Wednesday, July 31, 2013

8-8-88 Uprising Failed: Aung San Oo or Dr. Tin Myint Oo?

Dr. Thant Myint Oo.
(author & historian)
Nowadays in Burma or Myanmar everyone knows Aung San Suu Kyi and most people especially the educated ones know very well Dr. Thant Myint Oo the famous Burmese Historian and the celebrated author of “The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma” and “Burma And The New Crossroads Of Asia: Where China Meets India” two widely read books on our Burma.

But a lot of people do not know very well Aung San Oo the elder brother of ASSK and the eldest son of our Bogyoke Aung San. And most people never heard of the name Dr. Tin Myint Oo the dear father of Dr. Thant Myint Oo and the only son-in-law of former United Nations Secretary General late U Thant.

But in the late 1988 the names of Aung San Oo and Dr. Tin Myint Oo (now completely forgotten) were the two hottest names among Burmese exiles all over the world and every non-Burmese who were seriously interested in Burma or who had serious interests in Burma.

During and the aftermath of failed 8-8-88 Uprising everybody inside and outside of Burma was then seriously speculating that there was a political vacuum in post-Ne-Win Burma and only one of those two men could fill that vacuum and rule Burma to the democracy and the prosperity.

Burmese badly needed a hero back then and they strongly believed that one of these two legacy-candidates could become their badly and urgently-needed hero.

Aung San Oo (2008?).
In public opinion Aung San Oo was the most logical one as the eldest and only son of our only national hero and the so-called Father of Burma’s Independence from the Great Britain General Aung San.

And trailing Aung San Oo very closely was the only son-in-law of the most internationally-famous Burmese and very well-loved U Thant for whose final-resting-spot in Burma hundreds of Burmese students died in the 1974 U Thant Uprising at Rangoon University.

Then a first-year student in Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) I narrowly escaped a certain death from the army's brutal raid of Rangoon University's campus at very last night.

But Aung San Oo was a pacifist or a coward and no-show while Dr. Tin Myint Oo then working as a senior director for the ESCAP (United Nation’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific) in Bangkok was actively promoting him going back home and rescuing his nation from the clutch of hated military and from the eventual ruin.

Back then in 1988 he was the talk of the town in Bangkok among the Burmese exiles as every meeting and gathering even in the Buddhist monasteries his name was mentioned fervently as if he would be the ultimate savior of our desperately poor nation from her troubles.

Writing Very First EI Country Report on Burma

I was then working for a large manufacturing company in Bangkok as a production-planning engineer after graduating from a famous International University in Bangkok. In early 1988 I received a doctoral scholarship from my old university and I went back there and became a PhD student.

One of my professors there was a westerner who had a solid interest in both Thailand and Burma and I had a very close relationship with him since my post-graduate studies there in 1985 and 1986. And we are of almost same age and we went out a lot and enjoyed Bangkok night life.

He introduced me to a Bangkok-based American businessman who had all sort of businesses related to Burma and Thailand. One was preparing and filing secret field reports about Burma to many government agencies and private organizations. One report was for EI (Economist Intelligence) unit of the Economist magazine in London.

And after 1988 the global interest on Burma suddenly surged as the decades-old Socialist system was being dismantled by the military government and I was asked by him to write a very first country report on Burma for his EI (Economist Intelligence) and I happily accepted and started working on it.

(I do not want to disclose his name here though as I still had a nagging-feeling that he could even be working for clandestine government agencies. His three-storey building near the US Embassy in Bangkok had a few back rooms where a group of Americans toiling with radio-transmitters and tele-printers and desktop-computers were working 24/7.

I was given a small office and a genuine IBM AT PC to write there and I was really surprised by the abundance of expensive high-tech equipment there. In late 1988 the genuine IBM AT PC was most advanced desktop and it costed nearly US$ 20,000 each while Taiwan-made IBM-compatibles were fetching almost US$ 10,000 each.)

