The surprise appointment of the government’s number-three General Khin Nyunt as prime minister on Monday is a hot issue in this military-run nation. Than Shwe himself donned the role earlier.

  

Khin Nyunt, the most outward-looking figure in the government, is expected to tackle the country's two biggest problems -- the stalemate with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the collapsing economy.

 

Detention

  

But the source close to the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) said Than Shwe was merely hoping the new premier would deflect some of the heat from incidents like Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention.

  

"The Senior General does not intend to step down at any time in the foreseeable future and so he needs someone to offset growing international pressure being brought to bear on him," he said.

  

"Than Shwe is coming along in years and doesn't want too many headaches... he needs a shield to deflect all that outside pressure... and Khin Nyunt will hopefully serve as that shield," he said.

  

As the new public face of the government, Khin Nyunt will now have to represent Myanmar at meetings like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and confront critics directly -- a job Than Shwe preferred to avoid.

  

"Khin Nyunt has been given the responsibility to deal with all those headaches in (Than Shwe's) place," the source said.

 

"Than Shwe is coming along in years and doesn't want too many headaches... he needs a shield to deflect all that outside pressure... and Khin Nyunt will hopefully serve as that shield."

--Government source

"Khin Nyunt himself probably welcomes this new position as it suits him to a T, despite the obvious drawbacks, because he has a personality which thrives on high visibility."

  

Foreign governments and diplomats in Yangon consider Khin Nyunt the man most accessible in the government, where he is considered a moderate.

  

He was charged with managing a United Nation-sponsored reconciliation process with Aung San Suu Kyi, which broke down in May when she was arrested after her supporters were attacked by a pro-junta mob during a political tour.

  

State radio had announced on Monday that in a sweeping reshuffle Khin Nyunt had lost his role as Secretary One in the SPDC, which made him the third-ranking general in the country after Than Shwe and army chief Maung Aye.