Ne Win's Legacy: Burma in Shambles; Dictator Took a Prosperous Country, Wrecked It through Corruption, mismanagement.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: WESTERN ASIA)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 21, 2002 | Go to article overview

Ne Win's Legacy: Burma in Shambles; Dictator Took a Prosperous Country, Wrecked It through Corruption, mismanagement.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: WESTERN ASIA)


Byline: Richard S. Ehrlich, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BANGKOK - The death this month of Gen. Ne Win, Burma's elderly ex-dictator, ended the life of a bizarre, brutal leader who used superstition, military repression and economic mismanagement 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. reported Dec. 5.

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

The Associated Press reported that Ne Win's remains were cremated the afternoon of his death in a private ceremony lacking the military honors befitting a general. Only about 25 relatives and friends - but no government representatives - attended, and Ne Win's passing was ignored in Burma's official media.

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

The late ex-strongman was named Shu Maung - "apple of one's eye" - when he was born in Paungdale, central Burma, then part of British India, on May 24, 1911. His father was a civil servant.

After seizing power in a bloodless 1962 coup, Gen. Ne Win proudly announced his xenophobic reign as "the Burmese Way to Socialism." He was largely responsible for turning the relatively wealthy, rice-exporting nation nearly the size of Texas into a ruined, repressive land.

Inspired by Marx and Stalin, he kicked out foreign corporations and nationalized their businesses. The hermit-minded leader dreamed up eccentric economic policies based on his superstitious belief in numerology.

In 1987, he canceled the Burmese kyat currency and introduced new notes in denominations based on his personal lucky numbers - 15, 45 and 90. Many people were bankrupted overnight when the previous currency was declared invalid.

People were suddenly given new 90-kyat notes, and told they could only make change with new 45-kyat and 15-kyat bills.

"He was said to have bathed in dolphins' blood to regain his youth, and his dedication to numerology was legendary," the BBC reported.

Ne Win set up a powerful, politicized military regime. According to the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and other human rights groups, the Ne Win government tortured prisoners and carried out extrajudicial killings to keep Burma's people in line.

Ne Win was forced aside in 1988 after the military killed thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators during a failed uprising in Rangoon, the capital of Burma, which Ne Win's successors renamed Myanmar.

From 1988 to 2002, the regime allowed the aged ex-despot to dwell in oblivion as a wealthy recluse in Rangoon, where he spent much of his time and fortune building a Buddhist pagoda in hopes of ensuring a happy afterlife.

But last March, his world crumbled. Ne Win's 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 wrecked economy.

As evidence for the coup accusation, the military regime produced weapons, uniforms and other items allegedly amassed by Gen. Ne Win's family. The authorities also said they found "a golden embroidery" illustrated with a crowned peacock, a tiger, a lion, a fish, three swords and a harp. …

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