Major Kyaw San?

Brigadier Kyaw San.
When I first saw Brigadier-General Kyaw San’s photo on the computer screen a few years back he sort of struck me as a familiar face. He was the infamous Information Minister of Burma. He vaguely reminded me of my dear friend Major Kyaw San who killed himself in 1981 in Rangoon.

Me and that Kyaw San grew up together in one of the two cadet battalions of Burmese Army   in the late sixties. Our battalion in Mingaladon was called Aung San Thuria Hla Thaung and other battalion in Meikhtila was called Yemon. That battalion took in the sons of Non-Commissioned officers from the army and our battalion took in the miscreant sons of commissioned-officers.

Kyaw San was two or three years older than me and he was in a senior class but we were together in a student platoon and so we lived in the same barracks. One thing I still remembered about him was in my year 8 at the age of fourteen I suddenly grew about 4 inches taller but he seemed to be same height as last year. And I found myself a bit taller than him as some boys started teasingly calling him a shorty.


Hla Thaung School.
After his matriculation in 1968 or 69 he was admitted into DSA as most of our graduates ended up there if they ever passed that tough Year-10 nationwide-exam. I never saw him again since till late 1980. I heard of his news frequently from other friends in the army though.

He quickly became a captain in a light infantry battalion. He was doing very well in the army. Most important was he was surviving while others were getting killed one after another in the civil war battlefields.

Then he became a major. He was the first ever graduate from our Cadets who’d become a major. It was a quite achievement for a shorty I thought sometimes with envy. Then I heard the bad news. His company holding a strategic hill in north-eastern Burma was overrun by the Chinese-assisted CPB troops and he was killed and his body wasn’t even recovered.

I was then in RIT fourth or fifth year and I felt sad as it always happened to me whenever I’d been told one of my classmates was killed in action. Far too many were killed in this bloody civil war in Burma.

I heard of him again in late 1980 when I was in my final year Mechanical Engineering at RIT. He wasn’t killed but was captured alive by the Communists and after nearly two years of captivity in China they had just released him in a prisoner exchange between the army and the CPB. I was quite happy for him without knowing his actual physical conditions or his state of mind.

Then one day he showed up at our shop-house in the middle of Rangoon CBD while I was waiting eagerly for my final year exam results from RIT. That was in December 1980.

Major Kyaw San: the Suicidal Hero

Information Minister Kyaw San.
He had aged so much compared to what I remembered of him more than ten years ago. He looked like a little old man. He seemed to have lost a lot of hairs and he was so thin as if he had a chronic illness. He was still a major in the army but now temporarily attached to a government department under the Ministry of Information shuffling paperwork while he was supposedly recuperating from the traumatic ordeals of his two-year-long captivity in a Communist prison in China.

But obviously there was something wrong with him. He reminded me of the ex-prisoner officer I met while I was a boy soldier in an infantry battalion in Myitkyina in late 1972 or early 1973. He was a young Burmese lieutenant mildly mad from the severe shell shock and also the torturous treatment he had received during his unfortunate long stay in the Communist hands.

He was always smiling whenever he saw us marching and sometimes he came into our barracks middle of the nights, heavily drunk, and forced us to sing marching songs together with him. He was a nuisance but our sergeant and corporals always tolerated him out of sheer sympathy towards the mildly mad officer.

The story was that his Chinese captors injected him so much ‘Truth Serum’ during the interrogation sections and the psychotic drug had adversely affected his brain and finally he’d gone mad. The army attached him to our battalion HQ just to let him sit behind a small desk in a tiny store room to do nothing but shuffling paperwork.

Our army didn’t seem to know what to do with these mildly mad officers like they didn’t know what to do with the seriously crippled soldiers. Our battalion had a barracks full of those cripples without one or more limbs from the anti-personal mine incidents.


Now I had Kyaw San who was behaving almost like that mad officer at my house nearly every weekday. Our house was in the middle of Indian Town and all my old high school friends knew and they always dropped in to see me whenever they happened to be in the city.

And now Kyaw San’s new office happened to be just two city blocks away from our house and as he had not much to do and I was also idly waiting for the final results we ended up most days at the roadside teashop on the corner of Mogul Street and Dalhousie Road.

We would chat non-stop. Mostly about our good old days back in the Hla Thaung School and sometimes his harrowing experiences on the front line. He hardly talked about his captivity but he recalled many times the day he was captured as probably that day was the most pivotal or traumatic day of his young life.

