Myanmar Armed Forces

Myanmar Armed Forces

The military of Myanmar, officially known as Tatmadaw (MYname|MY=တပ္မေတာ္|MLCTS=tap ma. taw; IPA2|taʔmədɔ̀) is the military organization of Myanmar, also known as Burma. The armed forces are administered by the Ministry of Defence and are composed of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Auxiliary services include Myanmar Police Force, People Militia Units and Frontier Forces, locally known as Na Sa Kha.

All service personnel are volunteers although the government is empowered to undertake conscription if considered necessary for Myanmar's defense. Tatmadaw has been engaged in a bitter battle with ethnic insurgents, political dissidents and narco-armies since the country gained its independence from Great Britain in 1948. Retaining much of the organizational structure established by the British, Myanmar Armed Forces continue to face challenges from aging weaponry and equipment and relying on foreign purchases of military equipment. However, the armed forces are an essential to Myanmar's strategic importance, power and capabilities in the region.

Defense Policy and Doctrine

Defence Policy of Myanmar Tatmadaw was formally declared in February, 1999. The declared policy outlined the doctrine of "total people's defence" for the Union of Myanmar. Threats to the national unity, territorial integrity and sovereign independence of the Union of Myanmar are the most important security objectives and considered as threats to the security of state. In the process of formulating Defence Policy and Military Doctrine from a strategic perspective, Tatmadaw has undergone three phases.


First Phase (Post Independence/Civil War era)

The first phase of the doctrine was developed in early 1950s to cope with external threats from more powerful enemies with a strategy of Strategic Denial under conventional warfare. The perception of threats to state security was more external than internal threats. The internal threat to state security was managed through the use of a mixture of force and political persuasion. Lieutenant Colonel Maung Maung drew up defence doctrine based on conventional warfare concepts, with large infantry divisions, armoured brigades, tanks and motorised war with mass mobilisation for the war effort being the important element of the doctrine. The objective was to contain the offensive of the invading forces at the border for at least three months, while waiting for the arrival of international forces, similar to the police action by international intervention forces under the directive of United Nations during the war on Korean peninsula. However, the conventional strategy under the concept of total war was undermined by the lack of appropriate command and control system, proper logistical support structure, sound economic bases and efficient civil defence organisations.

At the beginning of 1950s, while Tatmadaw was able to reassert its control over most part of the country, Kuomintang (KMT) troops under General Li Mai, with support from United States, invaded Myanmar and used the country's frontier as a springboard for attack against People's Republic of China, which in turn became the external threat to state security and sovereignty of Myanmar. The first phase of the doctrine was tested for the first time in Operation "Naga Naing" in February 1953 against invading KMT forces. The doctrine did not take into account logistic and political support for KMT from United States and as a result it failed to deliver the objectives and ended in humiliating defeat for the Tatmadaw. The then Tatmadaw leadership argued that the excessive media coverage was partly to blame for the failure of Operation "Naga Naing". For example, Brigadier General Maung Maung pointed out that newspapers, such as the "Nation", carried reports detailing the training and troops positioning, even went as far to the name and social background of the commanders who are leading the operation thus losing the element of surprise. Colonel Saw Myint, who was second in command for the operation, also complained about the long lines of communications and the excessive pressure imposed upon the units for public relations activities in order to prove that the support of the people was behind the operation. [DSHMRI Archives]

econd Phase (KMT Invasion/BSPP era)

Despite failure, Tatmadaw continued to rely on this doctrine until the mid 1960s. The doctrine was under constant review and modifications throughout KMT invasion and gained success in anti-KMT operations in the mid and late 1950s. However, this strategy became increasingly irrelevant and unsuitable in the late 1950s as the insurgents and KMT changed their positional warfare strategy to hit-and-run guerrilla warfare. [Aung San Thuriya Hla Thaung (Armanthit Sarpay, Yangon, 1999)] [In Defiance of the Storm (Myawaddy Press, Yangon, 1997] At the 1958 Tatmadaw's annual Commanding Officers (COs) conference, Colonel Kyi Win submitted a report outlining the requirement for new military doctrine and strategy. He stated that 'Tatmadaw did not have a clear strategy to cope with insurgents', even though most of Tatmadaw's commanders were guerrilla fighters during the anti-British and Japanese campaigns during the Second World War, they had very little knowledge of anti-guerrilla or counterinsurgency warfare. Based upon Colonel Kyi Win's report, Tatmadaw begin developing an appropriate military doctrine and strategy to meet the requirements of counterinsurgency warfare.

