YANGON – Myanmar’s army chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, reshuffled top posts on Friday, promoting his intelligence chief and other officers leading efforts to present the military as a responsible partner in a democratic transition.
Military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Mya Tun Oo was promoted to the joint chief of staff of the army, navy and air force — the de facto third-most-senior position and one seen as a steppingstone to becoming army chief.
The promotion comes shortly after Min Aung Hlaing decided to stay on as army chief for the next five years and appears aimed at consolidating his power base as he forges a delicate relationship with new government leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military ruled Myanmar with an iron first for nearly 50 years until it began stepping back from politics in 2011 and paved the way for a historic election last November.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) defeated the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in the vote and went on to form the first democratically elected government in more than half a century.
After a tense beginning for the new administration, punctuated by military objections to the NLD’s move to establish a special post for Suu Kyi, relations between the military and government have improved, observers say. Min Aung Hlaing has attended events that are symbolically important for Suu Kyi, and the two sides are collaborating in efforts to forge peace with ethnic minority rebels.
Western defense attaches see Mya Tun Oo as an astute military operator with sound awareness of international relations and regional politics, capable of navigating a difficult political transition.
He stunned the public last month when he admitted the military had killed five villagers in the north of the country. In an unprecedented move, he announced a court-martial and promised to look after the families of the dead. He has also recently participated in the talks between the military and Suu Kyi on the peace process.
Min Aung Hlaing appointed eight other officers to new posts, including several regional commanders.
The military retains a key role in politics, with 25 percent of seats in parliament, giving it an effective veto over changes to a 2008 junta-drafted constitution that bans Suu Kyi from becoming president because her late husband was British and her sons are not Myanmar citizens.
The military also controls three ministries responsible for security — defense, border affairs and interior.