(AP) BANGKOK, Thailand – Myanmar’s secretive military regime has forced out its prime minister, the long-powerful Gen. Khin Nyunt, and placed him under house arrest on corruption charges, the leader of neighboring Thailand said Tuesday.
The removal of Khin Nyunt, a relative moderate within the junta, could tilt the balance of power toward harder-line generals and further delay the stalled reconciliation process with the opposition led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Khin Nyunt was removed from his position, but Myanmar has not yet made an official announcement,” Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters.
Thaksin said he knew who would become Myanmar’s next prime minister, but would not reveal the name until it is officially announced. But he said the next prime minister would come from the inner circle of Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the head of Myanmar’s ruling junta.
Thai government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said Khin Nyunt had been placed under house arrest on corruption charges.
“We can confirm that Khin Nyunt has been removed from the position of prime minister and is being detained under house arrest,” he told The Associated Press.
Thaksin’s comments followed a day of rumors in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, that Khin Nyunt had been ousted and that soldiers had raided the headquarters of military intelligence, which he had long headed and was the source of his power.
Diplomats in Yangon, the Myanmar capital, said on condition of anonymity that there was a rumor that Khin Nyunt had been “taken out of circulation,” but had no details. There was no sign of tanks or increased military presence, and any ouster would appear to have been an internal affair.
Khin Nyunt’s removal would not affect relations between Thailand and Myanmar, which have had occasional tensions along their border, the Thai spokesman said.
Earlier, Thai Gen. Lertart Rattanatavanich told reporters in Mai Sot, a Thai town on the border with Myanmar, that Thai army reports indicated that the junta “is unhappy with Khin Nyunt and they want to remove him from his position.”
Khin Nyunt had been in an awkward position since last month, when regular army soldiers raided a checkpoint dominated by military intelligence officers at Muse on the Myanmar-China border. Large quantities of gold, jade and currency were seized.
Some 105 intelligence, immigration, customs and police personnel were arrested, including at least three military intelligence colonels who remain in custody and are expected to be charged.
Khin Nyunt assumed the prime minister’s post last year in what was seen as a demotion from the positions he had previously held in the ruling clique of generals, increasingly dominated in recent years by hard-liners.
In some aspects, Khin Nyunt is considered a moderate, though he never prevailed on other generals to strike a deal with the high-profile leader of the opposition, Suu Kyi, to restore democracy to the impoverished Southeast Asian country.
In the past year, Khin Nyunt promoted what he called a roadmap toward democracy in U.N.-brokered contacts between the government and Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. The talks went nowhere, and critics accused the government of using stalling tactics to retain its monopoly on power.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962, when army commander Ne Win seized power. Pro-democracy protests led by Suu Kyi were bloodily suppressed in 1988, and Khin Nyunt was one of the younger generation of generals who assumed power.