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Myanmar opposition veteran Win Tin, 85, dies

Publication Date : 23-04-2014


Win Tin, a leading Myanmar opposition veteran and poet who suffered nearly two decades of often brutal incarceration by the military, has died.

The 85-year-old former journalist died yesterday morning after suffering kidney failure.

He was freed in 2008 but remained to the end wary of any accommodation with the military. 

Win Tin was a key partner and adviser to Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Both were co-founders of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

He was arrested in 1989 for his NLD activities and spent more than 19 years in jail.

Some of that time was in solitary confinement in Yangon's infamous Insein prison. At one stage he was kept in a dog kennel. He was hooded and beaten and made to sit outdoors all night in chains on cold winter nights.

His health suffered greatly, but not his spirit; deprived of writing materials, he composed poetry on the walls of his cell using red brick dust and water.

"It was hell," he told journalists when he was released. But he kept wearing prison blue shirts as a gesture of defiance, and to remember others still in jail.

Win Tin started his career in the 1950s as a reporter for Agence France-Presse in Myanmar, and then for local newspapers. For many journalists during the four decades of military rule, he was an inspiring guru-like figure.

Aye Aye Win, Associated Press correspondent in Yangon, told The Straits Times in an e-mail: "He was a man of dignity and courage... and a beacon of light for all journalists."

Said Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy magazine: "He was different, he was not a politician, he was a true activist, a revolutionary."

The NLD yesterday lowered the party flag that flies from its office in Yangon. A party spokesman, Nyan Win, told the media: "He was a great pillar of strength. His demise at this important juncture of transition is a great loss not only to the NLD but also to the country."

Widely regarded as the NLD's conscience-keeper, Win Tin was one of the few in the party who was senior enough to be able to openly disagree with Suu Kyi when he thought it was warranted.

And one of the areas of disagreement was his scepticism towards the government that took over in 2010 under the reformist President Thein Sein, a former general.

Win Tin was unconvinced that there was a genuine desire for change when it kept the military-drafted Constitution, which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military officers.

He said last year that while the government was singing a different tune, "it is the same song, it is a military song".

Asked by broadcaster France 24 whether he considered the government reforms heralded a Burmese spring, he said: "Maybe - but there are no flowers yet."


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