Myanmar's military ruler Ne Win turned his country into a carbon copy of his own character - secret and foreboding, at times even sinister. His passing yesterday gives hope that the cloud that has pressed down so heavily on Myanmar's people can finally be allowed to lift. Whether it does is a matter for the impoverished nation's present generation of military leaders to decide. They are no less ruthless and stubborn as he was, but perhaps now that he has gone one less block to change will have been removed. Although Ne Win formally stepped down from the leadership 14 years ago, his shadow remained long. Behind the scenes, he was thought to be pulling the strings when the pro-democracy movement was bloodily crushed and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, put under house arrest. His influence in recent years may have waned, sparking debate outside the country about whether he even mattered, but it cannot be contested that today's Myanmar is of his making. The military junta has perpetuated the hardline policies he put in place. It may have changed its name from the State Law and Order Reconciliation Council to the less acronym-friendly State Peace and Development Council, but its stripes are the same. When he seized power from the last civilian government in 1962, Ne Win stole from Myanmar's people their civil rights. The free speech and other democratic freedoms promised by independence from British colonialism in 1948 disappeared and have still to be returned. While the generals have prospered, ordinary people have become destitute. The rates for diseases such as Aids and malaria are among the worst in Asia. Education standards have plummeted. Ne Win's death is a reminder to the world community that stronger diplomatic pressure is needed to ensure his legacy is dismantled and Myanmar's people have all that has been taken from them returned. The generals, too, should turn his passing into an opportunity.