Unfinished Struggle
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, August 19, 2019

Unfinished Struggle

By Kyaw Zaw, Gen Monday, December 1, 2003

Gen Kyaw Zaw, 84, alias Thakin Shwe, is one of the founders of the Tatmadaw, or Burma’s armed forces. He is one of the Thirty Comrades who went to Japan for military training in 1941. He joined the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) in 1944 and was elected to the Central Committee a year later. In 1956, he was accused of leaking news to the CPB and forced to leave the army. He served as Vice Chief of General Staff of the CPB until the 1989 mutiny. In written correspondence with The Irrawaddy, Kyaw Zaw discussed Burma’s past and the lessons it holds for the country’s future. Question: Soon after you and your comrades gained independence for Burma, the country plunged into civil war. What went wrong? Answer: Civil war erupted because of the disintegration of national unity. At the time, there were three main parties in Burma’s politics, the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) and the People’s Volunteer Organization (PVO). The AFPFL was dominated by socialists and was also known as the Socialist Party. These socialists did not enjoy enough support from the people and they could not compete with the CPB among the masses. But it was the main party controlling politics. So they drove the communists into the jungle, labeled them "insurgents" and handed power to the Tatmadaw (Burma’s armed forces). These socialists also organized Ne Win to become their stooge. When the army was dominated by socialists, they started to oppress the CPB, who had no choice but to resist with the few arms they got, out of self-defense. Thus, the civil war erupted because of the inability to build a country on the foundation of democracy. National unity disintegrated with all the consequences, such as the PVO and some ethnic groups going underground, which added fuel to the flames. The socialists, who depended on the imperialists and the army, created the civil war. U Kyaw Nyein, who led the Socialist Party and was Home Minister, was the number one culprit who caused the civil war of Burma. Q: You were close to Gen Aung San, the father of Burma’s independence. His death changed the course of the country’s future. If he was not assassinated, what would Burma’s fate have been? A: If Bogyoke [General] Aung San was not assassinated then a modern Burma with democratic foundations would have been built. National unity would have been maintained and civil war would have been prevented. Plus, in achieving independence, he would have tried to have both political independence and economic independence so much so that a prosperous Burma could emerge. And a people’s army, protecting the people’s lives, would have been built. All these expectations disappeared with his assassination. The army he founded has changed into an army protecting the military dictatorship. Because of that the whole country has suffered all sorts of misery. Q: There are still unanswered questions concerning the assassination of Aung San. Some historians have argued the British were behind it. Do you think any British officials were involved in the assassination or encouraged U Saw to kill Aung San? A: I always believed that the British were behind the assassination of Bogyoke in one way or another. [Editor’s note: The full text of a BBC interview with Kyaw Zaw on the 50th anniversary of Martyr’s Day (July 19, 1999) was published as a book, titled Who is the Real Culprit? Q: Unification has been a thorny issue since Burma gained independence. The first leaders of independent Burma did not trust each other and were always divided. Communists and ethnic groups were also a source of trouble. Are hopes that the country can become unified and different groups in Burma can learn to trust each other unfounded? A: I have always believed and hoped that the country can be unified and all the different groups in Burma can trust each other. One day, we will all build our country into a unified, prosperous and peaceful country. That day will definitely come. Q: Would you summarize the legacy of the "Thirty Comrades"? A: The "Thirty Comrades" founded the Tatmadaw and fought against the British to get independence. They resisted the Japanese and drove them away. In short, they were the main leadership force throughout the struggle for independence, particularly, the anti-imperialist struggle and anti-fascist resistance. It is notable that among the "Thirty Comrades" there was Bogyoke Aung San, who worked selflessly for his country and sacrificed himself; and there was Ne Win, who set up the military dictatorship which still brings misfortune to the country.

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