A prominent leader of the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and former deputy prime minister of the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) regime, ex-Col U Lwin passed away in Rangoon on Tuesday evening aged 88.
U Lwin was born in 1924 and joined the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in 1942 during World War II. He attended the first intake of officer training for the replacement Burma Defense Army (BDA) that was organized by the occupying Japanese, and he later attended Japan’s Royal Military Academy.
After the war, U Lwin joined Burma Rifle-5 of the Burma Army and served in the anti-insurgency and anti-Kuomintang campaigns of the late 1940s and early 1950s post-independence era.
In 1952, U Lwin traveled to England for further military training before being appointed Burmese military attaché to Washington in 1959.
Following the 1962 military coup led by late dictator Gen Ne Win, U Lwin became deputy- commander of the Central Regional Military Command, then in Mandalay, and later was made commander of Rangoon Regional Military Command.
U Lwin served as Minister for Finance and Revenue and then as a deputy prime minister within the BSPP regime before being forced to retire by Ne Win.
When the NLD formed following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, U Lwin joined as a member of the Patriotic Old Comrades League—one of three founding factions of the main opposition party.
U Lwin served as party treasurer during the early days of the NLD, and was elected representative for Thongwa Township constituency-1 of Rangoon Division in the 1990 elections.
In 1991, U Lwin served as party secretary alongside chairman Aung Shwe during a difficult period when the Burmese junta put heavy pressured on the NLD to expel imprisoned chairman Tin Oo and general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi.
After Suu Kyi was released from her first six-year house arrest term in 1995, the pro-democracy icon resumed her position as NLD general secretary while U Lwin served as secretary and party spokesman.
Following the Depayin massacre—the brutal ambush on Suu Kyi’s convey in Depayin Township of Sagaing Division in May 2003—U Lwin joined other prominent NLD members under house arrest until April 2004. It was the second time he was under house arrest with the first being in the year 2000.
U Lwin's position as party spokesman did not make life easy for himself or the media he addressed. He was controversial and will be remembered for impatiently scolding journalists—particularly those from foreign-based shortwave radio station such as Radio Free Asia, the BBC and VOA.
In March 2010, U Lwin and party chairman Aung Shwe, 94, retired from day-to-day responsibilities due to health concerns.
After Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest in November 2010, she visited both U Lwin and Aung Shwe to pay respect according to Buddhist tradition.
Suu Kyi also visited U Lwin’s house on Wednesday morning for her old friend's funeral ceremony. Suu Kyi once described U Lwin and Aung Shwe as “guardians” of the NLD's survival while the party was under fierce pressure and threats from the authorities.
“U Lwin was a good and honesty solider for Burma,” Chan Tun, a veteran politician and former Burmese ambassador to China and North Korea, told The Irrawaddy.