with government forces in areas near the Thai border had been invited to Rangoon for talks as part of a continuing cease-fire process initiated by Khin Nyunt.
"One ceasefire group says they have been invited to come to Rangoon ...and that some groups are on their way now," the source said.
"Even though there were numerous arrests of top intelligence officials in Rangoon who were involved in peace talks between the Karen National Union (KNU) and [junta], talks are still ongoing," the source close to the KNU told RFA.
Prospects for political reform and reconciliation in Burma — ; which has grown progressively more isolated during 42 years of uninterrupted military rule — ; looked even slimmer in the wake of Khin Nyunt's ouster.
Khin Nyunt, who is in his mid-60s and has struggled to implement his "road map to democracy" since being appointed in 2003, now stands accused of corruption, Thai officials said.
"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 told reporters.
"It is still unclear who issued the order and we still don't know who will be the next prime minister," he said after a cabinet meeting in the border town of Mae Sot.
Burma's 400,000-man military kept a low profile on Tuesday in the capital, Rangoon, although Agence France-Presse reported that troops were stationed at key points. The city was said to be calm. Khin Nyunt was appointed premier in August 2003, three months after a brutal clash orchestrated by the junta between government-sponsored gangs and supporters of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, remains under house arrest.
Khin Nyunt later announced a seven-point "road map to democracy" but the program stalled — ; mainly because of international outrage at Aung San Suu Kyi's continuing detention.
Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won national elections in 1990 but has never been permitted to take power. NLD spokesman U Lwin said this week's shakeup was unlikely to affect the party. "People talk about Khin Nyunt's moderation but... his road map doesn't give us any chance anyway," he said.