 Meeting Dr. Tin Myint Oo Very First Time

UN-ESCAP Tower in Bangkok (2010).
In the middle of preparing that first ever EI’s country report for Burma my American employer one day took me to ESCAP to see a very important person-of-interest in the red-hot affairs of Burma. But he didn't tell me exactly who we were seeing that day.

He just told me that the senior executive we were going to meet that day was the UN executive responsible for helping Communist Vietnam reform its economy and he was also personally responsible for drawing the Foreign Investment Law for Vietnam.

That day after going through tight security at ESACP tower and finally at the top floor Executive Offices I was introduced to Dr. Tin Myint Oo in his grand-looking office with the splendid view of Bangkok skyline. I was seriously shocked. And he was also quite surprised by meeting unexpectedly a fellow Burmese preparing a country report on Burma, I guessed.

Anyway make the story short after an hour-long meeting he asked me, in Burmese so that two Americans wouldn’t know, to come and see him later that day. So I went back there that afternoon and we had a very long chat, mainly about what he’d done for Vietnam and his future grand plan of political and economic reforms for Burma, while I listened with great admiration for this son-in-law of our famous hero U Thant.

He finally asked me to keep in touch regularly with him, after warning me not to tell anyone especially the Americans I worked for about our private meetings, and gave me another appointment to see him a couple of days later. I was on the clouds and really looking forward to seeing him again.

Then all hell broke loose by the front page article on the Bangkok Post next day.

Dr. Tin Myint Oo The Savior of Burma, Not Aung San Oo?

The full-page article basically dismissed the widely-rumoured favourite Aung Son Oo and speculated assertively Dr. Tin Myint Oo as the prospective savior of Burma. And the newspaper detailed his achievements in his long UN career and him being the well-known son-in-law of U Thant and, after citing his Vietnam reforms and his Vietnam’s Foreign Investment law, proposed him as the most suitable person to lead Burma out of her present quagmires.

During that time Bangkok Post had been following and writing closely on Burma for more than 2-3 months since the lawless anarchy since 8-8-88 and I had a nagging feeling that my American employer and his team of shadowy Americans working 24/7 in the back rooms of his secured-building near US Embassy in Bangkok were basically leaking to Bangkok Post and other foreign news agencies the selected information coming out of US Embassy in Rangoon.

Especially the gruesome photos from lawless Rangoon. I was eternally shocked by the Bangkok Post’s photos of the rows of decapitated heads displayed on a table from the gruesome killings in the veteran-quarters of Myinthar in South-Oakalapa as I used to live in same Myinthar’s government-quarters while I was working for Burma Irrigation in early 1980s.

And I was alarmed when an American working with me showed me the film-negatives of that Bangkok Post photos. Only then I suddenly understood the obvious fact that the Americans were behind Dr. Tin Myint Oo who was an American citizen and they were promoting and preparing him publicly for the apparent takeover.

By then like most Burmese back home and abroad I was as pro-American as possible even for a born-communist who had suffered enormously under a Socialist rule all his life. Fuck the Socialists and Communists and every other left-wing cunts, I hated them with my guts by then and now too.

So I thought it was a right move for Burma if Americans were really behind our Dr. Tin Myint Oo and I was even more eager to see him again next day. I couldn’t sleep well that night even without expecting a serious danger waiting for me inside the ridiculously-secured UN building in Bangkok.

Serious Security Breach of Fortress-liked UN Tower in Bangkok

Bangkok ESCAP Compound's Gate (2010).
Next day I went there just before the appointment time in the morning. There the unexpected scene was waiting for me. 

A huge throng of foreign and Thai media reporters was at the giant steel gate of ESCAP tower and no one was allowed to enter. They all were trying to interview suddenly-very-famous Dr. Tin Myint Oo or just to film and photograph a fleeting-glimpse of him.

The tight security was there and armed-guards and Thai policemen in their ridiculously-tight-uniforms were sternly telling everyone to go away as Dr. Tin Myint Oo was not willing to see anyone. The security men even denied that Dr. Tin Myint Oo was in his office that day.

When I told them that I had a specific appointment with him that day and showed them his business-card they simply said they were told all appointments with Dr. Tin Myint Oo had been cancelled indefinitely.

