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Subject: U Ne Win, Ex-Strongman of Burma

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Date Posted: December 05, 2002 3:57:17 EDT

Gen. U Ne Win, the former military dictator who dragged Myanmar into poverty during his 26 years in power, died today while under house arrest, family members said. He was 91.

The family members said he died this morning in his lakeside villa, where he had been kept confined along with his daughter since March 7 after the arrest of his three grandsons and a son-in-law on charges of trying to overthrow the military government. The family members spoke on the condition of anonymity.

No other details of the circumstances of his death were immediately available.

General Ne Win was once a powerful figure in Myanmar, formerly Burma, but his influence began to wane a few years ago, and he was discredited earlier this year with the arrest of his relatives.

His son-in-law, Aye Zaw Win, 54, the husband of General Ne Win's daughter Sandar Win, and the couple's three sons, Aye Ne Win, 25, Kyaw Ne Win, 23, and Zwe Ne Win, 21, were sentenced to death on Sept. 26 after being convicted of treason on the coup charges. They have appealed the verdict.

The barbed-wire fence that had blocked the road to the general's house since his arrest was opened slightly today, making enough space for cars to go through. Three soldiers stood near the barricade.

There was no sign of unusual activity at the house. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known, and the government did not make any announcement.

General Ne Win had suffered a heart attack in September 2001 and had a pacemaker implanted. He was last seen in public in good health on March 21, 2001, when he offered lunch to 99 Buddhist monks and more than 500 friends, most of them his cronies.

General Ne Win was at the forefront of Burma's struggle for independence from Britain, which was achieved in 1948. He seized power in a coup in 1962, starting an era of authoritarianism that would sully his reputation as a national hero.

He also achieved notoriety as a playboy and a reclusive eccentric. A deep belief in numerology once prompted him to issue banknotes in denominations of 45 and 90 because the numbers were divisible by his lucky number, 9.

He retired from politics in 1988, just before a popular uprising for democracy set off by his quarter century of misrule, that catapulted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the late independence hero Gen. Aung San, to political prominence.

Thousands of civilian protesters were killed in the military crackdown that followed and many more fled into exile. Myanmar is still viewed by the West as a pariah state.

Even after standing down, General Ne Win was thought to wield influence how much is unclear behind the scenes in the military government that succeeded him and still remains in control.

Josef Silverstein, an American political scientist who has studied Myanmar for a half century, said General Ne Win led his country from the verge of prosperity to ruin.

"When he took power he broke all his oaths by setting the Constitution aside," Mr. Silverstein said. "Under his rule, Burma literally went into the tank."

When General Ne Win took power in 1962, Burma was well on the way to recovering from the ravages of World War II, exporting two million tons of rice a year. But by 1987, it was reduced to the status of a least developed nation, Mr. Silverstein said.

However, a mystique surrounded General Ne Win, who was regarded by many in his country as having almost magical powers of survival that allowed him to stay in power so long and live into old age.

For years, rumors that he had died circulated periodically in Yangon, the capital, also known as Rangoon.

Since October 2001, the government and Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi have held talks, resulting in some releases of political prisoners. But as neither side has revealed the substance of the discussions, many observers remain skeptical they can achieve political reconciliation.

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