Burma's top general 'won't run in election'

Burma's top leader General Than Shwe will bow out of national elections next month, but his role in the country's political future remains unclear, a south-east Asian diplomat said today.

The diplomat, speaking anonymously on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Vietnam, said Burma's foreign minister Nyan Win told his counterparts that the long-time leader of the military-run country would not be on the ballot during the country's first election in 20 years on November 7.

"He will bow out of the scene," the diplomat said, citing what the Burma official said at an informal dinner yesterday for delegates attending a summit for the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

"He will not be a candidate in the upcoming elections."

It was the first time the reclusive government confirmed that Than Shwe would not participate in the national polls. However, it was earlier believed that he would not run because his name did not appear on the candidates' list.

Than Shwe has never spoken about his future and no officials have ever broached the issue of his retirement or whether he would run in elections.

He is widely expected to have some new role and title afterwards. Many think he could become the next president, which is not an elected position

Reclusive Burma put on a fresh face at an Asian conference in Hanoi, unveiling a redesigned flag and new national name less than two weeks before the long-awaited polling. But many fear the makeover is merely a facade to mask an election already being dubbed a sham.

The election is supposed to be a big step forward in the country's so-called road map to democracy following five decades of military rule. But critics say the junta has already taken steps to block transparency and ensure that the military remains in power by repressing the country's main opposition party and limiting campaigning.