Soe Win, who arrived in Rangoon on Monday from Singapore where he was receiving medical treatment for an undisclosed disease, was visited at Mingalardon Hospital's ICU on Tuesday by three of the country's senior leaders, including military chief Senior General Than Shwe, sources close to the ruling junta said.
New Deli-based Mizzima News Agency It was reported Wednesday that he had passed away. It is widely believed that Soe Win has returned to Burma to die.
His death will not undermine Burmese government as the premiership is largely a ceremonial post in this military dictatorship, analysts said.
Burma's widely condemned military rulers have long been receiving medical treatment in Singapore, a medical hub for Southeast Asia, because of the poor health care in their own country.
Than Shwe, who leads the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the ruling junta styles itself, has also received treatment in Singapore.
According to diplomatic sources in Bangkok, Than Shwe, 74, was in Singapore on Monday, the same day Soe Win returned to Rangoon.
"This is the reason he couldn't meet with UN envoy Gambari," said one senior European diplomat.
United Nations special envoy Ibrabim Gambari was in Naypyidaw, the military's new capital, on Monday hoping to meet with Than Shwe. He was eventually granted an audience on Tuesday.
Gambari arrived in Rangoon Saturday on a mission to assess the political situation in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown on monkled protests in Yangon last week that left ten dead, according to the government.
Other sources said the actually death toll from the crackdown and the subsequent deaths in prison where thousands of people, many of them wounded, are being kept, is expected to be much higher than 10.
On his four-day visit Gambari met twice with Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's foremost opposition leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and once with Than Shwe.
It is widely hoped that Gambari can broker a political dialogue between Suu Kyi and Than Shwe, although the junta has shown no inclination to do so over the past 17 years.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) Party won the 1990 general election by a landslide, but has been blocked from assuming power by the generals who have ruled Burma since 1962.
Gambari, who has returned to New York, will present the results of his trip to UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon.
Meanwhile, Rangoon had largely returned to normal on Thursday.
"It's more normal now, whatever normalcy is in this country," said Finnish ambassador to Yangon Lars Backstrom.
"But I am very concerned about the fate of the detainees because their numbers are apparently quite high, and there is no outside body that is allowed to visit them."
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been denied access to Burma's prisons for several months.
Bangkok-based Backstrom, who has been in Rangoonsince Monday, said the prevailing mood among the people was grim, despite Gambari's quick visit.
"The people I talked to were very sad about the way things are going," said Backstrom in a telephone interview.
"They are sad that nothing much has come out of it," he said of last week's protests.
DPA, The Nation