Background Biographies

Background Biographies

By THE IRRAWADDY Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Gen Aung San Gen Ne Win
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Gen Than Shwe
Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt Gen Maung Aye
U Tin Oo [NLD] Lt-Gen Tin Oo
Dr. Maung MaungSein Lwin
Saw MaungU Nu
Aung Gyi Min Ko Naing

Gen Aung San (1915-1947)

Founder of the modern Tatmadaw. Upon graduation from Rangoon University, where he was a leader of a student strike against the British colonial government in February 1936, he joined the nationalist Dobama Asiayone ("We Burmans Association"), becoming its secretary-general in 1939.

During the Second World War, he formed the Burma Independence Army (BIA) with Japanese assistance, leading a core group known as the Thirty Comrades. Served as Minister of Defense in the Japanese-installed puppet government, but later led the BIA (renamed the Burma National Army) against the Imperial Army.

After helping the Allies to defeat the Japanese in 1945, he formed key members of the BNA into the paramilitary People’s Volunteer Organization to pressure the British to grant independence. Resigned from active military service to play a political role in negotiations with the British, finally reaching an agreement in January 1947. In the 1947 constitutional assembly election, his Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) won 196 of 202 seats.

But before he could become the first prime minister of a fully independent Burma, he and six colleagues were assassinated by a political rival on July 19, 1947. [Top]

Gen Ne Win (1911-2002)

Nom de guerre of Shu Maung, a postal clerk who later joined the Thirty Comrades. Left Rangoon University in 1930 without graduating. As a member of the Thirty Comrades, he belonged to the right-wing faction led by Ba Sein. Aung San suspected him of fascist tendencies and considered expelling him for his behavior under the Japanese. He later joined the anti-Japanese resistance, but was deeply influenced by his training under the Japanese secret police.

In 1949 he became Deputy Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw, and in 1958 took over as the head of a caretaker military administration that lasted until elections were held in 1960.

In 1962, he seized power again, arresting Prime Minister U Nu and members of his cabinet, as well as ethnic leaders. Student protests were crushed and the historic Student Union building at Rangoon University dynamited. His Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) ruled for the next quarter century, until he was forced to step down in July 1988 following massive pro-democracy protests.

Seldom seen since a trip to Indonesia in 1997, there have been numerous rumors of his death, fueling speculation about what effect this would have on the ruling junta.

In March 2002, his family was sentenced for allegedly staging a coup. Ne Win and his daughter, Khin Sandar Win, were never charged but placed under house arrest. His son-in-law and three grandsons were imprisoned. He died at his lakeside villa on Dec 5 at 7:30 am. He was cremated at noon on the same day.

More Detail by [Top]

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (1945-)

Daughter of Burmese independence leader Gen Aung San. After first fifteen years in Burma, she lived abroad until 1988, when she returned to Burma to nurse her sick mother. In August 1988, began addressing Burmese people about political change and received large amounts of support. Secretary-general of the National League of Democracy Party, 1988-present. Placed under house arrest from 1989-1995. In 1991, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Continues to play major role in Burma’s democratic struggle. Placed under house arrest again from Sept 2000 to May 2002 and commenced secret talks for national reconciliation with the SPDC in Oct 2000.

On May 7, 2002, she was released from house arrest after being detained for 19 months. Since then, she has been allowed to travel around the country on political trips with relative freedom. [Top]

Gen Than Shwe (1933-)

Chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Passed 10th Standard at Kyakse High School in Mandalay Division. Worked as a postal clerk before joining the military in 1953.

Graduated from the Officer Training School (9th Batch) in Hmawbi. Attached to the Psychological Warfare Department in 1958. Rose steadily through the ranks, becoming commander of the Southwest Region in 1983. Became Vice Chief of Staff with the rank of brigadier general in 1985. Promoted to major general in 1986 and lieutenant general in 1987. Was serving as Chairman of the BSPP’s Regional Committee in Irrawaddy Division in 1988 when pro-democracy protests broke out across the country.

Took over as Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in 1992, and continues to hold the same position in the SPDC. Also serving as Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Agriculture.

Now in his late 60s, he is widely believed to be seeking retirement, but his role in balancing moderates and hardliners within the SPDC has so far prevented this. [Top]

Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt (1939-)

Secretary one of the SPDC. Graduated from the Officer’s Training School (25th Batch) in 1960 and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree.

He became commander of Infantry Battalion No. 20 in 1960, and in the 1970s served as a staff officer at the Defense Ministry’s Bureau of Special Operations. In 1982 he was appointed tactical operations commander of the 44th Light Infantry Division.

Recalled to the capital to take over as head of the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI) after a North Korean terrorist attack killed four visiting South Korean Cabinet Ministers and thirteen other officials in Rangoon in 1984.

Close to NE Win and instrumental in suppressing the 1988 uprising. Target of an aborted assassination attempt in 1992 by Tatmadaw members opposed to his pro-China policy. Also responsible for controversial cease-fire agreements with Wa druglords. In 1998, he publicly disowned his son Ye Naing Win for marrying a foreigner. Widely regarded as the most powerful figure within the ruling junta, he is also considered a moderate and has officially met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on two occasions. [Top]

Gen Maung Aye (1940-)

Vice-Chairman of the SPDC. Joined the military in 1959. Graduated from the Defense Services Academy (1st Batch) in Maymyo with a Bachelor of Science degree.

