Ne Win

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Ne Win

Bo Ne Win (May 24, 1911 - December 5, 2002) (born Shu Maung) was a Burmese military commander and ruler of the country from 1962 until 1988.

Shu Maung was born into a educated middle class family in Paungdale, central Burma. Educationally, he followed in his father's footsteps and was on the way to becoming a doctor at the University of Rangoon. In the 1930s he became part of the anti-British nationalist group Dobama Asiayone through family connections. Other members of the group included Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) and U Nu. He rose within the group, and in 1941 he was one of the so-called 'Thirty Comrades' who were chosen for military training by the Japanese forces to command the Burmese Independence Army (BIA). He chose a new name, Bo Ne Win, and by 1943 he was the head of the BIA.

The Japanese actions in Burma worked to alienate the nationalists. Towards the end of the war, in December 1944, the BIA turned against the Japanese following the British invasion. Ne Win remained in command and was quick to establish links with the British - attending the Kandy meeting and heading the anti-Communist operations later in the year in the Pyinmana area. When the war ended the country established a democratic government under U Nu, but the state was fatally riven with political stresses. Aung San was assassinated in 1947; U Saw, a former Prime Minister and political rival of Aung San, was found guilty of the crime and executed. However, there are also suggestions that the assassination was carried out by the British. Following independence on January 4, 1948 there were uprisings in the army and amongst minority ethnic groups. In early 1949, Ne Win was appointed chief-of-staff to the fragmented army. He rebuilt and restructured the armed forces, but the country was still split and the government was ineffective.

Ne Win served was asked to serve as interim prime minister from 1958 to 1960 by U Nu, due to the troubles in the country. Ne Win restored order and the country was running well. He handed back power to U Nu On March 2, but the country went back to disorder and corruption. 1962 Ne Win seized power through a popular military coup d'etat. He instituted a system involving elements of extreme nationalism, Marxism, and local religions. Part of his plan was to almost completely isolate his country from the rest of the world. The British had assassinated Aung San, and fear of the West was high. The reforms were called the 'Burmese Way to Socialism' - the economy was nationalised, foreigners were expelled, political activists were imprisoned and ethnic trouble was put down with massive military force. The main ethnic problems arose in the north, where the British had made promises of a separate Karen state. Protest was dealt with effectively; for example, student protests in Rangoon in 1962 led to the students being arrested with minimal violence.

He was married on five official occasions and had five children. The 1972 death of his longest surviving wife, Kitty Ba Than, was a heavy blow to him. She was a charming woman who had listed Queen Elizabeth of England as one of her personal friends. He is also noted for his interest in numerology- he once ordered the kyat to be issued in denominations of 15, 35, 45, 75 and 90 kyats, besides the existing 5 and 10 kyat notes.

The efforts of Ne Win were not well received in much of the country. Opponents to the new government were quick to incite new uprisings, especially among the ethnic minorites the Karens and the Mons. The policy of isolation was particularly damaging to the economy. The black market and rampant smuggling supplied the needs of the people, while the central government slid slowly into bankruptcy.

On August 8, 1988, with Burma one of the poorest countries in the world, Ne Win resigned as prime minister, allegedly because 8 was his lucky number (the numerical date being 8/8/88). There were brief hopes for democracy before a military group, previously allied to Ne Win, seized power in September. Ne Win remained out of government in relative seclusion near Rangoon.

His death was not a noted event world wide and no state funeral was held.


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