This second phase of the doctrine was to suppress insurgency with people's war and the perception of threats to state security was more of internal threats. During this phase, external linkage of internal problems and direct external threats were minimised by the foreign policy based on isolation. It was common view of the commanders that unless insurgency was suppressed, foreign interference would be highly probable [Strategic Cultures in Asia-Pacific Region (St. Martin's Press)] , therefore counterinsurgency became the core of the new military doctrine and strategy. Beginning in 1961, the Directorate of Military Training took charge the research for national defence planning, military doctrine and strategy for both internal and external threats. This included reviews of international and domestic political situations, studies of the potential sources of conflicts, collection of information for strategic planning and defining the possible routes of foreign invasion. [DSHMRI Archives] . In 1962, as part of new military doctrine planning, principles of anti-guerrilla warfare were outlined and counterinsurgency-training courses were delivered at the training schools. The new doctrine laid out three potential enemies and they are internal insurgents, historical enemies with roughly an equal strength (i.e. Thailand), and enemies with greater strength. It states that in suppressing insurgencies, Tatmadaw must be trained to conduct long-range penetration with a tactic of continuous search and destroy. Reconnaissance, Ambush and all weather day and night offensive and attack capabilities along with winning the hearts and minds of people are important parts of anti-guerrilla warfare. For countering an historical enemy with equal strength, Tatmadaw should fight a conventional warfare under total war strategy, without giving up an inch of its territory to the enemy. For powerful enemy and foreign invaders, Tatmadaw should engage in total people's war, with a special focus on guerrilla strategy. [DSHMRI Archives]

To prepare for the transition to the new doctrine, Brigadier General San Yu, the then Vice Chief of Staff (Army), sent a delegation led by Lieutenant Colonel Thura Tun Tin was sent to Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and East Germany in July 1964 to study organisation structure, armaments, training, territorial organisation and strategy of people's militias. A research team was also formed at General Staff Office within the War Office to study defence capabilities and militia formations of neighbouring countries.

The new doctrine of total people's war, and the strategy of anti-guerrilla warfare for counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare for foreign invasion, were designed to be appropriate for Myanmar. The doctrine flowed from the country's independent and active foreign policy, total people's defence policy, the nature of perceived threats, its geography and the regional environment, the size of its population in comparison with those of its neighbours, the relatively underdeveloped nature of its economy and its historical and political experiences. The doctrine was based upon 'three totalities': population, time and space (du-thone-du) and 'four strengths': manpower, material, time and morale (Panama-lay-yat). The doctrine did not develop concepts of strategic denial or counter-offensive capabilities. It relied almost totally on irregular low-intensity warfare, such as its guerrilla strategy to counter any form of foreign invasion. The overall counterinsurgency strategy included not only elimination of insurgents and their support bases with the 'four cut' strategy, but also the building and designation of 'white area' and 'black area' as well.

In April 1968, Tatmadaw introduced special warfare training programmes at "Command Training Centres" at various regional commands. Anti-Guerrilla warfare tactics were taught at combat forces schools and other training establishments with special emphasis on ambush and counter-ambush, counterinsurgency weapons and tactics, individual battle initiative for tactical independence, commando tactics, and reconnaissance. Battalion size operations were also practised in the South West Regional Military Command area. The new military doctrine was formally endorsed and adopted at the first party congress of the BSPP in 1971. [DSHMRI] BSPP laid down directives for "complete annihilation of the insurgents as one of the tasks for national defence and state security" and called for "liquidation of insurgents through the strength of the working people as the immediate objective". This doctrine ensures the role of Tatmadaw at the heart of national policy making.

