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Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 09:06 GMT
Obituary: Ne Win
Ne Win in 1970
Once in power, Ne Win crushed dissent
The former Burmese dictator Ne Win, who has died aged 91, was a ruthless and corrupt figure whose 26 year-rule helped cause the country's economic decline.

During this time, his brutal regime curtailed human and political rights and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

Most notably, Ne Win's hand-picked successors placed Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident politician and daughter of a former colleague, under house arrest following pro-democracy protests in 1988.

The Burmese capital, Rangoon
Ne Win was born Shu Maung - "apple of one's eye" - in Paungdale, central Burma, on 24 May 1911.

The son of a minor civil servant, Shu Maung left university in Rangoon after failing a biology exam in 1931.

Disillusioned with British colonial rule, he joined the Dobama Asiayone (Our Burma Association), where he became involved with the country's two most eminent nationalist leaders, Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) and U Nu.

In 1941, together with other members of the group, now known as the Thirty Companions, Shu Maung was smuggled out of Burma to be trained by the Japanese, who themselves had designs on south-east Asia.

On 26 December 1941, the Burma Independence Army (BIA) was formed and, in celebration, Shu Maung became Ne Win, or "brilliant as the sun".


But after Japan invaded Burma, Ne Win and others became convinced that Japan wanted to colonise rather than liberate the country.

Aung San
His former colleague Aung San was assassinated in 1947
By now Chief of the Army, Ne Win, together with his colleagues, bridled at their involvement in a puppet government and secretly plotted against the Japanese.

When the British returned in December 1944, a greatly expanded Burmese Army, under Ne Win, dispersed into the Irrawaddy Delta before fighting a bitter guerrilla war against the Japanese which culminated in British authority being restored the following August.

Burma finally achieved independence, outside the British Commonwealth, on 4 January 1948, but the dream of nationhood soon soured.

Independence unleashed political and ethnic tensions and brought with it a prolonged guerrilla war.


The assassination of prominent figures, including Aung San the previous year, sullied the political climate.

Now a General and Defence Minister, Ne Win, together with Prime Minister U Nu, ruled Burma for a decade until U Nu's government collapsed in 1958 and Ne Win took over as caretaker Prime Minister.

Following elections, a second U Nu government came to grief on 1 March 1962 when Ne Win staged a successful coup and arrested the former Prime Minister.

Aung San Suu Kyi
The 1988 protests brought Aung San Suu Kyi to the fore
Justifying his action as giving Burma a government appropriate to its needs, he issued a 28-point manifesto titled "The Burmese Way to Socialism".

This promised to remove the "pernicious" economic system through "political and economic mysticism".

The truth was anything but mystical. Burma became a one-party state, foreign businesses were forced to leave and their assets were nationalised.

A devotee of Marx and Stalin, Ne Win brutally crushed all opposition and clashes between students and the military were common, usually with fatal consequences for the demonstrators.

Bathed in dolphins' blood

Ne Win was a distant, reclusive figure, addicted to the more vulgar variants of Buddhism. He was said to have bathed in dolphins' blood to regain his youth and his dedication to numerology was legendary.

Addicted to the power of numbers, he instructed that the national currency, the kyat, should be issued in denominations of 45 and 90 because they were divisible by his lucky number, nine.

But it was his decision to resign on an auspicious day, 8 August 1988 (8.8.88) which was to have the most far-reaching consequences.

A Burmese pagoda and ox-drawn cart
Burma has been ravaged by military dictatorship
The student protests which accompanied Ne Win's retirement provoked a bloodbath. Up to 10,000 demonstrators are believed to have been killed, some with unspeakable cruelty.

The chief opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested and put under house arrest, where she remained until 1995, before being detained again between 2000-2002.

In recent years, Ne Win's influence has waned. Earlier this year, members of Ne Win's family were arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the current military government.

Since then, Ne Win has been under virtual house arrest at his lakeside villa with only his favourite daughter, Sandar Win, for company.

Ne Win's three grandsons and son-in-law were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

Ne Win's legacy is a tragic one. Once a rich country, Myanmar (the name changed in 1988) is now an isolated and poor place.

For most Burmese, Ne Win will be remembered as the man who took the country from prosperity to poverty.

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