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Several senior Myanmar leaders shed uniforms, retire from junta ahead of Nov. 7 elections

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's junta carried out a major military reshuffle Friday that retired more than a dozen senior leaders, officials said, in an apparent move to prepare for November national elections.

There were conflicting reports about whether the top two junta leaders — Senior Gen. Than Shwe and his second-in-command, Gen. Maung Aye — also stepped down from the military while retaining their respective posts as the junta's chairman and vice chairman. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Than Shwe has ruled the country since 1992.

The elections are portrayed by the regime as a key step to shifting to civilian rule after five decades of military domination, but critics call them a sham and say the military shows little sign of relinquishing control.

The reshuffle is the second since April, when 27 senior officials, including Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, retired from the military. The leaders are widely believed to be retiring from their military posts so they can run in the Nov. 7 polls, the first in two decades.

Friday's reshuffle included the junta's third- and fourth-ranking generals, Thura Shwe Mann, who served as Joint Chief of Staff, and Tin Aung Myint Oo, who was the army's Quartermaster General, said the officials who are close to the military but could not be named because the reshuffle was not formally announced.

The reshuffle also involved regional commanders and injected fresh blood into the Ministry of Defense, the officials said.

The new No. 3 in command will be Lt. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing who is chief of Bureau of Special Operations.

The chief of Military Affairs Security, Lt. Gen. Ye Myint, who had been involved in partly successful negotiations to persuade armed ethnic groups to transform into border guards ahead of elections, was replaced by Yangon Division Commander Maj. Gen. Win Myint.

Under the country's new constitution, the newly created 440-member House of Representatives will have 110 military representatives along with 330 elected civilians. If retiring generals run for parliament they would not be counted in the military's quota although they are likely to enhance the army's influence in parliament.

The polls will take place without the country's leading opposition party, headed by detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar had its last election in 1990. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy opposition party topped the polls, but the military refused to recognize the results. The party expected to win the most votes this time is backed by the junta.

Suu Kyi's party decided against registering for this year's elections, which is tantamount to boycotting the polls. The party says the election laws are unfair and undemocratic. Smaller opposition groups are running but lack a national presence.