Saturday, January 22, 2011

Burma in Limbo - Part 8

U Nu on Time's Cover.
BORN on 25 May 1907 Prime Minister of Burma U Nu was well over forty in early 1950s and he was becoming wiser and veering towards right in his political orientation after years of ruling Burma. 

He used to be a closet Communist or at least a Socialist just a few years ago. Victory to Communism; Defeat to Burmese Communists - was what he yelled out at departing Than Htun on the very day CPB was expelled from AFPFL in December 1946.

Maybe he was well aware of the old adage ‘If one is not a Communist at 20 one is heartless but if one is still a Communist at 40 one is brainless’.

He was really sick of blatant corruption rapidly eating away the fortunes from the state-owned enterprises. And basically almost all large-scale economic enterprises in Burma were state-owned after years of overzealous nationalization as a legacy of Aung San and his leftwing extreme-nationalists. This translated extract is what he wrote in his autobiography Saturday Born.

“After the Independence my government has nationalized so many businesses. At that time I didn’t really understand or think carefully about the problems associated with state-owned enterprises. Only a few years after the large-scaled nationalization I started discovering how bad the managements, how extremely corrupt, and how severe the economic losses were of our nationalized businesses.

Out of all my bitter experiences I would like to mention one particularly bad experience from SAMB (State Agricultural Marketing Board) as it was the biggest of all the state-owned enterprises in Burma.

 With my prior approval, one day the high ranking officers from the Bureau of Special Investigation (BSI) went down to the Rangoon Port and inspected a cargo ship loaded with SAMB rice for export. The shipment was supposed to be a batch of cheap old rice for animal feeds overseas. But BSI men discovered the rice was expensive good rice suitable for human consumption.

Obviously the SAMB officials often took massive bribes from the merchants and sold them good rice at the price of cheap old rice. After the raid BSI reported to me that I should ask SAMB the stock list of bad rice in their hands. So I asked SAMB and a year later they still could not produce one for me.”

During the time of U Nu’s Parliament Democracy the SAMB had monopoly on the export of rice and other major agricultural crops from Burma. And BSI was U Nu’s new weapon to curb corruption of government officials and ruling politician from his own AFPFL.


U Nu the Prime Minister had trouble getting the stock list of old rice from his own SAMB and there were many other state-owned enterprises illegally filling the deep pockets of corrupt officials and politicians. And finally U Nu realized it was not just the character defects of men running the nationalized businesses but mainly the in-built structural faults of Socialism or any state-run economic system. This translated extract (edited) is what he wrote in his autobiography Saturday Born.

“First, SAMB was not just corruptly selling good rice as old rice they sold new gunny bags as old bags too. BSI recently arrested some SAMB officials for just that.

Second, the SAMB purchasing officials would not give cash direct to the rice-selling farmers. Instead the farmers were provided with tokens and they had to sell the tokens back to the officials’ cohorts with a deduction of 5%.

Third, the SAMB officials assigned at the rice mills which processed the rice took the bribes from the rice-millers and falsely classified the low-grade rice as high-grade rice. (I remembered there were many cases of foreign buyers rejecting our exported-rice and I was so angry at them. Now only after learning through BSI the corrupt practices of SAMB officials I understood the reason why our Burmese rice had had a bad reputation overseas.)

Fourth, the cruelest act of SAMB officials was misappropriating the funds allocated to purchase the rice paddy and reporting the rice was already in the regional warehouses. And later they lied to us again in their reports that the insurgents had raided and burnt down the warehouses with rice paddy inside.

Fifth, SAMB bought 20 million dollars worth of gunny bags from India every year. The price of gunny bags were always fluctuating according to the supply and demand situations. And our SAMB never bought the bags when prices were low. They always bought only when rice was ready to be shipped and so they had to pay whatever price the Indian sellers were asking by then.

 I knew they did that way not because they didn’t understand the market. They did it because they got bribes from the Indians. Since Indian merchants were involved our BSI couldn’t investigate fully so they advised me to order SAMB to change their system.”

But U Nu by then was more than well aware of the shortcomings of Socialist economic system. In addition to the reports from his own BSI he was always reminded by the opposition members in the parliament about rampant corruption in the country. First he thought the opposition was deliberately exaggerating the facts but later he realized their complaints were just the tip of the iceberg.

He then tried his best to severely punish the offending officials with the help of BSI. But he slowly realized the fact that as long as there were state-owned economic enterprises there would always be deep-rooted corruption and mismanagement. He was eventually convinced that he needed to kill the Socialist economic system to rid of its problems. He even wrote down three main reasons for his policy about-turn in his autobiography Saturday Born.

“First, as the economic enterprises were nationalized these businesses were placed directly under the ministries and my cabinet became the ultimate controller. But the ministers and I were only politicians and we know only how to achieve and maintain power. Unlike businessmen we do not know how to make profit and manage businesses. So we are always double-crossed by the corrupt officials and the businessmen.

Whenever these state-owned enterprises submitted their budgets and asked for more money we just had to approve as the ministers and I do not understand a thing about their businesses. Instead of controlling them we became their rubber stamps. So the bad administration didn’t really begin from the bottom but it started from the top, the government.

Second, the parliamentary secretaries and the heads of departments running the state enterprises were also not much better than their ministers. And they got only 1600 kyats as monthly salary. They got no bonuses, no houses, no motorcars, and no expenses unlike in the private businesses so they were easily corruptible when unscrupulous businessmen bribed them with gifts and money.

Third, if that was the case one could ask why didn’t we give the state enterprises complete autonomy and appoint competent businessmen to run them. The answer was simple. We politicians see the businessmen as just the exploiting profiteers. Even if we like to try them our Burma didn’t have competent Burmese executives, Burmese managers, and Burmese directors as we were a young country.

I even tried few trusted businessmen I’d known well in some state-owned businesses but they just became corrupt later. So it was impossible for me to handover the state enterprises to the private management under these circumstances.”

For those three reasons U Nu had honestly wanted to change the state-run economic system from its roots. But he frankly admitted that he didn’t know how to do just that and so till he was removed permanently by Ne Win and his army in 1962 coup he could only manage to change the economic system just superficially by changing a bit here and a bit there and replacing some officials here and some officials there. This is what he wrote in his autobiography as the summary advice for his fellow countrymen.

“One, politicians should not interfere with the businesses. If they do the economy will be ruined.

Two, businessmen should not interfere with the politics too. If they do the country will be ruined.

Three, with their political power politicians should help the businesses as much as they can.

Four, the businesses should raise as much money as possible from the economy for the public purse so that the politicians could raise the standard of living, education, and health etc. of the people.”

But his zeal to improve the state-owned enterprises and rid the corruption had caused uneasiness among his fellow ruling politicians and the resultant conflicts finally exploded into the political crisis that eventually terminated Burma’s nascent democracy. The split of AFPFL was the main cause for Ne Win’s 1958 caretaker government and later the full-blown coup in March 1962.


BSI was set up by U Nu in 1951 to fight corruption in Government, government servants, and the political leaders at the centre. Under U Nu’s instruction BSI even investigated and built a case against the leader of BSP (Burma Socialist Party) Kyaw Nyein in 1958. (Ne Win’s first coup in 1958 saved Kyaw Nyein’s skin.) Understandably the Socialist politicians had deeply resented the fact that U Nu had taken a high moral stand over them.

