On This Day

The Day the ‘Destroyer of Burma’ Died

By Wei Yan Aung 5 December 2020

YANGON—Myanmar’s former military dictator General Ne Win, whose 26-year rule impoverished a once-prosperous nation, died in disgrace 18 years ago today at his lakeside residence in Yangon. He was mistakenly believed to be 91 years old at the time of his death. However, the obituary placed by his family in the government-run newspapers recorded his age as 93.

Dubbed “the destroyer of Burma”, the general, who seized power through a coup in 1962, was infamous for his “Burmese Way to Socialism”—a political ideology that made Myanmar a least developed nation.  He was forced to step down in 1988 in the face of a popular pro-democracy uprising, but retained behind-the-scenes clout.

Months before his death, his three grandchildren and a son-in-law were on death row in Yangon’s Insein Prison on high treason charges. He and his most beloved daughter Daw Khin Sandar Win were also under effective house arrest.

In accordance with the ex-general’s instruction that his body be cremated within 30 hours of his death, his funeral was held at 1.30 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2002, the day of his death.

Ex-dictator Ne Win in Indonesia in 1997.

Only a dozen or so people including Daw Khin Sandar Win were allowed to attend the funeral of the dictator U Ne Win, one of the Thirty Comrades who underwent military training in Japan to fight the British, former military chief, former chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party and former president. As per his instruction, his ashes were scattered on the Hlaing River.

His death notice was published in a small column in the Dec. 7 issue of the country’s newspapers. In it, the surviving family thanked those who took care of him during his illness and those who extended assistance in arranging his funeral.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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