RANGOON, MYANMAR—Than Shwe, the brutal dictator of the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, dramatically increased his already horrific rate of murdering citizens this week in a late, desperate attempt to become Time magazine's 2006 Man Of The Year, who will be honored in the Dec. 25 issue.
"I vow to do everything in my power to make the great acts being carried out in this great country known to all the world on this day and every day until Christmas Day," Than Shwe said in a speech broadcast on the state-run Myanmar News Network. "No longer will we stand in the shadow of better-known perpetrators of genocides, purges, and ethnic cleansing. Print-news media outlets, take notice!"
He then ordered everyone in the room shot.
Although Than Shwe is considered a sadistic and merciless tyrant within the borders of Myanmar—also known as Burma—his human-rights abuses have long been ignored in the international media. After he failed to make The Economist's list of Top 25 Worst Leaders, Than Shwe introduced a program of "random liquidation," doubled the number of rape and torture camps, and instructed aides to inundate news outlets with press releases in which he is referred to as "The Ripper Of Rangoon." Likewise, he recently added four ethnic groups to his list of subhuman residents, ordered his special police to drag thousands of opposition-party members from their beds between the hours of 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. to be machine-gunned, and has forced thousands of women and children to work on constructing a national welcome center before being beheaded and dumped in a ditch behind the new facility.
"If [Than Shwe] can get on the cover of Time by arbitrarily perpetrating genocide against his own people, he believes his place in the history books will be assured," Vice Lieutenant Of Public Affairs Ohnmar Nyein said. "It would mean so much to him to be at the center of such an underdog story like this, in which even a humble dictator can grace the cover of the most widely read weekly magazine in world."
If honored by Time, Than Shwe, who has reportedly already set aside a special frame and a spot on his desk for the magazine cover, will follow in the footsteps of other notable dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Deng Xiaoping, and Joseph Stalin, who appeared on the cover twice.
"In the back of his head, is he thinking about Stalin? Yes," Nyein said. "But he is well aware that Stalin killed 62 million people, while Myanmar only has a population of about 50 million. Genocide is a percentages game."
Sources within the Burmese leader's inner circle said he first became aware of the "Man Of The Year" honor when Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini was selected in 1979, when Than Shwe was still an army colonel. Those who knew Than Shwe at the time said he was driven by a desire to someday make Time's cover, and began preparations by sparking civil unrest and executing soldiers for minor offenses. Since he came to power in 1992, Than Shwe has steadily intensified his tyranny as it became evident with each passing year that word of his crimes was not reaching the editorial board of Time.
"Is it a just world, I ask, where 'The Computer,' Ted Turner, or the rock star Bono receives more recognition than the horrors and atrocities the people of Myanmar suffer every day?" said Than Shwe, who ordered the removal of all Red Cross relief posts from the most war-ravaged regions last week. "How much violence and woe must a nation sustain before someone takes notice? How many lives must be lost? How many families torn apart?"
Advisers said Than Shwe is hoping Time editors will take into account the massive economic and social impact that millions of Burmese refugees will have on neighboring countries when they determine the Man Of The Year.
"The Western media cannot help but to bear some responsibility if they do not raise awareness of this crisis," Than Shwe said. "That is a lot of blood to have on your hands, Time Editor-In-Chief and presumably also Head-Of-The-Selection-Committee Norman Pearlstein!"
Still, media industry observers said that Than Shwe remained an unlikely choice.
"The scuttlebutt in the magazine world is that the Time guys have already slated the YouTube billionaires for this year's issue," said Robert Castillo, a staff writer for Publishers Weekly. "It's possible they could change their minds, but it pretty much sounds like it's a lock."
"While the callous murder of your own people on a mass scale has worked in the past, it becomes a moot point if no one's ever heard of your country," he added.