Originally the loosely-formed coalition of Socialist BSP, Communist CPB, and Aung San’s PVO the AFPFL by then was ruling Burma with the support of BSP (Burma Socialist Party) alone after the CPB and most of PVO took to the jungle. A compartmental general election was held in the areas deemed safe enough in 1952 and a parliament was elected to replace the Constituent Assembly serving as a temporary parliament elected in 1947.

Only the 20% turnout of 1.5 millions out of 8 million eligible voters participated and the AFPFL won 60% of the votes and 147 seats out of 250 totals. Without his own political party the PM U Nu the most influential independent in AFPFL was ruling the country on the borrowed terms. With the support of Ne Win led Socialist army Kyaw Nyein’s BSP had basically controlled the AFPFL Government.

In 1950 Kyaw Nyein the former home minister was sidelined by U Nu after he became notorious for his POPA Section-5 oppression in 1948 and 1949. As the Secretary-General of AFPFL in 1952 Kyaw Nyein traveled all over Europe with a large observation mission of postwar reconstruction and development schemes and the achievements in European countries. He came back and took charge of the Ministry of Cooperatives.

He initiated the large-scaled cooperative movement and also rebuilt his party base by organizing Concos and Procos (consumers’ cooperatives and producers’ cooperatives) distributing consumer goods and cotton yarn and domestic industry needs of the villages all over the country.  

His success in the cooperative movement had led him to take over the Ministry of Industry. And he started building many more state industrial enterprises small scale and medium ones as well as large industrial projects while his boss U Nu was seriously thinking of dismantling the same Socialist system.

Socialist Industrialization

Korean War broke out in 1950 and the rice prices skyrocketed from 60 Pounds a ton in 1951 to 80 Pounds a ton in 1952 and as major rice exporter Burma accumulated a massive foreign reserve of one billion kyats in December 1952. And substantial war reparation from Japan in the tune of close to 250 million US dollar also was received by Burma.

Flushed with cash not just Kyaw Nyein but other powerful Socialist politicians were also initiating their own pet projects all over Burma. This translated extract (edited) is what Kyaw Nyein said in Thein Phe Myint’s book Kyaw Nyein.

“Our biggest mistake was doing individual projects in Industrialization without real coordination and without a united approach. I believe the industrialization must be done together with serious land reform. But there were so many factions in our AFPFL that our industrialization and our land reform couldn’t come together.

Basically only after the redistribution of land the farmers would prosper and have more purchasing power. Only then the finished products from the new industry could be sold widely. We didn’t finish the land redistribution but we still built textile mills and gunny mills and these new mills had to rely on foreign cotton and imported jute for their raw material as our farmers couldn’t grow the cotton and jute.

What happened sadly was the Ministry of Agriculture and the Industry Ministry didn’t work together. The textile mill and gunny mills were already constructed but there were no cotton and jute for the mills.

And we were building the factories like the amateurs practicing their hobbies. The Brick and Tile Factory was Housing Minister Rashid’s job. Burma Pharmaceutical Industries (BPI) was PM U Nu’s brain wave. Mine was Gunny Mill and Pyimanar Sugar Mill. My pet project was Biluchaung Hydro-electric Power Project.

One of my pet projects was Steel Rolling Mill in Insein. People criticized me for building that mill without iron ore ready in our country. They said it was a mistake to run the factory without raw material. They are wrong as even in Japan and England the industry was there without raw material in that countries. We could import raw material from overseas.

So at the beginning we just used scrap as the inputs while we started digging for the iron ore. We’d found iron ore in our country all over the place. For example they found 20 million tons of potential ore at the north of Taungyi. The ore had 60% iron and the site is only 8 miles from the road and 17 miles from the rail. There were millions of tons of ore found in other places too. So the building of steel mill was right decision.”

As Kyaw Nyein had openly admitted the major weakness in AFPFL was the various factions of BSP, and the leaders of these factions dominated various ministry and government departments according to the grass root political organizations they represented or controlled.

Socialist Factions 

After the purge of pro-communists Red-Socialists from its ranks over the disagreements on Korean War and their proposal to join the left-leaning WFTU (World Federation of Trade Unions) in 1951 the BSP still had two principal factions the educated and the uneducated.

Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein were the leaders of the educated as they graduated from Rangoon University while Kyaw Dun and Pan Myaing led the uneducated as they had never reached the lofty heights of RU. And eventually the uneducated left BSP and aligned with U Nu.

They all are Centre-Left politicians while U Nu was becoming a Centre-Right one. The BSP was clearly becoming right-wing social democrat party controlled by the right-leaning Socialists.

Apart from the whole chain of local party structure controlled by the elected AFPFL MPs the ruling AFPFL had there main mass organizations namely All Burma Peasants’ Organization (ABPO), Trade Union Congress - Burma (TUCB), and Federated Trades’ Organization (FTO). Ba Swe controlled TUCB and Kyaw Nyein the BSP youths and all paramilitaries. Kyaw Dun was the leader of ABPO while Pan Myaing the FTO.

In the Government Ba Swe was the Defense Minister, Kyaw Nyein the Industry, Kyaw Dun the Agriculture and Forest, and Pan Myaing a parliamentary secretary. They were the most powerful politicians in Burma at that time. Ba Swe even became the PM in 1957 when U Nu took a break for almost a year from running Burma.

Kyaw Dun’s ABPO handled all the agriculture loans, agri-commerce such as buying and selling of rice paddy, and any dealings between the government and farmers while Ba Swe’s TUCB was the middle-man between the organized labor and the government. Pan Myaing’s FTO basically controlled almost all the traders in the bazzars or markets of every major city and most towns in the country.

As the Korean War ended in 1952 the global rice prices dropped substantially and by 1955 the rice prices in Pounds per ton was well below fifty. Burma’s foreign reserve depleted and as the money was quickly running out the factions of BSP previously benefitting from that pot of honey started fighting for funds as their pet projects were disrupted.

The factional fractures in BSP was becoming more prominent after the 1956 General Elections which still gave the incumbent AFPFL Government another term but with seriously eroding majority in the parliament.  

While U Nu and the uneducated faction of BSP were leaning towards a peaceful solution to the civil war the educated faction of BSP was for the complete extermination of the so-called insurgents. While U Nu was offering a general amnesty to any surrendered insurgents in 1955 Ne Win’s Socialist Army was rapidly escalating the military operations against CPB with the help of irregular Socialist paramilitaries controlled by the local BSP politicians.

Rapid Militarization of Burma

General Ne Win (1911-2002).
The Burmese Army decimated to only about 3000 infantry in 1948-49 by the Communist and Karen rebellions was single-handedly and rapidly rebuilt by General Ne Win since the heights of civil war in 1949-50. With the arms purchased from India and later from UK and USA and Europe the new battalions were rapidly formed.

The First Kayah Rifles and First Shan Rifles were established in 1949 and the rebelling First and Third Burma Rifles battalions were re-formed. Officers Training School and Military Staff College were established to fill the officer shortages in newly-formed infantry battalions.

