Sun, May 15, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Yangon full of whispered theories about bombings


The ruling generals of the Myanmar government look on during Armed Forces Day Sunday, March 27, in Yangon. Yangon recently has been the scene of several bomb attacks with the government placing the blame on predictable suspects such as ethnic rebel groups.


Even Yangon's busy rumor mill has had trouble making sense of the bombings that struck two upscale supermarkets and a convention center in the Myanmar capital a week ago, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 160.

However, speculation in the tea shops -- traditional venues for gossip mongers, and the best source for news in the absence of a free press -- puts the ruling military in the top tier of suspects.

The government initially cast blame for the May 7 bombings on predictable suspects: three major ethnic rebel groups and exiled pro-democracy politicians who have formed a government-in-exile.

But Yangon residents, who have a well-honed sense of skepticism from decades of dealing with heavy-handed government propaganda, find the allegation hard to swallow.

"I don't believe that the explosions were carried out by the three rebel groups and the exile parallel government," said Mya Khin, a 54-year-old high school teacher. "In the history of past bombings, no such groups had been able to set off explosions in such a sophisticated and professional manner."

A local businessman, who insisted on anonymity, reflected widespread sentiment when he said, "Only the government has the capacity to set off bombs and they have the reason to do so -- to prolong their grip on power."

He said the bombings -- occurring within a 10-minute timeframe, and devastatingly powerful -- must have been carried out by "professionals."

Many people find it hard to believe that anyone outside the military could overcome the considerable logistical hurdles of carrying out such attacks in a tightly policed state.

But the idea that the bombings were staged by the junta to provide justification for tightening its rule is rejected as illogical by several observers.

They pointed out that such bloody attacks undermine the military's main excuse for clinging on to power -- that it alone is able preserve stability. Seizing control in 1962, the military has sought to stamp out all opposition, including the pro-democracy movement of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

"I don't think the government would shoot its own foot," said Aung Zaw, a Myanmar journalist in exile who heads the independent magazine the Irrawaddy, published in Thailand.

"It is highly unlikely that the government has set off the bombs as people have alleged," said a Yangon-based diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They will not gain anything from doing so and neither do they need a justification to hold on to power."

The same reasoning discredits the idea that the bombings are the latest move in a power struggle, hotly rumored since January, between junta chief Senior General Than Shwe and second-ranking Gen. Maung Aye.

More intriguing is the possibility that the bombings were carried out by members of the former Military Intelligence Service loyal to their old boss, General Khin Nyunt, who was ousted as prime minister last October by the junta.

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