Heroes and Villains
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Heroes and Villains

By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.3

(Page 6 of 6)

That same year, Ne Win—a former member of the Thirty Comrades and the most powerful man in Burma for more than a quarter century—died in disgrace at his lakeside villa, a captive of the military regime he helped create.

Brig-Gen Sein Lwin (1924-2004)

Dubbed “The Butcher of Rangoon,” Brig-Gen Sein Lwin was the field commander who led the bloody crackdown o­n a student demonstration at Rangoon University o­n July 7, 1962, in which the historic Student Union building was destroyed and about 100 students killed.

Sein Lwin joined the army in 1943 and served in Gen Ne Win’s 4th Burma Rifles in 1944. When Ne Win seized power in 1962, Sein Lwin became o­ne of his principal henchmen. He assumed the presidency of the socialist government when Ne Win stepped down in 1988, amid nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations.

During his 17-day reign, Sein Lwin ordered the brutal killings of thousands of demonstrators across the country, perhaps most memorably a group of demonstrators outside City Hall o­n August 8, 1988—remembered now as 8-8-88. For his brief but vicious rule of Burma, he was widely reviled, with many in the country demanding his beheading. 

Snr-Gen Saw Maung (1928-1997)

“The country has come back from the abyss, and I saved the country for the good of the people, according to law,” said Snr-Gen Saw Maung, who led the 1988 coup that established the State Law and Order Restoration Council. He also carried o­n where Sein Lwin left off, detaining thousands of pro-democracy politicians and demonstrators.

Saw Maung also held relatively free and fair general elections in 1990 and promised that the Tatmadaw, or armed forces, would subsequently return to the barracks. But when the National League for Democracy won the elections in a landslide, he refused to acknowledge the results.

Saw Maung joined the military in 1949 and made his way through the ranks. He assumed the role of head of state in 1988. He resigned for health reasons seven years later and died from a heart attack in July 1997.

Gen Khin Nyunt (1939- )

Gen Khin Nyunt presided over Burma’s feared intelligence apparatus and masterminded the country’s imprisonment and torture of thousands of pro-democracy activists. During his watch—from 1988 until his ouster in 2004—scores died in detention centers and prisons throughout Burma.

Burma’s spymaster became head of the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence after an assassination attempt o­n visiting South Korean President Choon Doo Hwan in 1983, in which 21 people were killed. Much-feared and powerful, Khin Nyunt brokered several ceasefire agreements with ethnic opposition forces and drug lords.

On October 19, 2004, Khin Nyunt was arrested o­n charges of corruption. o­nce Burma’s “Prince of Evil,” Khin Nyunt now lives under house arrest, having received a suspended sentence of 44 years in prison.

Snr-Gen ThanShwe (c. 1933- )

Burma’s current dictator has steadfastly opposed democratic reform in the country, while simultaneously promoting a transparently corrupt version of it through various organs of state. Many critics hold him responsible for the attack o­n Aung San Suu Kyi and her retinue in Depayin in May 2003, which led to the brutal slaying of dozens of her supporters.

Than Shwe strongly identifies with Burma’s past monarchs, three statues of whom tower over the parade grounds in the new capital Naypyidaw. He rules the country like an absolute monarch, and now in his 70s shows little signs of letting up, despite a much-debated hospital stay in Singapore in December 2006.

The postal clerk-turned-tyrant joined the military in 1953 and rose to the rank of brigadier general and vice chief of staff by 1985. Three years later, he was named vice chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Following Saw Maung’s resignation in 1992, he took over as head of state.

Compiled by Htet Aung

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