The Defense Minister and army-chief Ne Win was burning money like papers and in 1950 his defense spending reached more than 20% of total Government expenditures. In 1950 he expanded army by forming eight more infantry battalions, Number One to Eight IB, and established Second, Third, and Fourth Infantry Brigades in Taungoo, Pegu, and Kyaington. Second Armored Battalion and Engineers Corps were also added.

No. 1 Defense Industry Factory was opened in Rangoon and started producing BA 52 light automatic guns popularly know as Ne Win Stens in October 1950. For the general welfare of service personnel the economic enterprise called DSI (Defense Service Institute) was established and it eventually became BEDC (Burma Economic Development Corporation) involving in every facets of Burmese economy.

In 1952 twelve new battalions, Number 13 to 24 Infantry Battalions, were added by absorbing the paramilitary Sitwundans into the army.  More and more infantry battalions were formed to totally absorb the irregular Sitwundan battalions into the regular army.

At the end of 1954 No. 10 Infantry Brigade was established in Chauk together with No. 105, 106, and 107 Light Infantry Battalions. The long military cooperation with Israel began in that year by Burmese Airforce buying Spitfire fighter planes from Israel and the Israeli army started training Burmese personnel there.

In April 1955 the army sent a study mission to Yugoslavia, Israel, France, and West Germany for the modernization of Burmese armed forces. In September same year a military purchasing mission was sent to Israel, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Soviet Union. Yugoslavia’s Marshall Tito had given the Burmese Army arms and ammunition enough for a brigade and the army also started buying pack-mules from there. Fritz Warner Company of West Germany also started building weapon factories in Burma.

Also in late 1955 the last of the Sitwundans, all together 12 battalions, were absorbed into new seven army battalions, Number 25  to 31 IB. Also No. 104 Light Infantry Battalions was   established. No. 103 LIB and a new Paratrooper training battalion were also established in late 1955.

In 1956 No. 501 and 502 Airforce groups were formed and American Cesna planes were purchased. The airforce started using military helicopters in that year too.

In 1957 No. 12 and 13 Infantry Brigades were established in Ma-u-bin and Prome together with 101, 102, and 109 Light Infantry Battalions. Burmese Airforce also bought Canadian Otter and British Sea-fury fighter planes. By then the staggering 40% of government expenditures was the defense spending. Burma then had the third biggest defense budget in Asia after Taiwan and South Korea.

With two Regional Commands, North and South, controlling 13 infantry brigades commanding hundreds of infantry battalions and one or more of these battalions permanently stationed at every city and town Burmese Army was rapidly becoming a massive institution capable and also eager and willing to control civilian administrative structure in seriously war-ravaged Burma.

Because of the civil war many regions in Burma were already under the army’s direct control. In most towns and villages the local army unit was the ultimate arbiter or the decision maker. Rule of law was already being replaced steadily by the rule of force all over Burma due to the ongoing civil war.

Right under the politicians’ ignorant eyes Ne Win’s Army had been rapidly establishing itself as a political, economic, and administrative institution parallel to the political parties, the trade unions, and other grass root organizations in Burma.

U Nu had been well aware of the mortal dangers of that rapid militarization to the nascent democracy and the civilian rule but he was relying on Ne Win so much that he couldn’t do a thing other than trying hard to end the civil war by secretly negotiating with the CPB to come back into legal fold and  contest the elections. 

Also Kyaw Nyein and the Socialists never saw that 1962 coup coming even though they let Ne Win taste absolute power for two long years after the first coup in 1958 as the Caretaker Government.

Kyaw Nyein’s innate hatred of CPB had made him unbelievably blind to see the growing threat from Ne Win and his lieutenants. Within few years both U Nu and Kyaw Nyein were to pay dearly with their political lives and the real lives of their fellow countrymen.

To consolidate the armed forces Ne Win was also determined to transfer all the armed paramilitaries under the politicians-controlled Home Ministry into the army. Started with hundreds of UMP and Sitwundan battalions since 1947 and even after the gradual absorption of most paramilitary battalions into the army there were still a few paramilitary battalions under the controls of politicians in late 1950s.

Armed Democracy

During the decade of so-called armed-democracy from the 1948 independence to the 1958 coup Burma was basically ruled by the socialist politicians and their pocket armies while the army actively fighting in the various jungles was keeping the insurgents away from the population centers.

The nominal democracy including the relatively free press and sufficiently maintained law and order was visible only in the major cities like Rangoon and Mandalay while the absolute power coming out of .303 rifle barrels basically ruled the lives anywhere else in the country especially the vast rural areas.

The economy also was totally dominated by the state-owned enterprises while the massive army was carving up its lion share of spoils from the state coffers. And the army’s main excuse for its massive expansion was always the Communist threat.

Burma then was and still is an agriculture-based society and export of the lone crop rice basically filling the state coffers. Every little town is the political and administrative center of the whole sizable township comprising about 100 or more villages growing mainly rice and other cash crops like sesame and groundnuts and the industrial crops like cotton and jute.

Our little town of Mawgyun in the Irrawaddy Delta was the typical of such a township. The majority of her 100 odds villages were Burmese with a considerable number of Karen villages dotted among. Rebelling CPB controlled the Burmese villages while the KNDO ruled the Karen villages. The town itself was controlled by an army company permanently stationed on the strategic land by the confluence of Mawgyun and Yazudine rivers.

But the real lord of the town was the local Socialist politician and the leader of pro-government militia and he ruled the town with an iron fist. He was the elected local Member of Parliament and he basically taxed the town merchants. No business deal legal or illegal could be done and no shop could be opened without his knowledge and his considerable cuts.

And the worst was he killed, pillaged, and raped when he toured the surrounding villages with his armed gang of local thugs. As long as he was loyal to Kyaw Nyein’s ruling Socialist Party he could do whatever he pleased in that little township.

The AFPFL and the Socialist Party ruled Burma with the supports of Ne Win’s Army and also the decentralized paramilitary forces under the control of local Socialist leaders. The leading politicians in Rangoon also maintained large pocket armies to counter the army in major cities.

The Home Ministry had authority over all UMP battalions and also the armed Police detachments at all police stations in every district and township. There were two Government authorized armed guard forces namely the Forest Guards under the Agricultural and Forest Ministry and the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) Guards from the Ministry of Industry.

Also there were well-armed local guerrilla or home guard units organized under Government orders since 1948 after the CPB and most of PVO took to the jungle. Organized and controlled by the local AFPFL leaders these guerrilla units were by law under the Home Ministry and their sole purpose was for the defense of rural villages.

And to fight the CPB and the ethnic insurgents effectively a new paramilitary called Pyusawhti was established by the army in 1955 by absorbing the local home guard units and other guerrilla units into the new paramilitary.

Pyusawhti the New Paramilitary

From the security point of view the Pyusawhtis were essential at the village levels. Typically an army post in a large village would have only a section of regular soldiers reinforced by two or three sections of locally-recruited Pyusawhtis.  The combined army-Pyusawhti unit would hold the surrounding areas and intensively patrol it to keep the insurgents out and or even maintain the security of roads, rails, and waterways in that area.

Even though the operational control of Pyusawhti units were with the local army   commanders their real loyalty were with the local AFPFL leaders as these units were raised and funded locally by the local politicians and they would never see actions beyond their village or township boundaries.  And thus the Pyusawhtis became the pocket armies of township level AFPFL politicians and accordingly they acted mainly for the benefits of their political masters.