I was disappointed but I didn’t give up easily and suddenly remembered a sneaky way to get to his office. Through much-relaxed ESCAP library in a separate UN building but connected to the main UN tower. As an international student I then had a UN library card and by using that card through a separate entrance with lax security I got into the ESCAP Library.

From there I called Dr. Tin Myint Oo’s office through the internal phone system, naively of course. His secretary answered and after a few minutes silence she told me her boss wasn’t in his office and abruptly hanged up.

I was quite frustrated and thinking of going up to the top floors when two UN security guards and two Thai policemen suddenly showed up in the library and started talking to the librarian as if they were looking for someone. Four stern-looking armed-men were looking for me but I did not know.

Once the librarian pointed me to them they quickly approached me and restrained me and basically dragged me into a detention-cell like room on the ground floor of main UN Tower. I was shocked as the rough interrogation started in that brightly-lit window-less room.

Threat to kill me and feed me to the Samut-prakan Crocodiles

Holding almost quarter-a-million crocodiles Samut-
Prakan is the largest crocodile-farm in the world.
First they told me to empty all my pockets. Then they patted me down thoroughly. Unsatisfied they ordered me to strip to my briefs and went through all my cloths even my dirty shoes. First I couldn’t understand why they were doing all that to me. Only after their thorough search I knew the reason for their rough treatment.

From their conversations among them in Thai I could roughly figure out that they thought I could be an assassin sent by Burma Army to rid of their now-very-famous Dr. Tin Myint Oo. I couldn’t blame on them as from my stocky-build and my straight-back and open-chest posture most people I run into correctly guessed I was an ex-soldier.

From my IDs they also knew I was a Burmese national but they didn’t know I was reasonably fluent in Thai as I’d been living in Thailand for almost four years by then. So they talked freely in my presence of what they could do to me eventually.

Or they correctly guessed that I understood some Thai and they tried intentionally to scare me a Burmese man, for Thais historically hated us Burmese in general. Thailand has never been colonized by white men in her whole proud history except the Burmese for more than 50 years in 1569 and then again by King Bayinnaung in 1767.

They talked in Thai about taking me out to shoot me and then dump me body at the Samut-prakan Crocodile Farms. By then I was shit scared as I’d been hearing the widely-circulated rumours among Thais of the death-squads from Thai Army and Police kidnapping the left-wing political activists and killing them and feeding the bodies to the Samut-prakan crocodiles.

And I had the inside knowledge of our Burma Army dumping bodies of the protesting students killed during many past-uprisings including 1974 U Thant Uprising into the crocodiles-infested waters at the sea by the mouth of Rangoon River back in Burma.

The small room without air-conditioning was also stifling hot and soon I got sweats coming out of my forehead and   dropping onto the concrete floor between my feet while I was being scared to death by four armed-Thais as they forced me to stand nearly-naked almost two hours inside that little room.

Saved By a retired Thai Police-General

I was almost relieved with faint hope when the closed-door was knocked from outside and the Thais opened the door and saw a calm-looking old Thai man in business attires standing at the door. He entered and told the Thais to get out and then politely asked me to put my cloths back on. Surprisingly his face was so familiar to me as if I met him before somewhere.

He then introduced himself as the Chief-of-Security of UN in Thailand and also a retired police general of Royal Thai Police and asked me who I was and what was the reason I tried desperately to reach the office of Dr. Tin Myint Oo. He wanted a frank and true answer as I was already so deep in shit he wouldn’t be able to save me, he seriously reminded.

I told him my identity and my honest reason of having a personal appointment to see Dr. Tin Myint Oo. He then noticed my university ID card and said his favourite nephew a government official was a graduate from same university.

So I immediately asked the name of his nephew and gladly found out he was one of my classmates and a closed friend. He was from a very old and established Thai family and as a westernized-Thai he has a Christian nick name. In Thailand the official names of Thais are so long and cumbersome that every Thai has a short nick name.

