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Burma: Ne Win's Relatives Face Death Penalty

Several relatives of former Burma strongman Ne Win face the death penalty, after their appeal of a conviction for high treason was rejected by the country's Supreme Court. A final decision on the four men's fate now rests with the leader of the military government, General Than Shwe.

The four relatives of Burma's long-ruling strongman, the late Ne Win, were convicted last September of plotting to overthrow Burma's government.

Ne Win's son-in-law and three grandsons had been arrested the previous March on charges of attempting to recruit army officers to stage a coup. They were all sentenced to death.

The verdict was upheld on appeal six months ago, and now two judges of the Supreme Court have refused to overturn that decision.

Unless government leader Than Shwe grants the four men clemency, they face death by hanging. But observers expect the men's lives to be spared, as death sentences are rarely carried out in largely Buddhist Burma.

The government said the group had plans to reinstall Ne Win in power, after kidnapping the government's present leaders and forcing them to express loyalty to a new regime. During their trial, the four were accused among other things of using "black magic" in their bid for power.

Ne Win died at the age of 91 last December. He had been under house arrest with his daughter, Sandar Win, a well-known businesswoman.

It was Sandar Win's husband, Aye Zaw Win, and their three sons who were convicted and now face the death penalty.

Ne Win took power in a 1962 coup, and held it until 1988. He remained a significant behind the scenes influence in Burma's political life until his latter years.

Analysts and diplomats have expressed doubts about the charges, saying the case probably reflected a desire by the government to discredit the once powerful Ne Win clan.