As Mary Callahan of Cornell University wrote in her political essay “The Sinking Schooner: Murder and the State in Independent Burma, 1948-1958” two brutal cases of Pyusawhti’s murders and mayhems in Mergui District in 1957 were the national infamy widely reported in the Burmese newspapers.

There were many more cases of abuse of power, murder, rape, and pillage that within few years of their formation Pyusawhtis became so notorious U Nu himself denounced them and proposed to disarm them in 1958 against the army’s strong resistance. But many Army personnel simply considered his attacks on Pyusawhti were in fact a disguised attack directed at them.

1956 Elections and Aftermath

The 1956 General Elections gave the incumbent AFPFL Government another term but with seriously eroding majority in the parliament. The ultimate shock for AFPFL was the nearly 40% of total eligible votes received by the main opposition group NUF (National Unity Front) or Pa-ma-nya-ta in Burmese. The young NUF received staggering 1.2 million votes against AFPFL’s pathetic 1.7 millions even though the NUF won only 46 seats compared with the AFPFL’s 146 seats.

NUF was formed in 18 November 1954 by all major opposition parties and organizations just before the General Elections. The major aim of NUF was to stop the escalating civil war. The pro-Communist or so-called red-Socialists formerly from the BSP were the strongest group in NUF coalition. And so AFPFL labeled the NUF as the above-ground Commies while the CPB the under-ground Commies.

This translated extract (edited) is from Thein Phe Myint’s book Kyaw Nyein.

“In the 1956 elections AFPFL had won decisively. But the fact that AFPFL got only 1.7 million votes compared to the 1.2 million votes the opposition NUF received had drawn two totally opposite conclusions from the ruling factions of AFPFL.

Kyaw Nyein’s faction had concluded that NUF got that many votes because of CPB’s threats against the rural voters which are the majority in Burma. But U Nu’s faction reckoned the AFPFL’s abuse of power, corruption, and exploitations over general public were the main reasons.

Accordingly Kyaw Nyein’s group hated the Communist both above-ground and under-ground and treated NUF bitterly while U Nu had eagerly tried to reform AFPFL through self-criticism and reorganization.

I thought the public had overwhelmingly voted NUF by believing that AFPFL couldn’t achieve peace but NUF could and U Nu slowly had seen that fact during all his political struggles.”

Those totally opposite conclusions to the dismal election result were the basis for the split of AFPFL. Internally U Nu saw the AFPFL as the anchor on his ankle while Kyaw Nyein did see nothing wrong within the organization. Externally Kyaw Nyein sided with the Anti-Communist Social Democrats of the world and opposed the so-called Non-aligned movement led by China, Russia, Sukarno, and U Nu.

Also there were personal problems between PM U Nu and Industrial Minister Kyaw Nyein mainly because of their stark economic ideology differences. This revealing extract is from Col Maung Maung’s draft book The Caretaker Government.

“Only Kyaw Nyein had any voice in all the major economic plans, as the Minister of Industry. And for sometime his views were listened to by PM U Nu. But when it comes to allocation of funds, especially the foreign currency, after the post Korea fall of the rice prices, U Nu naturally assigned priority to his own obsessions and Socialist Kyaw Nyein found himself the odd man out also with his own obsession to industrialize the country in as short a times as he could.

There in the NESC (National Economic and Social Council) sessions the disaffection between U Nu and Kyaw Nyein developed imperceptibly into grudging acceding to the Prime Minister by the mere Industry Minister. There were many smaller issues on which they often found themselves in opposite positions.

Once during a goodwill visit to China U Nu was requested by the Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai at a very short notice for substantial sale of rice, most probably a barter trade. So from Peking he ordered his cabinet to sell without the normal deliberations by the Rice Trade Sub-committee of the cabinet.

Kuaw Nyein at the time was negotiating with India and other major buyers for higher prices but U Nu insisted on a special treatment for China due to the undemarcated border issues.

Kyaw Nyein made the Sub-committee hold meetings over the order from U Nu instead of a prompt compliance. U Nu lost his face in Peking and therefore on his return expressed his anger over the issue. All the cabinet members pointed their fingers at Kyaw Nyein and he had to take the blame for the delayed reply.”

On June 12, 1956 U Nu resigned his PM post and stayed on only as the President of AFPFL to seriously cleanse the organization. Ba Swe became the PM and Kyaw Nyein was one of the deputy prime ministers. AFPFL CEC had also agreed to the proposal that U Nu would resume the premiership after a year.

Once U Nu became the AFPFL President the political power had basically shifted from the Government to the Central Executive Committee of AFPFL. The AFPFL HQ on the Churchill Road was becoming much busier than the Secretariat where the Cabinet offices were. Now all the ministers had to attend the CEC meetings also as the AFPFL CEC started deciding on the important state matters like the cabinet did before when U Nu was the PM.

But unlike the cabinet meetings the participants could discuss freely in the party meetings of AFPFL. They could argue freely not just the party matters but also the affairs of the whole country and the arguments heated up so much that U Nu finally had to order the bodyguards of the ministers to surrender their arms whenever they entered the AFPFL HQ. 

Finally U Nu concluded that the current problems in the AFPFL were escalating because of the increasing personal friction between him and Kyaw Nyein. So if he quitted the politics and concentrated only on his literary works Kyaw Nyein as the sole leader could effectively reorganize the AFPFL. So in July 1956 he announced to the country that he would also resign from the AFPFL in one year time.

But U Nu changed his mind when that one year time came and he resumed the premiership despite his intentions and public declarations to quit politics altogether. Why did he do that? No one really knew the reasons for his about turn which split the already fragile AFPFL into two main factions and eventually handed the absolute power into the waiting hands of military the supposedly neutral force of Burmese politics.

This translated extract is from journalist U Thaung’s book Ne Win’s Mess. He concluded Ne Win was the culprit behind U Nu’s change of mind.

“In December 1956 U Nu attended the events in Sri Lanka celebrating the 2,500 years of Buddhism. While U Nu was away in Colombo there was a meeting at PM Ba Swe’s house in Rangoon as requested by General Ne Win. It was a top-level meeting between the Army and the Government.

From the army were General Ne Win, Col Aung Gyi, Col Maung Maung, Col Kyi Win, and Lt. Col Chit Khaing. From the Government were PM Ba Swe and Deputy PM Kyaw Nyein.   The AFPFL General Secretary Thakhin Kyaw Dun was also at the meeting. The odd man out was the Burmese Ambassador to China Hla Maung.

At the meeting Hla Maung proposed that U Nu shouldn’t retake the PM position and should only stay on as the President of AFPFL. He added that U Nu should be the Chairman Mao of China in Burma. Ne Win and all the army officers supported the idea. But PM Ba Swe rejected the idea outright as he believed it should be U Nu’s own decision. (Kyaw Nyein’s position was unknown.)

But the day after U Nu had arrived back from Sri Lanka Ne Win went and saw him alone. He reported to U Nu that the senior leaders of AFPFL had decided to ask U Nu not to become PM again and should stay on as the President of AFPFL. Ne Win added that they from the army were against the decision.

As Ne Win had expected U Nu exploded again with uncontrollable anger. He was extremely angry by assuming simply that Socialists led by Kyaw Nyein and Ba Swe in the AFPFL were forcing him through the Army Chief to give up the PM position even though he had already decided against not just retaking the PM post but also to give up the AFPFL President position.

