Deposed PM's allies face sentencing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 February, 2005, 12:00am

More than 300 Myanmese officers set to receive jail terms this week, as disquiet grows in the military

Hundreds of military intelligence officers who served under deposed Myanmese prime minister General Khin Nyunt are expected to be handed stiff jail terms for corruption this week, sending fresh shockwaves through the ruling armed forces.

The sentencing of more than 300 officers and some business associates has been delayed several times. It is now likely to go ahead after last week's resumption of a convention on the constitution, which has been preoccupying leaders, according to diplomatic and business sources in Myanmar.

Sentences of up to 30 years are expected to be handed down for economic crimes and corruption during secret court sessions inside Yangon's notorious Insein jail, where the defendants have been held since a crackdown on Khin Nyunt's faction in October.

'It's a form of cannibalism - the army is eating its own flesh,' a retired Burmese military officer said about the trials, orchestrated by the military junta's supreme leader, Senior General Than Shwe, and his No2, General Maung Aye.

The sentencing will be the final nail in the coffin of the country's military intelligence unit, which provided Khin Nyunt with the power base that propelled him to the leadership. The unit was disbanded and all its 30,000 members given dishonourable discharges, with those at the top thrown into jail on corruption charges.

Khin Nyunt has been held under house arrest at his villa on Yangon's Inya Lake but he is not expected to face charges.

His two sons - businessman Ye Naing Wynn and army officer Lieutenant-Colonel Zaw Naing Oo - have not appeared before the courts in Insein. But they may face trial in the future, according to businessmen in Yangon.

Than Shwe and Maung Aye are understood to have taken the action against Khin Nyunt and his unit because the former prime minister advocated talks with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The mass trials of the military intelligence officers have caused disquiet within the military, adding to the rumours about the future of the impoverished country.

Many observers believe the atmosphere in Yangon is similar to 1988 when former military dictator Ne Win quit, setting the stage for a series of demonstrations by students and monks which were brutally put down by the military as it retook power. 'Burma is a social volcano about to erupt,' said a Myanmese businessman recently.

The verdicts and sentences were originally scheduled to be handed down more than two weeks ago but have been deferred more than four times.

Diplomats in Yangon believe this may have been because the country's top military leaders were dealing with the restart of the National Convention, which is drafting a new constitution.

Many of the intelligence officers on trial have been charged with crimes related to commercial activities involving Chinese businessmen across the border and in some cases having bank accounts there.

There are also investigations into several ministers for what the regime regards as 'excessive corruption'.

One of those under scrutiny is the minister for post and telecommunications, Brigadier-General Thein Zaw, regarding a number of major contracts that allegedly involved massive kickbacks.

One of the contracts under review is a proposed deal with mainland mobile phone company ZTE. Under the contract, ZTE would provide a US$150 million loan for the infrastructure to provide 300,000 phone lines.

But this is more than 10 times the real cost of the project, according to industry experts. Another ZTE contract for a million phone lines in another Southeast Asian country cost US$30 million.

Thirty prosecutors and 30 judges appointed to conduct the trials at the jail have been sequestered in a state guest house outside Yangon since mid-January.

None of the military men have the benefit of defence counsel. 'Many decided not to hire lawyers as they believe it would be worse for them to have a defence counsel,' said a family member of one of the generals on trial.