BANGKOK—Burma's military government has re-assigned six Cabinet posts including Foreign Minister Win Aung but reasons for the reshuffle remain a mystery. Win Aung and Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win were “permitted to retire” and replaced by military officers, according to official media reports.
Orders for the reshuffle were signed by the junta’s Secretary One Gen. Soe Win, rather than by the prime minister as is customary.
Win Aung’s removal came two weeks before he was expected to attend the Oct. 8-9 Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, in Hanoi, Vietnam—where he was to have stood in for Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt as part of a compromise with the European Union.
The EU had refused to attend the meeting if Burma sent its head of state or government nand gave the junta until Oct. 8 to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi or face more sanctions. The EU has already imposed a travel ban on Burma’s military leaders and frozen their financial assets in Europe.
The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) also appointed new ministers for agriculture, commerce, cooperatives, and transportation.
Vietnam and Thailand called the move an internal matter.
Win Aung was the SPDC’s public face since he was appointed in 1998 after his predecessor was also sacked. He had a reputation for being reasonable but lacked known influence within the junta, diplomats said.
Some analysts say he may have been caught in a power struggle between Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who heads the ruling military council, and Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt.
The new foreign minister, Maj.-Gen. Nyan Win, is one of three deputy chiefs of Armed Forces Training. He is also known to have worked with the Office of Strategic Studies, now known as the Military Intelligence Department under the prime minister.
His new deputy, Col. Maung Myint, commanded the 77th Light Infantry Division. Little else is known about either man.
The SPDC also moved its labor minister to the position of minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office. U Tin Win previously served as Burmese ambassador to Washington.
The military has ruled Burma since 1962, and this most recent cabinet reshuffle is the 15th since 1997.
The new agriculture minister is Maj.-Gen. Htay Oo, who took over from dismissed Maj.-Gen. Nyunt Tin, newspapers reported. The new commerce minister is Brig. Gen. Tin Naing Thein, replacing Brig. Gen. Pyi Sone, who became a minister at the prime minister's office.
Col. Zaw Min entered the Cabinet as cooperatives minister, while Maj. Gen. Thein Swe replaced ousted Maj. Gen. Hla Myint Swe as transport minister.
Myanmar, with some 52 million people, is one of Asia’s poorest countries, with its development slowed further by foreign sanctions and government mismanagement.