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Burma’s Former Dictator General Ne Win Dies

Burma’s Former Dictator General Ne Win Dies

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The death of Burma's elderly former dictator, General Ne Win, ended the life of a bizarre, brutal leader who used superstition, military repression and a mummified economy to turn a prosperous Southeast Asian nation into a pauper and pariah.

"The former military dictator of Burma, Gen. Ne Win, has died while under house arrest, according to reports citing family sources," the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) announced on Thursday (December 5).

"Family members said the 91-year-old died at 0730 local time (0100 GMT) at a lakeside house he has been held in, along with his daughter, since March 7." the BBC said.

His health deteriorated over the past few years, culminating in a heart attack in September 2001 and a secretive trip to Singapore for medical treatment.

Gen. Ne Win was named Shu Maung -- "apple of one's eye" -- when born in Paungdale, central Burma, on May 24, 1911. His father was a civil servant.

Gen. Ne Win was largely responsible for turning the relatively wealthy, rice-exporting, France-sized nation into a ruined, repressive land.

After seizing power in a bloodless 1962 coup, he proudly announced his xenophobic reign as, "The Burmese Way to Socialism." Inspired by Marx and Stalin, he kicked out foreign corporations and nationalized their businesses.

The mystical, hermit leader dreamed up eccentric economic policies according to his superstitious belief in numerology.

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In 1987, he cancelled all Burmese kyat currency notes and introduced fresh notes in denominations based on his personal "lucky numbers".

Many people became bankrupt overnight, because the previous currency was quickly deemed invalid.

Instead, people were suddenly handed new 90-kyat notes, and told they could only make change with new 45-kyat and 15-kyat denominations. "He was said to have bathed in dolphins' blood to regain his youth, and his dedication to numerology was legendary," the BBC reported. Gen. Ne Win also created a powerful, politicized military regime.

It meted out extrajudicial killings and torture against thousands of people to keep society confined, according to the U.S. State Department, London-based Amnesty International and other human rights investigators. He was forced to step aside in 1988 after the military killed thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators during a failed uprising in Rangoon, capital of Burma -- a country also known as Myanmar.

From 1988 to 2002, the regime allowed him to dwell in oblivion as a wealthy recluse in Rangoon where he spent much of his time and fortune building a Buddhist pagoda to ensure a good afterlife. In March, Ne Win's world crumbled.

His favorite, business-savvy daughter, Sandar Win, and her husband and their three adult sons were arrested by the military junta.

Sandar Win's husband and sons were charged with attempting a coup, which surprised diplomats who suspected the real problem was the family's attempt to profit from its status by ignoring the military's monopolistic commercial regulations.

The Ne Win family was said to have been insulted at not receiving special privileges to continue exploiting Burma's shattered economy.

The military regime produced weapons, uniforms and other items allegedly amassed by Gen. Ne Win's family to stage a coup.

Authorities said they found "a golden embroidery" illustrated with a crowned peacock, a tiger, a lion, a fish, three swords and a harp.

The "peacock represents Ne Win...the emblem forms part of a royal regalia, and it seems as if they were creating a royal family," reported the government-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

"It seems that if they managed to seize state power, they would establish the monarchy and try to maintain family power for life," the paper said. Evidence included three small dolls representing the regime's top leaders -- Generals Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt -- allegedly used in black magic rituals by the Ne Win family.

In September, a court sentenced to death Gen. Ne Win's son-in-law Aye Zaw Win -- the husband of Gen. Ne Win's daughter -- and the couple's three sons, Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win, and Zwe Ne Win. The four men have appealed.

Several military officials and other influential people were also imprisoned.

Gen. Ne Win and his daughter Sandar Win were locked under house arrest where he remained until he died.

During the trial, many Burmese expressed delight that Gen. Ne Win's family was suffering the same harsh treatment he meted out against his countrymen while in power.

Some said the trial was reminiscent of 25 years ago when Gen. Ne Win executed the masterminds of an alleged coup plot against him.

Today, Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world.

The economy is reeling under U.S. and international sanctions installed to force the regime to allow democracy.

Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990, but the regime refused to heed the results.

The government now has to decide how to stage Gen. Ne Win's funeral. Though his life ended in disgrace, his 1962-1988 reign formed much of recent Burmese history.

Burma was a British colony up until World War Two. In 1941, hoping to break Britain's grip, he traveled to Japan, trained under the Japanese army and helped Tokyo invade Burma.

After Japan's invasion, Gen. Ne Win realized Tokyo also wanted to dominate his country. So he secretly plotted against their puppet government and unleashed a withering guerrilla campaign, enabling the British to return in December 1944.

In response, Britain granted Burma independence in January 1948. Gen. Ne Win had commanded the Burma National Army from 1943-45 and, after World War Two, commanded the Burma 4th Rifles where he established ties with many of his future regime officials.

From 1949-50, he was minister of defense and home affairs and also commander-in-chief, a post he held until 1972.

In that position, he took over Burma's faltering government as a caretaker leader in 1958-60 and staged a coup in 1962, arresting the former prime minister, U Nu.

Gen. Ne Win was rumored to have died in 1997 but showed up in Indonesia alongside then-President Suharto who was a close friend.



(c) richard s. ehrlich 2002 - available for syndication

asia correspondent animists@yahoo.com bangkok, thailand


phone (66) 02 286 2424 fax via u.s.a. (978) 334 5691


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