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Than Shwe new political outfit USDP

Union Solidarity and Development Association led by Senior General Than Shwe is in the process of disbanding and its assets are being transferred to sister political group, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a party official said.

The dissolution of the often violent USDA, which has stood as a nationalist social organisation for 17 years, will result in its merger with the recently established party led by serving Prime Minister Thein Sein, a well-placed source in the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) campaign team told Mizzima. Observers say his recent resignation as an army general was designed to give the appearance of distance between the party and the ruling military junta.

“We will stand as a sole organisation called the USDP. The USDA will be no more. We are removing USDA signboards from all our offices across the country and those who want join our party can join and those who do not can do as they wish”, the party official said.

Removal of the USDA signboards was allowed only early this month but in Rangoon and some townships, they had been removed since last month and replaced with USDP displays.

The assets of the USDA were already transferred to the USDP early this month.

USDA spokesman Thura Myint Oo told the BBC’s Burmese Service that: “We received permission to dissolve our organisation on July 6. We shall stand as a party in future and are in the preparatory stages of dissolution. All [branches] are being dissolved stage by stage, part by part. All levels of our association have passed resolutions to transfer all of our assets and belongings to the newly established USDP.”

The USDA was established on September 15, 1993, two weeks after the junta announced it would hold a national convention to write a new constitution. It was set up as a nationalist social organisation and targeted recruitment drives at government employees and students. Observers speculated it was created to disseminate support for the new law when it was finally announced. The USDA was registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs and was not to be a political party. Rather, its explicitly mandated role was to support the activities and policies of the military.

The junta once announced that USDA had over 24 million members.

Thailand-based Burma observer and analyst Aung Thu Nyein, on the dissolution, said: “The government itself established this organisation as a ‘necessity for the country’ and for “aspirations and objectives of the national cause”. It spent more than two billion Kyats as seed money and government employees contributed to it with labour and money.

“It held many congresses too. In this situation, this USDA has been abruptly changed to USDP which suggests this has been done by a single strongman. It’s very clear,” Aung Thu Nyein said.

A party source said its strength could not yet be disclosed as the party was still scrutinising the membership applications it had received from USDA members and some of its members were minors (aged under 18 and therefore ineligible as party members). Party membership cards had been sent to all USDA members in townships across the country.

“We allow anyone to join the party if they wish to do so. Everyone is writing their own history,” a USDP organiser in Rangoon Division said. “If they [USDA members] wish to oppose the party and the general election, it’s up to them because joining the party is not mandatory. Their opposition to the general election will not have any impact.”

A former USDA member in Thingangyun Township, Rangoon Division told Mizzima: “We have not yet joined the party [USDP]. We have our higher authorities and do not yet know what their decision will be on it [joining the party]. We also don’t yet what will be our authority in the new party. We are still negotiating with them.”

As most of the former USDA members were government staff and student members, these pro-USDA votes might become swing votes for the opposition camp, Aung Thu Nyein said.

“The USDP has not yet announced details of its constitution and officer bearers. Can ethnic leaders play a leading role in this new USDP? Can women play a leading role in the new USDP? These questions remain unanswered. As far as we know, the retired generals will also take the key posts in this new USDP,” he said.

The USDA was part of the junta’s “people’s war strategy” to create a “people’s militia” to protect the transition process (from military to civilian government) from internal and external threats. The 2008 constitution’s section 340 lays out the role of the “people’s military” under the leadership of the defence forces.

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), the official name of the military regime of Burma that seized power in 1988, was the USDA’s original patron. Slorc was abolished in 1997 to be reconstituted as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the junta’s current name for itself. The USDA received direct and indirect support from the junta at various levels and was it is best known for its anti-democratic rallies and activities.

One of the most notable incidents was when it attacked National League for Democracy members’ and Aung San Suu Kyi’s political tour convoy in Depayin in May 2003. At least 70 people associated with the NLD were killed in a well-organised attack by a government-sponsored mob, widely reported to have comprised at least 5,000 USDA members.

Reports circulated at the time said the USDA played a key role in what was described as a murder attempt against Suu Kyi.

In the September 2007 anti-junta protests across Burma, USDA members blocked roads, and harassed and arrested civilians and monks as they took to the streets.

In December last year, around 20 USDA members attacked the Union of Myanmar National Political League during an election campaign talk show in Ahlat Chaung village, in Kyimyindine Township.Mizzima

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