On This Day

The Day the Butcher of Yangon Began His 17-Day Presidency

By Wei Yan Aung 27 July 2019

YANGON—Exactly 31 years ago today, U Sein Lwin, a former military colonel who was dubbed the “Butcher of Yangon” for his brutal suppression of student-led demonstrations and the pro-democracy movement in the former capital, became the sixth President of Myanmar.

In the last week of July 1988, with the country in a state of political chaos and facing unexpected twists and turns, U Sein Lwin succeeded military dictator General Ne Win as the chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) and U San Yu as President.

His presidency, however, lasted only 17 days, making him the shortest-reigning president in modern Myanmar history.

Before he became President, U Sein Lwin led ruthless suppressions of pro-democracy demonstrators in March and June of 1988. He declared martial law during his 17-day presidency and directed troops to open fire on demonstrators, killing and wounding hundreds on August 8, 1988—known as the 8888 Uprising.

Protests, shootings and arrests continued until he resigned on August 12. He reportedly urged Dr. Maung Maung, who succeeded him as President, not to be too soft.

U Sein Lwin, who also served as joint general secretary of the BSPP, had a reputation for being a Gen. Ne Win henchman, once saying he would dig his own grave if the general asked him to.

U Sein Lwin shot to fame in the military after fighting in the battle that killed Karen revolutionary leader Saw Ba U Gyi. He rose through the ranks to become a brigadier-general.

He participated in the arrest of Prime Minister U Nu when the military staged a coup in 1962. He was one of those responsible for the Yangon University Student Union massacre on July 7, 1962, and was also believed to have played a role in the government demonetizing of the 25-, 35-, and 75-kyat notes without warning or compensation in 1987.

U Sein Lwin retired from politics after the 8888 Uprising and died in Yangon at the age of 81 in 2004.