There are so many people against me but I do not like the policy of surrender without even fighting a single fight and I’ve decided to retake the Government, was what U Nu replied to Ne Win that day and it sealed the fate of AFPFL and our Burma. He’d fallen into Ne Win’s trap.”  

This edited extract is from Col Maung Maung’s draft book The Caretaker Government. He concluded U Nu’s innate character and his heavy-handed approach in dealing with Kyaw Nyein were the reasons behind U Nu’s change of mind.

“Upon his return from the pilgrimage in India U Nu was met at the airport by Thakhins Tin and Kyaw Dun of BSP though Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein also went there. They naturally went and waited at the airport VIP lounge whereas Thakhin Tin and Kyaw Dun rushed into the aircraft as soon as it stopped at the landing position. And these twos were seen to have had discreet words with U Nu within the aircraft.

When U Nu met the rest of colleagues within the VIP lounge of Mingaladon Airport the warm and respectful greeting were returned with ill concealed and unusual few abrupt cold words from him. And U Nu and family rushed home followed by Thakhins Tin and Kyaw Dun.

Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein noticed the cold manners of U Nu but didn’t think much of it as they expected him to have had a tiring trip. But as Thakhins Tin and Kyaw Dun followed closely after U Nu, Kyaw Nyein suspected some backbiting but he expected U Nu to dismiss them in his characteristic way of keeping himself above personal clashes.

But at the same time they knew very well that U Nu’s innate character was such that for him the first man to get his ear was the one he absolutely believed until he was proved wrong. And often that process took a fair stretch of time and many other people’s interventions and explanations and also even his wife’s persuasion to bring him around to the truth or the actual mitigating circumstances of an incident or a situation.

He normally guarded himself against this stubborn and irrational hastiness in his character by asking his closest friend Maung Ohn and his wife Daw Mya Yee to warn him in time as soon as he consulted them regarding a serious accusation against someone close to him.

In this case of two thakhin’s ill conceived backbiting of their top leaders his easy believing trait of his character asserted itself as usual and he reacted accordingly, indeed very strongly, perhaps because his personal position and role in national political scene and history was at stake.

It became clear when  U Nu called in PM Ba Swe and Deputy PM Kyaw Nyein later and angrily declared that they had been planning to push him out of politics all together with the support of Army; that he was told by Thakhin Tin and Kyaw Dun that there was a meeting in Ba Swe’s house (Official Prime Minister’s Residence) while he was away in India, which was a direct challenge to him.

He also told them that he would respond their challenge by resuming the premiership at once and form a new cabinet and call for a snap General Elections just to show how strong his following was in the country, which of course was true.”

U Nu honestly believed that Kyaw Nyein led BSP was now scheming behind his back to gain the total control of AFPFL and to dump him despite the fact that they’d begged him to front them during the national crisis from 1947 till 1954. But since 1954 the civil war had almost been won and the insurgency was reduced to limited areas only they had shown less respect for his opinions and leadership.

But both U Nu and Kyaw Myein still firmly believed the unity of AFPFL was more important than the personal conflicts between them. The warning came in the form of opposition’s call for no-confidence vote in the Parliament.

This translated extract about that motion is from journalist U Thaung’s book Ne Win’s Mess

“Since the AFPFL Government was not capable of protecting peoples’ lives and properties the opposition Members of Parliament led by former chief justice Aye Maung called for a vote on No-confidence motion against the Government on 12 March 1957.

The motion highlighted the major crimes committed by the army and its paramilitaries serving the AFPFL Government. Based on Government’s own statistics the motion described that between 1848 and 1956 there had been 6,644 cases of unsolved murder, 17,004 cases of unsolved robbery, 1,156 cases of unsolved kidnapping, and 633 cases of unsolved rape in the country.

Opposition MPs supporting the motion pointed out the undisputable fact that those crimes were mainly committed by the Army-controlled paramilitaries which were also the pocket armies of Socialist leaders. The motion was strong but defeated in the Parliament as the AFPFL had the numbers.”

Reconciliation Attempt

After the failed no-confidence motion both U Nu and Kyaw Nyein finally agreed to the undeniable conclusion that the township level AFPFL politicians and their pocket armies were increasingly becoming public enemies and they had to clean the organization. So the first ever AFPFL Congress was convened on 29 January 1958 for 5 days at the Kabaraye hill in Rangoon.

This translated extract about that Congress is from journalist U Thaung’s book Ne Win’s Mess

“Together with U Nu, Kyaw Nyein, Bas Swe, Thakhin Tin, and Kyaw Dun all the leaders of two informal groups of AFPFL attended the Congress. U Nu opened the Congress by declaring that the policy of AFPFL was neither Marxism nor Capitalism but the Socialism.

Ba Swe’s declaration that the AFPFL would mercilessly destroy anyone against the AFPFL unity was also heartily welcomed by U Nu. And U Nu also tasked Ba Swe, Kyaw Nyein, and Thakhin Tin with the job of unifying a new AFPFL as a political party not just a coalition of political parties and individual independents.”

But a disagreement broke out over the appointment of AFPFL’s General Secretary position. U Nu wanted his man Thakhin Kyaw Dun to be the GS but Kyaw Nyein wanted Thakhin Thar Khin to be the one. Ba Swe brokered a deal and Kyaw Dun became the General Secretary after signing a declaration that he would resign after 45 days if Ba Swe asked for it.

At the same AFPFL Congress U Nu publicly invited the Communists to surrender their arms and participate in the elections. But that policy had created a serious division between the Army and U Nu’s Faction of AFPFL.

According to the respected journalist U Thaung, Ne Win actively managed to wedge the small cracks in the AFPFL into an eventual split. This translated extract is from journalist U Thaung’s book Ne Win’s Mess

“Ne Win submitted a critical report at the meeting of National Security Council chaired by U Nu in March that year. He basically admitted there were many criminals in the country but the authorities couldn’t act to suppress them as these known criminals were protected by the ruling politicians from AFPFL.

In response U Nu had laid down a policy to arrest all well-known criminals with links to the AFPFL. So the Home Minister with the army’s cooperation staged a mass arrest of many known criminals. More than 200 men linked to U Nu’s faction were arrested by the army while as few as only 6 from Kyaw Nyein’s faction were caught in the nationwide mass arrest.”

U Nu’s law and order restoration campaign had backfired and the smoldering friction had reappeared between U Nu and Kyaw Nyein again.

The Split of AFPFL

On April 20 that year AFPFL Youth Wing controlled by Kyaw Nyein had a conference in Insein one of the semi-rural townships of Rangoon. Insein was the electoral constituency of U Nu’s man Thakhin Kyaw Dun. Without really naming him the Conference publicly accused Kyaw Dun a killer, robber, kidnapper, and rapist altogether disguised as a AFPFL mass leader.

U Nu by then was real sick of the worsening factional problems and he considered that accusation a declaration of war from Kyaw Nyein. And finally U Nu had unilaterally decided to split the AFPFL between him and his old college friend Kyaw Nyein.

First he called his followers and laid down his three point policy. First point was to split the AFPFL before too late. Second was for his followers to promise him not to drink alcohol, not to take bribes, not to womanize, and not to gamble. Third was for the Parliament to decide which faction out of the two would have the right to form the Government.

