General Soe Win

Burmese leader


Soe Win, military leader: born Taunggyi, Burma 1948; Prime Minister of Burma 2004-07; married (one son, one daughter); died Rangoon 12 October 2007.

For whatever else Soe Win, the Prime Minister of Burma, may be remembered, pro-democracy campaigners will always point to the notoriety surrounding his alleged involvement in the Depayin Massacre.

The massacre, in May 2003, was carried out against the supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the National League for Democracy (NLD). She had recently been released from house arrest and was visiting various parts of the country to speak with supporters when her convoy was attacked. Though she was able to escape, few doubt that she was the target of the mob who attacked the convoy. At least 70 and perhaps as many as 100 people were killed. Win was accused of planning the assault and activists dubbed him the "Butcher of Depayin" for his role.

Soe Win became prime minister in October 2004 and was considered the number four in Burma's ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council. When Win took office it was clear that he was going to be less open to reform than his predecessor, Khin Nyunt, who was ousted in a power struggle. The previous year Win had been quoted as saying: "SPDC not only won't talk to the NLD but also would never hand over power to the NLD."

Win had served in the Burmese air force, where he rose to be its head and he also oversaw the country's north-west region. Said to be close to Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the SPDC, Win was also involved in the brutal repression of a 1988 democracy uprising which left some 6,000 people dead. It was Win who gave the order for troops to fire on a crowd of protesters in front of Rangoon hospital.

Earlier this year he had travelled to Singapore for two months of treatment for leukaemia. Shortly after his return, the State Peace and Development Council announced that an acting prime minister, Thein Sein, had been appointed to take over his duties.

Andrew Buncombe

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