Once I told him of me being a friend and classmate of his nephew and also his Christian nick name the  old man suddenly kind of relieved and excused himself and quickly disappeared out of the room.

Thai policemen in Bangkok.
I knew immediately that he was going to ring his nephew as my friend was a junior government officer in NESDB the powerful National Economic and Social Development Board of Thailand. Back then in 1988 mobile phones or hand phones were not that widespread in Thailand like now the old man had to use a telephone outside.

When he came back in about half-an-hour later he was all smiles and told me that he made a couple of phone calls and one was to his nephew my Thai friend. The other one I guessed was Dr Tin Myint Oo even though he didn’t disclose to who the second call was. He said he accepted the fact that I was who I claimed to be and I had a genuine appointment at UN-ESCAP that day with Dr. Tin Myint Oo.

Anyway he let me go free after seriously warning me to stay away from the UN and Dr. Tin Myint Oo as it was in the interest of my own safety. He also added that in the interest of the national security of Thailand too, even though he didn’t explain why it was so.

My Visa was not Extended and I was Forced to Leave Thailand

That was not the end of my story. During that last month in Thailand I did finish my Country Report on Burma and was paid 40,000 Bahts (almost US$2,000). But after the ESCAP incident plain-cloth policemen from the Special Branch of Royal Thai Police were trailing me and watching my every move.

One Thai police officer who could speak Burmese even blatantly approached me at a bus-stop while I was waiting for a bus and introduced himself in fluent Burmese as SB Detective so-and-so and asked me how I was doing. They really wanted me to know I was being watched closely.

My year-long non-immigrant visa was expiring by then and when I tried to extend my stay there the Thai Immigration rejected straight away without telling me their reason even though last four years they kept on allowing me to extend every year. To this day I still wonder why they kicked me out of Thailand.

Unfortunately Burma by then was totally closed to international air travellers and I was basically trapped in Thailand. Fortunately I already had had skilled-immigrant visa for Australia in my Burmese passport and in December 1988 I landed at Sydney Airport as a brand-new immigrant under the skilled-immigrant category. I had nowhere else to go and my dear girlfriend was pregnant.

ASSK: The Last Legacy Candidate and Accidental Hero

While I was struggling real hard to start a family in Sydney our Burma had a new legacy-hero by the name of Aung San Suu Kyi. Before 1988 she was happily married to Michael Aris (1946-1999) a British academic and Oxford professor and living in UK.

In 1988 she was back in Burma temporarily to look after her ailing mother Daw Khin Kyi the widowed-wife of late General Aung san.

Widely accepted by the people of Burma as the father of Burma independence Aung San was the founding father of Burmese army and also his untimely death in the hands of U Saw’s assassins has left a ever-lasting political legacy. Even the dictator General Ne Win had to use Aung San’s legacy and in 1963 Ne Win proudly declared that his Burmese Way to Socialism was the continuation of Aung San’s Socialist policy.

In 1988 the people of Burma did not really have any political leader to overcome widely-hated Ne Win’s historical significance and enormous personal influence. So Burmese started looking back the history and tried to revive Aung San’s legacy by utilizing his son Aung San Oo.

Burma badly needed a hero to carry forward the momentum of 8-8-88 popular uprising which had already dislodged Ne Win and decisively terminated his ruling BSPP (Burma Socialist Program Party). So they were hoping one of two legacy-candidates Aung San Oo and Dr. Tin Myint Oo could become their urgently-needed hero.

In the immediate aftermath of 8-8-88 uprising everybody in Burma was expecting Aung San Oo to come back Burma and lead them out of their quagmire. But Aung San Oo was no show. So another famous Burmese hero U Thant’s son-in-law Dr. Tin Myint Oo was pushed to the front to replace Aung San Oo.

US Navy's Seventh Fleet in Burma's waters.
Then was the time the nuclear-armed US Seventh Fleet was in Burma’s territorial waters and the fleet’s Amphibious-Assault-Ship USS Belleau Wood was ready to land its 3,000 strong Marine Division in Rangoon while the one-million strong and also-nuclear-armed South-Western Army of PLA with its Rapid-Armoured-Division ready to march to Mandalay was amassing near Muse on the China border waiting for US to make the first move.