He then called Kyaw Nyein’s group and told them to accept his first and third point. They agreed and on May 6, 1958 the AFPFL was split between U Nu’ Clean Faction and Kyaw Nyein’s Stable Faction. But U Nu was weary of what the army would do in his political crisis.

So he called Ne Win alone first and told him his decision to split the AFPFL and also warned him not to patch up between the two factions. He then called the most senior officers altogether and repeated the same message. As he expected the senior officers were sympathetic to Kyaw Nyeins’ Party BSP and angry at U Nu for his unilateral decision. The fire that eventually destroyed the nascent democracy in Burma had begun.

The ministers from Kyaw Nyein’s faction had to quit the government and their ministerial posts were immediately taken by U Nu’s men. U Nu called his faction The Clean Faction (Thant-Shin) of AFPFL while Kyaw Nyein labeled his faction The Stable Faction (Tee-Myae).

This translated extract is from journalist U Thaung’s book Ne Win’s Mess.

“In Burma’s history the heated debate for the separation of British Burma from British India in 1932 was the biggest ideology division among the people of Burma. Now compared with the split of AFPFL that division was just a mere cockfight.  The whole country, monks, men, women, students, workers, and peasants were deeply divided over the AFPFL split.

Arguments and debates raging from the family meal tables to the mass meetings were all over the country. It was so violent the AFPFL was almost crushed. And the fight two equally powerful factions finally ended at the Parliament.

The parliament session to decide which faction would take the power was at the Secretariat on 9 June 1958 and all the government offices and schools were closed on that day as everybody gathered at their radio sets to listen to the direct broadcast by the Information Ministry from the Parliament. Rangoon and the whole country went silent during the broadcast as people were glued to the radios.

At 10 exact in the morning the session began and immediately Ba Swe lodged No-confidence motion against U Nu’s Government. The motion was supported by Kyaw Nyein and opposed by Thakhin Tin. After a heated debate the voting began and counting finished only after 6 in the evening and the tight result was reported to the country.

U Nu’s Clean Faction got 127 votes while Kyaw Nyein’s Stable Faction received 119 votes and the No-confidence motion was defeated by just 8 votes. (Even though U Nu didn’t have the numbers in AFPFL the Opposition NUF voted for U Nu’s Clean Faction.) The historical decision was concluded by Kyaw Nyein and Ba Swe congratulating U Nu and Thakhin Tin while the whole Parliament was cheering them.

But that was just calm before the perfect storm. In few days time Ba Swe’s Brother in Law Colonel Kyi Win from Burmese Army Northern Command openly declared that Ba Swe’s men didn’t even dare to go out of their houses just because they lost in the Parliament by a mere 8 votes and thus the Army must topple U Nu’s Government by force.”

Colonel Kyi Win even drew a plan for the coup and reported to Ne Win who was waiting on the sideline for his chance didn’t really stop him. So Kyi Win and his field officers started the detail preparations for their coup d’état.

U Nu’s Budget Maneuver

After the AFPFL split U Nu and his Clean faction was in fact a minority government. Instead of forming a coalition government with the NUF he offered and in good faith agreed to call for a snap General Election on his own initiative.

But the Stable faction led by Kyaw Nyein was eagerly waiting to challenge U Nu’s government the second time during the expected sitting of Parliament to approve the 1958 budget.

The budget year those days began on 1st September and the Government must introduce the new budget in Parliament by August. This Budget Session of Parliament had to be strictly observed as it was particularly written in the 1947 Constitution of the Union of Burma.

But if U Nu did call that Budget Session his government would either be challenged with second no-confidence motion or at least Kyaw Nyein’s faction could block the supply. And to call for a snap election the Parliament had to be dissolved at least three months before the election date.

U Nu then decided to take an ill-advised non-Parliamentary procedure of passing the new Budget by a Presidential Ordinance. U Nu’s action had clearly violated the 1947 Constitution.

That action was challenged by Kyaw Nyein in the Supreme Court but the head of the Supreme Court the Chief Justice of the Union Dr.  Aye Maung was the very man who advised U Nu on that action and so the appeal was lost. Understandably Kyaw Nyein’s faction and the Army considered the whole fiasco the intentional violation of the Constitution and accordingly they started planning to remove U Nu’s government by force.

The First Coup D’état

There were a few versions of what happened exactly just before the legal formation of Ne Win’s caretaker Government in 1958. This crude version is from journalist U Thaung’s book Ne Win’s Mess. U Thaung had had a deep-seated grudge against Ne Win and he’d blame Ne Win for almost everything that gone wrong in Burma.

“After getting a green light from Ne Win instead of a reprimand Col Kyi Win went back to Upper Burma and together with CO of Northern Command Brigadier Aung Shwe and his GSO-1 Col Chit Khaing drew a detail plan for the coup.

They decided to use the battle-hardened frontline troops and ordered the Fourth Burma Rifles from Kut Khaing down to Mandalay and at Mandalay their heavy weapons were exchanged for light infantry weapons needed for the inner-city battles.

The battalion CO was kept in blind till his battalion was ready for the coup and later he was given the map of Rangoon and ordered to reach Rangoon by September 27. On the map the residences of the PM and his ministers were red-circled with the instructions that they were to be captured.

Only after that the detail operational plan for the coup by the Field Officers(FO) was submitted to the General Staff (GS) at the War Office in Rangoon. On September 20 GSO Col Maung Maung invited Col Aung Gyi and Col Khin Nyo to his house and let them know the FO’s coup plan and got their tacit approval.

All the senior officers except Brigadier Blake of Southern Command had agreed to the plan. The GS then ordered Light Infantry Battalion 106 to occupy Insein and LIB 107 and 108 to march to Rangoon.

Once the rebel troops occupied Mandalay and captured the UMP battalion there the Interior Minister Min Gaung knew of the impending coup and immediately met Ne Win and urged him to stop the coup. But Ne Win just simply told him to wait and see as he didn’t think the FOs could manage to stage a coup. Trusting Ne Win no more Min Gaung then ordered his UMP battalions from the countryside to march to Rangoon.

Colonels Maung Maung and Aung Gyi then angrily complained to U Nu that the Government was using UMPs to destroy the Army. They also called for U Nu’s resignation and the transfer of power to General Ne Win.

Min Gaung and the Defense Minster Bomhu Aung met Ne Win second time in the morning of September 23. Ne Win lied to them again that he didn’t know a thing about the coup plan and he would send Col Maung Maung and Aung Gyi to meet U Nu and report the situations.

That afternoon the two officers met U Nu and told him that they couldn’t control army for too long as the Field Officers’ understanding was that U Nu’s faction together with the rebelling white PVO were actively trying to disintegrate the army.

But the news of Army’s occupation of Insein was already in the newspapers and U Nu knew very well that General Ne Win and his two General Staff officers were behind the actions of his Field Officers and he was basically forced into a corner by then.

By September 25 the armed troops had already occupied the important facilities in Rangoon like Telecommunication Centre and Police HQ. The troops also occupied the Airport and placed artillery aiming at Rangoon. Most of the major towns all over the country were already captured by the army’s local garrisons and the mass arrest of politicians both ruling and opposition had even started. By then U Nu knew it was too late to fight back as he desperately tried to salvage his government together with his beloved democracy.