Throughout BSPP era, the total people's war doctrine was solely applied in counterinsurgency operations, since Myanmar did not face any direct foreign invasion throughout the period. In 1985, the then Lieutenant General Saw Maung, Vice-Chief of Staff of Tatmadaw reminded his commanders during his speech at the Command and General Staff College:

In Myanmar, out of nearly 35 million people, the combined armed forces (army, navy and air force) are about two hundred thousand. In terms of percentage, that is about 0.01 percent. It is simply impossible to defend a country the size of ours with only this handful of troops... therefore, what we have to do in the case of foreign invasion is to mobilise people in accordance with the "total people's war" doctrine. In order to defend our country from aggressors, the entire population must be involved in the war effort as the support of people dictate the outcome of the war.

Third Phase (SLORC/SPDC era)

The third phase of doctrinal development of Myanmar Armed Forces came after the military take over and formation of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in September, 1988 as part of armed forces modernisation programme. The development was the reflection of sensitivity towards direct foreign invasion or invasion by proxy state during the turbulent years of the late 80s and early 90s, for example: unauthorised presence of US Aircraft Carrier Group in Myanmar's territorial waters during 1988 political uprising as evidence of an infringement of Myanmar's sovereignty. Also, Tatmadaw leadership was concerned that foreign powers might arm the insurgents on the Myanmar border to exploit the political situation and tensions in the country. This new threat perception, previously insignificant under the nation's isolationist foreign policy, led Tatmadaw leaders to review the defence capability and doctrine of the Tatmadaw.

The third phase was to face the lower level external threats with a strategy of strategic denial under total people's defence concept. Current military leadership has successfully dealt with 17 major insurgent groups, whose 'return to legal fold' in the past decade has remarkably decreased the internal threats to state security, at least for the short and medium terms, even though threat perception of the possibility of external linkage to internal problems, perceived as being motivated by the continuing human rights violations, religious suppression and ethnic cleansing, remains high.

Within the policy, the role of the Tatmadaw was defined as a `modern, strong and highly capable fighting force'. Since the day of independence, the Tatmadaw has been involved in restoring and maintaining internal security and suppressing insurgency. It was with this background that Tatmadaw's "multifaceted" defence policy was formulated and its military doctrine and strategy could be interpreted as defence-in-depth. It was influenced by a number of factors such as history, geography, culture, economy and sense of threats. Tatmadaw has developed an 'active defence' strategy based on guerrilla warfare with limited conventional military capabilities, designed to cope with low intensity conflicts from external and internal foes, which threatens the security of the state. This strategy, revealed in joint services exercises, is built on a system of total people's defence, where the armed forces provide the first line of defence and the training and leadership of the nation in the matter of national defence. It is designed to deter potential aggressors by the knowledge that defeat of Tatmadaw's regular forces in conventional warfare would be followed by persistent guerrilla warfare in the occupied areas by people militias and dispersed regular troops which would eventually wear down the invading forces, both physically and psychologically, and leave it vulnerable to a counter-offensive. If the conventional strategy of strategic denial fails, then the Tatmadaw and its auxiliary forces will follow Mao's strategic concepts of 'strategic defensive', 'strategic stalemate' and 'strategic offensive'.

Over the past decade, through a series of modernisation programs, Tatmadaw has developed and invested in better Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence system; real-time intelligence; formidable air defence system; and early warning systems for its 'strategic denial' and 'total people's defence' doctrine.

Organisational, Command and Control Structure

Before 1988 [Andrew Selth: Transforming the Tatmadaw]

Overall command of Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) rested with the country's highest ranking military officer, a General, who acted concurrently as Defence Minister and Chief of Staff of Defence Services. He thus exercised supreme operational control over all three services, under the direction of the President, State Council and Council of Ministers. There was also a National Security Council which acted in advisory capacity. The Defence Minister cum Chief-of-Staff of Defence Services exercised day-to-day control of the armed forces and assisted by three Vice-Chiefs of Staff, one each for the army, navy and air force. These officers also acted as Deputy Ministers of Defence and commanders of their respective Services. They were all based at Ministry of Defence ("Kakweyay Wungyi Htana") in Rangoon/Yangon. It served as a government ministry as well as joint military operations headquarters.

