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The Day Myanmar’s Ex-Dictator Began to Engineer a Military Coup




Burma Socialist Programme Party Chairman U Ne Win (second from left) and U Khin Nyunt (left) see off U San Yu (second from right) as he leaves on a goodwill trip to Korea at the Yangon International Airport.

By Wei Yan Aung 17 September 2020

YANGON—On this day in 1988, then Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services General Saw Maung and then Chief of Military Intelligence Colonel Khin Nyunt visited ex-military dictator U Ne Win, whom they called “Big Daddy”, at his residence in Yangon’s Mayangone Township, and briefed him on the overall situation in Myanmar, explaining that the country was sliding into complete chaos with killings happening here are there.

The 77-year-old ex-military strongman, who still had influence despite his retirement from politics, listened to their reports and replied that he hadn’t been aware the situation was so bad. He said he would seek the opinion of other senior leaders the following day and consider the issue, and asked the two men to return later.

Within 24 hours, Gen. Saw Maung; Col. Khin Nyunt; President Dr. Maung Maung; Prime Minister Thura Tun Tin; Deputy Prime Minister Major-General Than Tin; the general secretary of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, General Aye Ko; his assistant, General Thura Kyaw Htin; and Foreign Affairs Minister U Ye Khaung gathered at U Ne Win’s house and agreed to the ex-military dictator’s plan for “the Myanmar military to take over the state’s duties,” Col. Khin Nyunt later recalled in an interview.

Burma Socialist Programme Party Chairman U Ne Win at the sixth party meeting.

U Ne Win instructed Dr. Maung Maung to explain to Gen. Saw Maung and Col. Khin Nyunt how to assert the legality of the new government, and asked all of them to go back to their posts, according to Col. Khin Nyunt. The ousted president, Dr. Maung Maung, defended the legality of the incoming military regime, providing legal justifications for its various announcements.

After the coup, Gen. Saw Maung gave an interview to Asia Week chief correspondent David Ring and journalist Dominic Faulder.

The journalists asked the general: “Did Ne Win know about the coup beforehand? Did you go to inform him that it would take place?”

“No. Definitely, I did not,” he replied.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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