At 10 in the morning of September 26 U Nu and his senior ministers met Colonels Maung Maung and Aung Gyi at the PM’s residence. U Nu proposed to call the Parliament and transfer the power legally to Ne Win if Ne Win gave a promise to commit a fair and free election within a few months.

Two sides reached the compromise quickly while army was physically stopping Home Minster Min Gaung’s UMP battalions on their ways to Rangoon. And the Parliament was called on 28 October 1958 and next day Ne Win became the parliament appointed Prime Minister of Burma and he formed a caretaker government on October 31, 1958.”

This more accurate army version (edited) of the 1958 coup is from Col Maung Maung’s draft book The Caretaker Government. Col Maung Maung was the behind the scene architect of that coup and the real controller and manager of Ne Win’s Caretaker Government.

“Some time after the defeat of Kyaw Nyein faction in Parliament and the failure of U Nu to call a Parliament session to pass the 1958 budget the brigade commanders close to the Socialists met in secret at the headquarters of Northern Command.

The participants were the Divisional CO of Northern Command Brigadier Aung Shwe, his GSO-2 Lt. Col Chit Khaing, Col Kyi Win the CO of 12th Brigade in Chauk, and Col Hla Maw the CO of Sixth Brigade in Pa-an.

They were extremely angry as U Nu had during his declaration of reasons for the splitting of AFPFL also roundly slurred the Army and its senior commanders as promoting irregularities in local politics and supporting the paramilitaries which committed crimes as heinous as murdering political undesirables to them. He had quoted specific cases and also by implication accused certain brigade and battalion commanders.

They and a few other senior commanders had already met many times before at the Mandalay HQ of Northern Command. At first it seemed that they merely planned to put pressures on their respective Members of Parliament to support Kyaw Nyein’s Stable Faction. But when U Nu openly violated the constitutional process of passing money bills through the Parliament they decided to make a military coup d’état.

The exact trigger was the actions of the PVO element of U Nu’s faction led by Min Gaung who had become the Home Minister in the new cabinet and pulled in three UMP battalions to Rangoon and kept them just outside of the city. (He had deliberately broken the National Security Council’s rule of placing all armed police battalions under the army and having them deployed under the operational plans of the commanders of Northern and Southern Commands.)

General Ne Win was well informed about the coup plan and he conveyed the information to us the General Staff Officers. He had always been tempted to take over power by a military coup and he had never hidden that fact. In fact in 1948, just before the PVO split and the majority went underground in support of the CPB, he was negotiating with the CPB in revolt.

The CPB offered him Defense Ministry should he make the coup and bring about a national government with Than Htun as Prime Minister. This became known to U Nu. After all Ne Win was negotiating and discussing with his junior military leaders, the PVO leaders and CPB representatives for some months.

As soon as U Nu got wise to the danger he at once made Ne Win, then only a brigadier, a Lt. General and Supreme Commander of all armed forces including the police, and later Home and Defense Minister. That kept Ne Win in support of U Nu and the Socialist for a long while till mid 1950s.

At the split of AFPFL he expressed the opinion that Parliamentary politics had reached the nadir and normal politics had been degraded to such a state that whole system must be scrapped and a left military government or a Communist system set up. But he insisted that the time for him making any move to take power was not yet ripe. He said he was waiting and watching.

The point was that though he professed not to act to assume power he gave the opinion that there was no future in the then scheme of constitutional government and parliamentary practice continuing in Burma. U Nu himself by his very acts had, by acts if not by words, publicly demonstrated the fact. That was his opinion and he gave these daily to us his General Staff.

At that time I was in charge of GS and also the Director of Military Training but I generally took charge of GS plans and more complicated roles such as arming and organization policies and programs. Col Aung Gyi, more intimate with Ne Win and U Nu was the formal GS officer in charge of operations and organization, but in fact took charge mainly of the day to day administrations and less of operations.

Thus the initiative for operations was lost to the Commanders of Northern and Southern Commands. This was General Ne Win’s way of running the army. He basically took charge of every detail of the administration, direction of intelligence, and officers’ postings and promotions.

In early 1958 Col Aung GYi was sent on a long tour abroad to recover from his emotional tragedy of losing his young wife in child birth. Hence U Nu was in less closer contact with the army than he used to through Col Aung Gyi as his liaison. He came back only in August 1958 and realized that there were very little he could do to repair the damaged situations between U Nu and his army comrades, and also between U Nu and Kyaw Nyein.

I had made a few tours to the brigades during that serious time of deep resentment towards the government. I didn’t encourage them to give active hand at politics. I was just trying to give them a chance to work out a reasonable political solution to their own differences.

Their main concern was that if the Communists came over under much relaxed terms rumored as being offered by U Nu and stood for elections and got into the government with U Nu there seemed little doubt that the army field commanders could be in for a shabby, if not a disgraceful, treatment.

After all the field commanders who led the troops were the men who actually had to give orders to shoot and kill or themselves physically killed many Communist insurgents. And understandably they now felt insecure.

That reason alone mainly made them actively plan for a military coup from a level below the GS and if we GS rejected their plan it will split the armed forces as well. The situation was grave but General Ne Win was not going to take command of the troops and stop this movement but was in fact indirectly allowing it to develop so that he could later take over.”

As a desperate attempt to hold on to the power U Nu tried to bring CPB into legal fold and that act alone had forced the army field commanders to stage their own desperate act of military coup. With Ne Win patiently watching their moves while Kyaw Nyein tacitly encouraging his Socialist Army officers to bring down U Nu’s minority Government Col Maung Maung and Auing Gyi the two most senior General Staff officers were now being forced into committing a coup.

This extract (edited) also is from Col Maung Maung’s draft book The Caretaker Government. Col Maung Maung was then trying to take the initiative to stage the coup to calm down the Command and Brigade commanders hell bent on staging a coup of their own.

“The army commanders were losing their patience and the GS had to act one way or other in order to maintain its position as the head of the armed forces. The decision could not be delayed after the passing of the Budget without parliament approval. By late August the GS officers knew that the brigades were preparing to make a coup if GS would not.

The unity of the armed forces demanded that the GS either take punitive action against the commands and the brigades for preparing to make a military coup, or take the lead. I decided to take the lead by calling a top level meeting at the army guesthouse on the Inya Lake. 

In our opinion the political leaders especially U Nu and his faction had forfeited the trust of the military leaders by their unconstitutional activities and by negotiating behind the back of the army commanders with the Communist insurgents.

Next day I called a full staff meeting and the detailed plan for the coup was drawn and orders for various staff officers and commanders were issued so that at a signal from the GS, i.e. from me through the war room, all commanders and staff will be mobilized and take up positions as assigned.

Only each commander and his forces knew the exact location to which his troops were assigned and the action to be taken. Thus all staff and commanders were moving about with army wireless sets attached to their cars and waiting for my coded call to the War Room from any nearby telephone. The army was ready for the imminent coup.

But I was loath to lose the Constitution of 1947 and I also hated the idea of making a coup against my political comrades. Thus it was that with Col Aung Gyi I made at least three calls upon U Nu to discuss the irregular actions taken by his government and the real fear of the army field commanders.