The Joint Staff within the Ministry of Defence consisted of three major branches, one each for Army, Navy and Air Force, along with a number of independent departments. The Army Office had three major departments; the General (G) Staff to oversee operations, the Adjutant General's (A) Staff administration and the Quartermaster General's (Q) Staff to handle logistics. The General Staff consisted two Bureaus of Special Operations (BSO), which were created in April 1978 and June 1979 respectively. These BSO are similar to "Army Groups" in Western armies, high level staff units formed to manage different theatres of military operations. They were responsible for the overall direction and coordination of the Regional Military Commands (RMC) with BSO-1 covering Northern Command (NC), North Eastern Command (NEC), North Western Command (NWC), Western Command (WC) and Eastern Command (EC). BSO-2 responsible for South Eastern Command (SEC), South Western Command (SWC), Western Command (WC) and Central Command (CC) [Maung Aung Myoe: Building the Tatmadaw, p.26] . The Army's elite mobile Light Infantry Divisions (LID) were managed separately under a Staff Colonel. Under G Staff, there were also a number of directorates which corresponded to the Army's functional corps, such as Intelligence, Signals, Training, Armour and Artillery. The A Staff was responsible for the Adjutant General, Directorate of Medical Services and the Provost Marshal's Office. The Q Staff included the Directorates of Supply and Transport, Ordnance Services, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, and Military Engineers.

The Navy and Air Force Offices within the Ministry were headed by the Vice Chiefs of Staff for those Services. Each was supported by a staff officer at full Colonel level. All these officers were responsible for the overall management of the various naval and air bases around the country, and the broader administrative functions such as recruitment and training.

Operational Command in the field was exercised through a framework of Regional Military Commands (RMC), the boundaries of which corresponded with the country's Seven States and Seven Divisions. [See order of battle for further details] The Regional Military Commanders, all senior army officers, usually of Brigadier General rank, were responsible for the conduct of military operations in their respective RMC areas. Depending on the size of RMC and its operational requirements, Regional Military Commanders have at their disposal 10 or more infantry battalions ("Kha La Ya").

1988 to 2005

The Tatmadaw's organisational and command structure changed dramatically changed after the military coup in 1988. In 1990, the country's most senior army officer become a Senior General (equivalent to Field Marshal rank in Western armies) and held the positions of Chairman of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), Prime Minister and Defence Minister, as well as being appointed Commander in Chief of the Defence Services. He thus exercised both political and operational control over the entire country and armed forces. From 1989, each Service has had its own Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff. The Army C-in-C is now elevated to full General ("Bo gyoke Kyii") rank and also acted as Deputy C-in-C of the Defence Services. The C-in-C of the Air Force and Navy hold the equivalent of Lieutenant General rank, while all three Service Chiefs of Staff were raised to Major General level. Chiefs of BSO, the heads of Q and A Staffs and the Director of Defence Services Intelligence (DDSI) were also elevated to Lieutenant General rank. The reorganisation of the armed forces after 1988 resulted in the upgrading by two ranks of most of the senior positions.

The Office of Strategic Studies (OSS, or "Sit Mahar Byu Har Lae Lar Yae Hta-na") was formed around 1994 and charged with formulating defence policies, and planning and doctrine of the Tatmadaw. The OSS was commanded by Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, who is also the Director Defence Service Intelligence (DDSI). Regional Military Commands and Light Infantry Divisions were also reorganised, and LIDs are now directly answerable to Commander in Chief of the Army.

A number of new subordinate command headquarters were formed in response to the growth and reorganisation of the Army. These include Regional Operation Commands (ROC, or Da Ka Sa), which are subordinate to RMCs, and Military Operations Commands (MOC, or Sa Ka Kha), which are equivalent to Western infantry divisions. The Chief of Staff (Army) retained control of the Directorates of Signals, Armour and Artillery, Defence Industries, Security Printing, People's Militias and Psychological Warfare, and Military Engineering. A Colonel General Staff position was also created in the G staff to manage a new Directorate of Public Relations and Border Troops, Directorate of Defence Services Computers (DDSC), the Defence Services Museum and Historical Research Institute.

