Sein Lwin 'The Butcher of Rangoon' Dies in Poverty
By Aung Zaw Tuesday, August 24, 2004


April 12, 2004—Sein Lwin, 81, briefly president of Burma in 1988, died in Rangoon last week.

A state-run newspaper reported on Saturday that the retired brigadier-general, who was accused of having taken charge of the suppression of the pro-democracy uprising in 1988, died in Rangoon General Hospital. The cause of death was not specified, but family sources said that he died from cancer.

Sein Lwin was a loyal and obedient soldier according to close friends and relatives.

He was appointed both chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party, or BSPP, and the country's president on July 27, 1988 amid mass civil street protests. Sein Lwin, regarded as a hard-liner, only fueled the anger of ordinary Burmese people. During his short tenure street protests swelled despite increasingly violent responses from the military.

The newly appointed president imposed martial law. He also promised to tackle corruption and open up the opportunities for private business. But it was too late.

Sein Lwin, then aged 65, quickly earned the moniker "The Butcher of Rangoon" for his brutal suppression of successive student-led demonstrations in the capital. After serving 17 days, he resigned from the presidency on August 12, 1988.

Sein Lwin joined the army in 1943 and was regarded as a tough soldier who was absolutely faithful to his superiors. He earned swift promotions.

On August 12, 1950, the 27-year old Major Sein Lwin and his troops surrounded a party that included Karen leader Saw Ba U Gyi and killed him along with Saw Sankey and their bodyguards. It was a triumph for young officer, who kept Saw Ba U Gyi's gun as a souvenir.

In July 1962, four months after Ne Win had taken control of Burma in a coup, students at Rangoon University staged a demonstration protesting stiff regulations imposed by the authorities.

The government ordered Lt-Col Sein Lwin, by then a field commander of the 4th Burma Rifles, to the Rangoon University campus to quell the unrest. Sein Lwin did not hesitate. A former student at the scene, Tint Zaw recalled: "Sein Lwin waved his hand above his head and the shooting began. Hundreds of students fell down while others ran for their lives."

The next day, the Student Union building was demolished with explosives. It remains a subject of some controversy as to who ordered the shooting. Ne Win, who died in 2002, denied that he was responsible. His close associate Brig-Gen Aung Gyi, who still lives in Rangoon, was also involved in the operation, critics and sources in the Tatmadaw, or armed forces, said.

Regardless, the incident did not hurt Sein Lwin’s carreer. In 1983, the loyal soldier and obedient party hack became deputy general-secretary of the BSPP.

After his resignation as chairman of the BSPP and president of Burma in August 1988, "The Butcher" maintained his friendly relations with retired dictator Gen Ne Win.

"Sein Lwin visited Ne Win’s house almost every week," said Thakin Chan Tun, a retired politician in Rangoon. According to member of Sein Lwin’s family, the two normally discussed religion and meditation.

When The Irrawaddy telephoned his house last year, a relative said the former president was meditating and wouldn't be available to talk to the press. There is no record of him ever having talked to the media in the past.

The relative said that Sein Lwin began reading religious books and seeking advice from monks after he retired from politics. He was also interested in astrology. Like many other former high-ranking officials of the BSPP, Sein Lwin kept a low profile in the capital.

As chairman of the State Law and Order Order Restoration Council, or SLORC, from 1988 to 1992 Gen Saw Maung treated his retired superior Sein Lwin favorably.

But under the current military regime, "The Butcher" was broke and living off the charity of relatives, an informed source in Rangoon said. He had appeared with Gen Ne Win at the Sedona Hotel for the latter’s birthday party in 2001.

Following the arrest of Ne Win's son-in-law and three grandsons on charges of conspiring to seize power, cronies and faithful followers of the former strongman came under intense pressure. Reportedly, several 4WD vehicles and escorts provided to Sein Lwin by the government were revoked.

Thakin Chan Tun, who met Sein Lwin a few months ago at a mutual friend's birthday party, said that he looked "healthy and fine" talking to friends. He seemed aware of the current situation in the country but was not very interested in it. His focus was religious meditation.

When The Irrawaddy asked Chan Tun whether Sein Lwin deserved the moniker "The Butcher of Rangoon" he replied that Sein Lwin was not the only one who involved in killing peaceful demonstrators in the 1988 uprising. "Everyone was involved," he said.

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