But on every occasion U Nu was unable to see where he could go wrong. He even considered the irregular passing of the budget just an emergency measure not the trick to avoid second no-confidence motion. Only on last meeting he offered to take into the Government General Ne Win, Col Aung Gyi, and me. We were taken aback as we couldn’t get over the shock of this bold bribe by such a ‘clean’ man. But we promised to discuss with General Ne Win.

When we reported back General Ne Win only smiled. He knew that could happen since long ago. He was very good at working out the psychological reactions of an individual character. He could be called the best strategist in human reactions to specific situations.  

He specialized in it and studied the character, weaknesses and strengths, past and present activities, family, relatives, attachments, friends, relaxations etc, everything about every individual he comes across. He could remember all these data as well. His head was a memory bank for such details because he loved them.

That evening I decided there was no sense in waiting but a military coup should be made soon. However I was preempted by the Home Minister Min Gaung who went and reported to U Nu that the army was preparing to make a coup next day. It was not taken seriously by U Nu but he still called Ne Win to retain the lower echelons. Apparently Min Gaung had secret links with some soldiers whose unit the LIB 104 was detailed to send detachments to the PM residence and the residences of other ministers.

But the coup was not being ordered yet. It was being delayed for some two weeks while I was trying to talk U Nu (through his adviser U Ohn) into calling the Parliament and postponing the General Election till April 1960 when it was really due.

However the reply from U Nu was characteristic. He was unwilling to make any promises other than his offer of office to the prominent leaders of the Army and meant to continue with his plans to make sure of a total defeat for the Kyaw Nyein’s Faction and bring in the pro-Communists. (He was even talking about preparing to walk into any prison Army had chosen for him.)

Then I suggested to U Ohn a formula of compromise. That was for U Nu to call a session for the Parliament only to handover power to General Ne Win to form a caretaker government and to hold elections in due course when the security situation was improved and the political storm had subsided and calm had descended upon both factions. U Nu agreed.

There was no time period (for the elections) mentioned in that arrangement. I and Aung Gyi were to meet U Nu next day when he would have won over his ministers to the plan. On 27th September morning I and Aung Gyi along with Brigadier Tin Phe as a witness went and met U Nu and U Ohn.

On the army side I talked terms and occasionally Aung Gyi interposed to explain to U Nu the dangers of not complying because they in GS have by then had almost lost control of the lower echelons in the field.

The main point of negotiations was not that the Army would take over, but Ne Win was to be used as a neutral PM to form a government neutral to both AFPFL factions, stabilize the situations, and hold the General Elections. U Nu’s only demands were to arrange it as his own initiative and to give him a free and fair GE at the end of three months after General Ne Win had taken office.

We didn’t give way but only promised unbiased, free, arms-free elections by the date it was due, not earlier or later. We didn’t believe that 3 month time frame was enough for the Army to clean up Rangoon and prepare the country for the General Elections.

In the end U Nu in his own way acted in a high handed manner with the words, ‘As far as I’m concerned I’ll draft out a letter to General Ne Win offering 3 months as a caretaker government for him and when you have government power you can do as you please, whether 3 moths is adequate or not will not concern me then, for then I’ll no longer be head of Government.’

That was typical of U Nu. He could not meet a situation face to face in the reality of the circumstances, but in his own imaginary and moralistic light. For him he had promised his ministers three months of Army rule to prepare for the GE, and he wouldn’t go back on his words.

I accepted and U Nu wrote out by hand the exact offer to Ne Win a letter which became historic. But it was mainly to ease his conscience, to satisfy his party, to demonstrate his moral stand, and to safeguard his political future. I had to take the letter to Ne Win.”

This extract (edited) also is from Col Maung Maung’s draft book The Caretaker Government. Col Maung Maung carrying U Nu’s proposal letter of power transfer was on his way back to his boss General Ne Win.

“The first words by which Ne Win greeted me was, ‘Have all things accomplished?’ He meant the coup and he was very disappointed when I said I had arranged a compromise solution in order that neither he Ne Win nor they the Army were accused by history as traitors to the government or their comrades but helpers in salvaging the Constitution.

Ne Win said, ‘Should have done everything once and for all!’ meaning make a complete coup and be rid of the constitutional system. But knowing me he restrained himself and accepted the arrangement with what little grace he could muster. But his disappointment was real. He had hoped to run things completely without the encumbrances of the 1947 Constitution or further pandering to the political parties or leaders.

Therefore he was very angry with me. He continued to say, ‘What have you done Bo Maung Maung? Why can’t you make the clean sweep of the situation and be done with politics once and for all?’ Or words to that effect. In any case he asked me and Aung Gyi to draft out the answer to U Nu.

I wrote out the draft with Aung Gyi beside him adding or suggesting some words. Ne Win then used it and wrote by hand himself with a little of his own additions. I and Aung Gyi then went and delivered Ne Win’s reply to U Nu in his cabinet room with his full cabinet with U Ohn present. Home Minister Min Gaung commented that me and Aung Gyi would then be ministers. We didn’t reply and cane away to Ne Win.

Ne Win then asked for suggestion and worked out together with us his first cabinet. I need not be worried as Ne Win was quite scrupulous after recovering from his disappointment. He set up an purely civilian government because I refused to join the cabinet and therefore Aung Gyi also decided against it.

It was an amiable transfer of power and made voluntarily on the part of U Nu and his colleagues and taken over with seriousness and deep respects for the high responsibility by the Army leaders. There was no disagreement or bitterness shown then. There was no gloating on the part of Army officers.

The real transfer of power was to be only after the Parliament was reconvened and approved U Nu’s proposal for Ne Win as the Premier of a caretaker government. U Nu wanted to recover his good name and also wanted to set down a strict observance of constitutional procedures for Ne Win to follow so that the temporary transfer of power would not become permanent takeover by the Army.”

Burma had sadly fallen into Ne Win’s hands very first time and the taste of absolute power had changed that cunningly ambitious general into an absolute ruler and he would rule Burma as a brutally ruthless dictator for nearly 30 years from 1962 to 1988.

Two Dumb Otters and One Cunning Fox

There were two brother otters fishing in a river and one day they caught a big fish together. One otter said we will split the fish right at the middle and I take the head piece and you take the tail piece. The other otter said no. I take the head and you take the tail. They couldn’t agree even though the head piece and the tail piece could have equal amount of meat.

While they were arguing a fox showed up at the river bank and asked what they were arguing about. Once he knew the reason he told them that he had a fair solution if the otters accept him as the judge. The stupid otters agreed.

The cunning fox then cut off the head and gave it to the first otter. He then cut off the tail bit and gave it to the second otter. He then said this middle part is for me as my fee for the judgment and grab it and ran off.

Every Burmese knows that story as it is taught in primary school Burmese lessons. Now General Ne Win the cunning fox had grabbed the meaty Burma while the two dumb otters U Nu and Kyaw Nyein were fighting for it. Unlike the otters they didn’t even get the bony parts.

With Aung San in the best grave of Burma and Than Htun in the Jungles and Kyaw Nyein and U Nu on the outer the four original left-wing extreme-nationalists were finally removed from the political scene and the shifty fox Ne Win had become the absolute ruler of Burma.

Burma in Limbo - Part 1
Burma in Limbo - Part 9