All RMC Commander positions were raised to the level of Major General and also serve as appointed Chairmen of the State- and Division-level Law and Order Restoration Committees. They were formally responsible for both military and civil administrative functions for their command areas. Also, three additional regional military commands were created. In early 1990, a new RMC was formed in Myanmar's north west, facing India. In 1996, the Eastern Command in Shan State was split into two RMCs, and South Eastern Command was divided to create a new RMC in country's far south coastal regions. [see Order of Battle for further details]

In 1997, the SLORC was abolished and the military government created the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The council includes all senior military officers and commanders of the RMCs. A new Ministry of Military Affairs was established and headed by a Lieutenant General.


In 18 October 2004, the OSS and DDSI were abolished during the purge of General Khin Nyint and military intelligence units. OSS ordered 4 regiment to raid in DDSI HeadQuarter in Yangon.At the same time, all of the MIU in the whole country were raided and arrested by OSS corps.Nearly two thirds of MIU officerswere arrested for long years. A new military intelligence unit called Military Affairs Security (MAS) was formed to take over the functions of the DDSI, but MAS units were much fewer than DDSI's and MAS was under control by local Division commander.

In early 2006, a new RMC was created in the newly formed administrative capital, Naypyidaw.

Organisational Structure

* A.G = Adjutant General
* V.A.G = Vice Adjutant General
* DMS = Directorate of Medical Services
* DR = Directorate of Resettlement
* PMO = Provosts Marshal's Office
* MAS = Military Affair Security (Intelligence)
* DS = Directorate of Signal
* DDI = Directorate of Defence Industries
* DSP = Directorate of Security Printing
* DPMPW = Directorate of People Militias and Psychological Warfare
* DME = Directorate of Military Engineers
* DAA = Directorate of Armour and Artillery
* DSHMRI = Defence Services Historical Museum and Research Institute
* DPRBRT = Directorate of Public Relations and Border Troops
* DDSC = Directorate of Defence Services Computers
* BSO = Bureau of Special Operations
* RMC = Regional Military Command
* LID = Light Infantry Division
* ROC = Regional Operations Command
* MOC = Military Operations Command
* TOC = Tactical Operations Command
* Q.M.G = Quarter Master General
* V.Q.M.G = Vice Quarter Master General
* DEME = Directorate Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
* DST = Directorate of Supply and Transport
* DOS = Directorate of Ordinance Services
* Captain G.S = Captain General Staff
* Colonel G.S = Colonel General Staff
* J.A.G = Judge Advocate General
* I.G = Inspector General
* M.A.G = Military Appointment General
* DP = Directorate of Procurement
* CMA = Central Military Account
* Camp Comm = Camp Commandant

Rank Structure

Myanmar Army Ranks and insignia

Myanmar Navy Ranks and insignia

Myanmar Air Force Ranks and insignia


Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw Kyee)

The Myanmar Army has always been by far the largest Service and has always received the lion's share of Myanmar's defence budget. [Working Papers - Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU] [Andrew Selth: Power Without Glory] It has played the most prominent part in Myanmar's struggle against the 40 or more insurgent groups since 1948 and acquired a reputation as a tough and resourceful military force. In 1981, it was described as 'probably the best [army] in Southeast Asia, apart from Vietnam's' [Far Eastern Economic Review, 20 May 1981] . The judgment was echoed in 1983, when another observer noted that "Myanmar's infantry is generally rated as one of the toughest, most combat seasoned in Southeast Asia" [Far Eastern Economic Review, 7 July 1983] .

Myanmar Air Force (Tatmadaw Lei)

Personnel: 15,000

The Myanmar Air Force (Tatmdaw Lei) was formed on 24 December 1947. In 1948, the order of battle for Tatmadaw Lei included 40 Oxfords, 16 Tiger Moths, 4 Austers and 3 Spitfires with a few hundred personnel.

Myanmar Navy (Tatmadaw Yay)

Personnel: 16,000 (including two naval infantry battalions)

The Myanmar Navy was formed in 1940 and, although very small, played an active part in Allied operations against the Japanese during the Second World War.

Myanmar Police Force (Myanmar Yae Tat Phwe)

Personnel: 72,000 (including 4,500 Combat/SWAT Police)

Myanmar Police Force, formally known as The People's Police Force, was established in 1964 as independent department under Ministry of Home Affairs. It was reorganised on 1st October 1995 and informally become part of Tatmadaw. Current Director General of Myanmar Police Force is Brigadier General Khin Yi with its headquarters at Yangon.