From 1975 served as commander of Infantry Battalion No. 68 as a lieutenant colonel. Promoted to colonel in 1979 and became commander of the Northeast Region in 1986. In 1988 he became commander of the Eastern Region with the rank of brigadier general.

Promoted to major general in 1990 and lieutenant general in 1993, when he was summoned to Rangoon to become Deputy Commander in Chief (Defense Services). Named Vice-Chairman of the SLORC in 1994, and holds the same position in the SPDC.

Regarded as a hardliner and a rival of SPDC Secretary one Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, in 1997 he moved into NE Win’s compound in Rangoon to be closer to the influential former dictator.

He is believed to have cultivated strong ties with influential businessmen in Shan State during his days as commander of the Eastern Division. Connected with the recent opening of the Kanbawza Bank in Rangoon. [Top]

Lt-Gen Tin Oo (1940-2001)

Secretary Two of the SPDC. Passed the 9th Standard. Joined the military in 1959 and attended the Officer’s Training School (22nd Batch). Became commander of Infantry Battalion No. 24 with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1979.

Promoted to colonel the following year and in 1987 was appointed Army Chief of Staff. Promoted to brigadier general in 1989, major general in 1990, and lieutenant general in 1993. Regarded as a hardliner, in 1997, he was the target of a parcel bomb attack that killed his eldest daughter.

Intelligence chief Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt blamed the attack on dissidents based in Japan, although no one has claimed responsibility. Passed away in the helicopter crash into the Salween River in Karen state on Feb 19, 2001. Rumor has it that he was assasinated by a rival faction, but that is yet unconfirmed. [Top]

Dr. Maung Maung (1924-1994)
Served in the Army during World War II and attended Officers’ Training School, but quit for an academic career after the war. Started the Guardian magazine in 1954 and the Guardian newspaper in 1956. Author of Burma’s 1974 Constitution and NE Win’s uncritical biographer. In 1988, replaced Sein Lwin as Burma’s president and BSPP chairman from August 19 until the September 18st coup, which set up the Slorc. [Top]

Sein Lwin ( 1924 - ?)
Known as "the Butcher" for his involvement in many brutal crackdowns in Burma. In 1943, joined the army and in 1944 he joined NE Win’s 4th Burma Rifles. Killed Karen leader U BA Gyi. Head of the security force involved in the Rangoon Student Union massacred on July 7, 1962. Took over BSPP for a short time after NE Win resigned, July 26 - August 12, 1988. Involved in the crackdown on student demonstrators in early 1988. Believed that the short-lived president of Burma continues to hold meetings with current military leaders. His position is "senior adviser." Rumors persist that he has passed away but they are unconfirmed. [Top]

Saw Maung (1928-1997)
In 1949 began his military career. Became a major in 1967 and chief of staff in 1985. Minister of defense under Sein Lwin and until he retired. Chairman of Slorc 1988-1992. Resigned for medical reasons. [Top]

U Nu (1907-1995)
His role in Burmese politics spans its post-independence era. Served as president of the Rangoon University Students’ Union from 1935-36, vice-president and president of the AFPFL 1945-47, and as Prime Minister from 1948-56, 1957-58, and 1960-62. After serving a prison term 1962-66, he left and formed a resistance movement in Thailand 1969-73. After the 1980 amnesty, returned to retire in Rangoon, but in 1988, he proclaimed an interim government. [Top]

Aung Gyi (1919-)
Participated in Independence movement and anti-Japanese struggle. Member of New Win’s 4th Burma Rifles. Played a role in the caretaker government of 1958-60 and was a member of the Revolutionary Council of 1962, serving as vice-chief of staff and Minister of trade and industry. Ousted in 1963 for statements made in Japan about the cause of the coups. Imprisoned in 1965-68, 1973-74, and July 29 - August 25, 1988. His letters critical of the government in 1987-88 were an important opening for opposition to the government. However, he was unwilling to go against NE Win. Served as President of the NLD but resigned on December 3, 1988 to form Union Nationals Democracy Party on December 16. Remains intermittently active in politics. Still writes open letters to NE Win and his favorite daughter Sanda Win. [Top]

U Tin Oo [NLD] (1927-)
Served as Chief of Staff and minister of defense 1974-1976. In 1976, imprisoned for alleged involvement in an alleged coup attempt in July 1976. Released in 1980, during amnesty. In August 1988, emerged as prominent opposition leader and became vice-chairman of NLD and chairman since December 19, 1988. [Top]

Min KO Naing [aka] Paw Oo Htun (1962-)
Leading student leader during the 8-8-88 uprising. Reestablished and became chairman of the BA Ka Ta or All Burma Federations of Students’ Union. Began organizing antigovernment activities in 1985. Arrested in March 1989, he is now serving a twenty-year sentence in solitary confinement in Sittwe. In 1999, awarded the John Henfrey Freedom Award of Canada. [Top]

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