Ne Win (10 July 1910, or 14 or 24 May 1911 – 5 December 2002) was a Burmese politician and military commander who served as Prime Minister of Burma from 1958 to 1960 and 1962 to 1974, and also President of Burma from 1962 to 1981. Ne Win was Burma's military dictator during the Socialist Burma period of 1962 to 1988.
Ne Win founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) and overthrew the democratic Union Parliament of U Nu in the 1962 Burmese coup d'état, establishing Burma as a one-party socialist state under the Burmese Way to Socialism ideology. Ne Win was Burma's de facto leader as chairman of the BSPP, serving in various official titles as part of his military government, and was known by his supporters as U Ne Win.
His rule was characterized by isolationism, political violence, sinophobia, totalitarianism, economic collapse, and is credited with turning Burma into one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Ne Win resigned in July 1988 in response to the 8888 Uprising that overthrew the BSPP, and was replaced by the military junta of the State Peace and Development Council. He held minor influence in the 1990s until being placed under house arrest, and died in 2002.
Ne Win's date of birth is not known with certainty. The English language publication Who's Who in Burma published in 1961 by People's Literature House, Rangoon, stated that Ne Win was born on 14 May 1911. Dr. Maung Maung stated in the Burmese version of his book Burma and General Ne Win, also published in English, that Ne Win was born on 14 May 1911. However, in a book written in Burmese titled The Thirty Comrades, the author Kyaw Nyein gave Ne Win's date of birth as 10 July 1910.
Following independence there were uprisings in the army and among ethnic minority groups. In late 1948, after a confrontation between army rivals, Ne Win was appointed second in command of the army and his rival Bo Zeya, a communist commander and fellow member of the Thirty Comrades, took a portion of the army into rebellion. Ne Win immediately adopted a policy of creating Socialist militia battalions called 'Sitwundan' under his personal command with the approval of U Nu. On 31 January 1949, Ne Win was appointed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) and given total control of the army, replacing General Smith Dun, an ethnic Karen. He rebuilt and restructured the armed forces along the ruling Socialist Party's political lines, but the country was still split and the government was ineffective.
He was asked to serve as interim prime minister from 28 October 1958 by U Nu, when the AFPFL split into two factions and U Nu barely survived a motion of no-confidence against his government in parliament. Ne Win restored order during the period known as the "Ne Win caretaker government". Elections were held in February 1960 and Ne Win handed back power to the victorious U Nu on 4 April 1960.
On 2 March 1962, Ne Win again seized power in a coup d'état. He became head of state as Chairman of the Union Revolutionary Council and also Prime Minister. The coup was characterized as "bloodless" by the world's media. Declaring that "parliamentary democracy was not suitable for Burma," the new regime suspended the constitution and dissolved the legislature.
Following riots at Rangoon University in July 1962, troops were sent to restore order. They fired on protesters and destroyed the student union building.
Shortly afterward, around 8 pm local time, Ne Win addressed the nation in a five-minute radio speech which concluded with the statement: "if these disturbances were made to challenge us, I have to declare that we will fight sword with sword and spear with spear". On 13 July 1962, less than a week after the speech, Ne Win left for Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom "for a medical check up". All universities were closed for more than two years until September 1964.
In 1988, 26 years later, Ne Win denied involvement in the dynamiting of the Student Union building, stating that his deputy Brigadier Aung Gyi — who by that time had fallen out with Ne Win and been dismissed — had given the order and that he had to take responsibility as a "revolutionary leader" by giving the sword with sword and spear with spear speech.
In foreign affairs, Ne Win followed a strictly neutralist policy during the Cold War, participating in the Non-Aligned Movement and keeping his distance from both the United States and the Soviet Union. On the other hand, his relations with Mao Zedong and the People's Republic of China were initially excellent, but were temporarily broken between 1967 and 1971, due to Mao's covert support for the Communist insurgency within Burma and the outbreak of anti-Chinese riots by regime supporters; however, in March 1971 relations were fully restored and Chinese economic aid continued.
Ne Win oversaw a number of reforms after taking power. The administration instituted a system including elements of extreme nationalism, Marxism, and Buddhism, though Ne Win lacked interest in either ideology or religion – terming this the Burmese Way to Socialism. He founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), which in 1964 was formally declared to be the only legal party.
A system of state hospitals and institutions was established in Burma; medical care was free. Private hospitals were brought under public ownership. A new system of public education was introduced. A campaign to liquidate illiteracy was carried out starting in 1965. Between 1962 and 1965 important laws against landlords and usury were adopted. They aimed at protecting peasants' rights to land and property and to renting the land. These measures included the law abolishing rents on land.
On 2 March 1974, he disbanded the Revolutionary Council and proclaimed the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. He was elected President and shortly afterward appointed Brigadier General Sein Win as Prime Minister. On 9 November 1981, Ne Win resigned as President and was succeeded in that post by General San Yu. However, Ne Win remained leader of the party and thus remained the ultimate political authority in the land until his resignation in 1988.
On 18 September 1988 the military led by General Saw Maung dispelled any hopes for democracy by brutally crushing the uprisings. It is widely believed that Ne Win, though in apparent retirement, orchestrated the coup from behind the scenes.
For about ten years, Ne Win kept a low profile but remained a shadowy figure exercising at least some influence on the military junta. After 1998, Ne Win's influence on the junta began to wane.
Still under house arrest, Ne Win died on 5 December 2002 at his lakeside house in Yangon. The death remained unannounced by Burmese media or the junta. The only mention of Ne Win's death was a paid obituary notice that appeared in some of the government-controlled Burmese language newspapers. Ne Win was not given a state funeral, and his former contacts or junior colleagues were strongly discouraged from attending a hastily arranged funeral, so that only thirty people attended the funeral.
Ne Win's daughter Sandar Win was temporarily released from house arrest to attend his funeral and cremation. She later dispersed her father's ashes into the Hlaing River.