Myanmar Frontier Forces (Na Sa Kha)

The Frontier Forces (Na Sa Kha) are now found on all five of Myanmar's international borders. They consist primarily of Tatmadaw personnel (including intelligence officers) assisted by members of Myanmar Police Force, Immigration and Custom officials. Its total strength is unknown.

Military Intelligence

Defence Industries

The Myanmar Defence Industries (DI) is the lifeline of Myanmar armed forces. Mainly the DI consists of 13 major factories throughout the country that produce approximately 70 major products for Army, Navy and Air Force. The main products include automatic rifles, machine guns, sub-machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, complete range of mortar and artillery ammunitions, aircraft and anti aircraft ammunitions, tank and anti-tank ammunitions, bombs, grenades, anti-tank mines, pyrotechnics, commercial explosives and commercial products, and rockets and so forth.DI have produced new assault rifles and light machine-guns for the infantry. The MA series of weapons were designed to replace the old German-designed but locally manufactured Heckler & Koch G3s and G4s that equipped Myanmar's army since the 1960s. DI said to be the most modern defence industries in the South East Asia region. They employ some of the latest state of the art technologies, including computerised numerical-controlled (CNC) machines and flexible manufacturing systems for production of precision components.

Chief of armed forces from 1945-up to date

#Major General Aung San(Founder & Father of Tatmadaw)(1945-July19, 1947)
#Major General Let Yar
#Major General Smith Dunn
#General Ne Win
#General San Yu
#General Thura Tin Oo(NLD)
#General Thura Kyaw Htin
#Sr General Saw Maung
#Sr General Than Shwe (1992-up to date)


The major factories of the DI are the following:
* Weapons Factory
* Bombs & Grenades Factory
* Tungsten Carbide Factory
* Machine Gun Factory
* Filling Factory
* Propellants Factory
* Heavy Artillery Ammo Factory
* Small Arms Ammo Factory
* Brass Mills
* Tungsten Alloy Factory
* Tank Ammo Factory
* Explosives Factory
* Medium Artillery Ammo Factory

Heavy Industries

Heavy Industries were established with Ukraine assistance mainly to assemble the BTR 3U fleet of the Myanmar Army. Total of 1,000 BTR-3U wheeled APCs are to be assembled in Myanmar over the next 10 years from parts sent by Ukraine. The BTR-3U is fitted with a number of modern weapon systems including 30mm gun, 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, 30mm automatic grenade launcher and anti-tank guided weapons. HI has also built APC/IFV such as MAV 1, MAV 2 and BAAC APCs. Little is known about MAV infantry fighting vehicles but it appeared that only 60% of the components are produced locally and some vital components such as fire control systems, turrets, engines and transmissions are imported from China NORINCO industries. Apart from BTR 3Us, MAVs and BAACs, HI is also producing a number of military trucks and jeeps for the Army, Navy and Air Force.


Products of DI are as follow:-
* BTR3U (180 nos/yr)
* MAV-1 IFV (20 nos/yr)
* Heavy Truck (400 nos/yr)
* 4x4 6 tons truck (400 nos/yr)
* Humvee (prototypes)(first seen in the 61st Armed Forces Day Parade)
* 105 mm Howitzers (production started in 2006 with the help of Singaporean technicians)
* 120 mm mortar MA 6 (50 nos/yr)
* 14.5 mm AAA (50 nos/yr)
* 12.7 mm HMG (200 nos/yr)
* 0.5" HMG (150 nos/yr)
* MA series small arms (60000 nos/yr)
* RPG (1500 nos/yr)
* Grenade Launcher (7000 nos/yr)
* 81/60 mm mortars (1200 nos/yr)
* 155/130/122/105 mm ammunitions
* 120/81/60 mm mortar bombs
* small arms ammunitions (60 millions nos/yr)
* grenades/rockets
* 57/77/122 mm rockets and up to 500 kg dumb bombs for Air Force
* 25/37/40/57 mm ammunitions for navy


ee also

*Myanmar Army
*Myanmar Navy
*Myanmar Air Force
*Myanmar Police Force
*Myanmar Frontier Forces
*Military Intelligence of Myanmar
*Aung San

External links

* [ Burma Library Archives]

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