And the whole 180,000-strong Burmese army with almost a million dependents was barely surviving on the measly amount of rice and other foodstuff sent by the PLA through Muse-Lashio-Mandalay route while the rest of the country in total anarchy was starving as the supply-chain had completely broken down and the general commerce had basically stopped.

ASSK's criticizing U Nu's forming a parallel government.
But for some unknown reason our Dr. Tin Myint Oo the highly-paid UN bureaucrat either didn’t really want the role or he probably mishandled the prevailing situations or he just chickened out and hence totally missed out on once-in-a-lifetime historical opportunity to become the hero and saviour of Burma, I guess.

In the mean time, while aging and half-insane U Nu was trying to revive his former cabinet and resume his long-lost prime-ministership, some enormously-influential ex-army-generals like Brigadier-general Aung Gyi and General Tin Oo had started promoting Aung San’s daughter the last remaining legacy-candidate.

And she eventually became the accidental hero and was later awarded unexpectedly the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991 by the aggressively-pro-active Norwegians and the rest as they say is history.

Sad Epilogue

Burmese politicians' failed attempt to form a unified
caretaker government in September 1988.
(U Nu and ASSk in the middle of front row.)
But being a woman who had been living outside Burma since she was a little girl and then married to an Englishman and also her open-hostilities - coming out of nowhere - towards the military had basically put off the serving and former officers of Burmese army all the way down to the third-generation front-line officers.

The last straw came when her own Brigadier-General Aung Gyi accused her of being influenced and controlled from behind by a group of former Communists and abruptly left her party NLD (National League for Democracy).

By then Army’s nemesis BCP (Burmese Communist Party) was truly behind ASSK and the army finally took a hardline stance and put her in a very long on-and-off house arrest. (Where were the democracy-loving Americans while she was languishing in her very-long home detention?)

And all that gradually led to a nasty and long confrontation between her and the Burma army - which was already on their knees in 1988 but eventually came back stronger than ever with Chinese support - and the result was the ultimate suffering of Burma and her people from 1990 till 2011 the year she eventually softened her hostile attitude towards the army and compromised by accepting the army-drawn 2008 Constitution and entered the parliament.

Meanwhile her brother Aung San Oo was a real disappointment for all of us Burmese as he even sues his kid sister for half of his share in that iconic but dilapidated family-house on the Inya Lake in Rangoon. What a big brother?

I still believe that if either Aung San Oo or Dr. Tin Myint Oo had gone back Burma and filled that political vacuum in 1988 the modern history of our Burma would have been totally different. Legacy-candidates have tremendous power not just in third world countries like Burma but all over the world.

Nehru’s legacy-candidates the Gandhis are still ruling India while the Aquinos rule the Philippines and the Shinawat Clan in Thailand already has two prime-ministers. Even in the United States Bushes and Kennedys and Clintons are the perfect examples of the power of legacy-candidates.

Army would have gone back to their barracks and the civil war would have been stopped. We would not have that devastating sanctions killing thousands and thousands of people and destroying our economy. At least my life could have been totally different.

I wrote down this very personal piece to commemorate the 25th anniversary of 8-8-88 Uprising so that someone who knew what did really happen to our Dr. Tin Mynit Oo back then during that crucial year 1988 will come out and enlighten us as there is a serious gap in the series of historical events in the aftermath of failed 1988 Uprising.

Dr. Thant Myint Oo will be the perfect candidate for that role as he already is the most famous Burmese historian. Or Dr. Tin Myint Oo himself if he is still alive - I am now nearly 60 and he is at least 25 years older than me -  with his mental faculties still sharp as before.

Please do not take secrets to the grave like Ne Win and U Nu and other prominent Burmese had done. Our people need to know their history and learn from it otherwise they will repeat the same mistakes again and again.
Dr. Tin Myint Oo at second-left of second-row (Michigan University - 1955).
Dr. Tin Myint Oo with U Thant's family at UNGA.