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Radio Free Asia

Myanmar Picks Military Intelligence Veteran as New Home Affairs Minister

2020-02-07 -- Myanmar's military commander-in-chief on Thursday nominated the head of the country's military intelligence to fill the cabinet seat of the outgoing home affairs minister, a key post at one of three defense and security ministries directly controlled by the armed forces.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who oversees the country's defense forces, put Lieutenant General Soe Htut forward for the ministerial post during a parliamentary session in the capital Naypyidaw.

Soe Htut, 59, has led the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs since 2016. He will replace the current home affairs minister, Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe, who is stepping down.

A native of Mandalay, Soe Htut is the son of late Brigadier General Lun Maung, a former minister at the Prime Minister's Office, who died along with Lieutenant General Tin Oo, one of most powerful generals in a former military junta that ruled Myanmar, in a helicopter crash in southeastern Myanmar's Kayin (Karen) state in 2001.

Former Brigadier General Maung Myint, an opposition party lawmaker, told RFA's Myanmar Service that Soe Htut's appointment will ensure a continuation of the current home affairs policy under Kyaw Swe.

"Because they are both from military intelligence, they have good relations with the Ministry of Home Affairs and can more effectively ensure the security of the country and the national interest," he said.

Rakhine lawmaker Oo Hla Saw, who represents Mrauk-U in Myanmar's lower house of parliament and is a member of the Arakan National Party, said he also predicts a continuation of policy.

"I don't think there will be a change in policy because the military has nominated someone it can completely trust," he said.

Close to Aung San Suu Kyi

Other analysts say that Kyaw Swe was removed from his position for being too close to Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader, with whom he frequently traveled on trips around the country.

They also say that Soe Htut has unfavorable attitudes toward Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling pro-democracy National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

"The military has viewed former minister Kyaw Swe as being too close to Aung San Suu Kyi, especially because he saluted her," said political analyst Maung Maung Thein.

"In my observation, the military removes its own officials deemed to have close relations with the civilian government," he said. "It replaces them with people it can manipulate and who will be more obedient to authorities."

But Aung Myo, another political analyst, said that close ties between the new home affairs minister and Aung San Suu Kyi will not be automatic.

"Some people assume Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi needs to have a friendly relationship with the home affairs minister, but it is not true," he said.

"In fact, the home affairs minister has no real authority," he added. "I can say this for certain because I have close relations with the former minister. I don't think it will be easy to build such relations with the new minister."

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said his party tries to have good relations with all government ministers and will do likewise with Soe Htut.

"We hope to have good relationships with them regardless of their backgrounds," he said. "We treat them with respect, complying with existing laws and regulations."

"I don't think we will have problem with him [Soe Htut]," he added.

The Home Affairs Ministry administers Myanmar's internal affairs and is responsible for overseeing the police force, prisons, and intelligence-gathering activities.

Myanmar's constitution, drafted by a military junta in 2008, also places the defense services and border patrol ministries under the direct control of the military, with their ministers and deputy ministers nominated by the head of the defense forces and appointed by the president with the approval of the national parliament.

Reported by Thet Su Aung, Thiha Tun, and Tin Aung Khine for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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