German MG-3 General Purpose Machine Gun.
How he kept on firing a German MG-3 medium machine gun (Set-latt) at the attacking human waves after his young machine gunner was killed right in front of him in the trench. How he was lifted out of his foxhole by two pairs of enemy hands as the Communists overwhelmed and finally breached the defense line. He kept on revisiting that scene as if it was therapeutically good for his badly tortured mind.

I was once also in the army even though I didn’t tell anyone except my father about it and none of my friends knew of that part of my life. So I understood him better than anyone else as I was once in almost similar position as his when our hill was attacked by the human waves of combined KIA and CPB forces while I was in the army. And I knew talking out is good for his trauma and thus I became the willing listener.

So we innocently spent many idle winter days drinking tea and chatting incessantly till one day he brought his 9 mm Browning High-power semi-automatic pistol along. The winter that year was mild and we didn’t really need to wear jackets. But he was wearing his army field jacket that day and I instantly knew he was armed and I was alarmed. He showed me the gun discreetly when I asked him if he was armed.

I asked him why he was still carrying a pistol he simply answered me that he needed the gun in case he ran into a Communist mob as there were so many Commies here in Rangoon. He added seriously that he needed the pistol to kill himself if they tried to capture him alive again. Last time I didn’t have the pistol on me and that was the sole reason they got me alive, he eagerly confided in me.

But his paranoia was too much for me and I simply told him not to bring the gun again. Initially he listened to me and stopped bringing the gun for few days till he met Min Aung Hlaing one day at our favorite teashop.

Captain Min Aung Hlaing: my Dear Friend 

Major-General Min Aung Hlaing.
Min Aung Hlaing was one of my classmates from my other high school the Central Boys High in Rangoon. I ended up there when I was summarily expelled from the Cadets for trying to harm the hated Regiment Sergeant Major there.

Our battalion RSM WO2 Myint Swe otherwise known to us as Inn-Ma (Pond Bitch) was also the Boarders Master. He was a true arsehole and a sadist ruling the boys with a steel fist. He had in his office a double rifle stand for .303 Lee Enfield rifles. But instead of familiar British rifles assorted cane sticks of various sizes in exact lengths neatly occupied the stand. He really loved to cane the boys.

Whenever a boy faces the punishment of being caned our RSM would let him choose the cane with perverted pleasure. I was once caned more than 50 lashes on my back and buttocks for being AWOL two weeks from the battalion and the army-nurses in the BMH had to sew my back to close the lash wounds.

But in early my year 10 I snapped and ambushed him with a slingshot in the middle of a night.  The steel ball hurled by my slingshot made from a water-buffalo horn almost blinded him and I was dishonorably discharged from the Cadets next day.

I had to finish the year 10 and the matriculation in a civilian high school in our neighborhood and I met Min Aung Hlaing there. He came from an affluent civilian family and his father was a mid level government official from the Construction Ministry.


Hla Thaung School.
His father knew my parents quite well and we hanged out together since he and I were two of just few Burmese boys among the sea of Chinese and Indian boys in our school as the school was right on the border between the massive Chinatown and the equally-large Indian Town of Rangoon.

And he had a very attractive younger sister and I didn’t really mind catching her smiles   when I visited their apartment right opposite the Central Fire Station on the Sule Pagoda Road the main boulevard of Rangoon. His mother was a very good cook and they had an electric rice cooker and the rice was always warm and thus tastier than the cold rice at home. And I ended up there so often and started teasingly calling him dear brother-in-law.

For some reason he was somehow attracted to everything military. Maybe most Burmese boys my age then were. Like me his lifelong dream was to get into the DSA (Defense Services Academy) in Maymyo. I still remember he didn’t really expect that he had a hell of a struggle after matriculation to get there as a boy from an ordinary civilian family. Army’s first preference was the boys from the military families.

We both passed matriculation in the beginning of 1972 and three months later I found myself in RIT and him at law major in RASU. Our dreams had been crushed badly. My father refused to sign my DSA forms and Min Aung Hlaing was just simply rejected by the Officers Selection Board after various stages of rigorous selection process.

I was impatient one and since my father would never let me join the army I ran away from home and became a private in an infantry battalion in Myitkyina. While I was in the army trying to survive he joined the UTC (Rangoon University Training Corps) and tried his second attempt at DSA for 1973 batch and failed again miserably.

I came back home in late 1973 and got back into RIT  simply because of Acting-Army-Chief General Kyaw Htin who had not only saved my own neck from being stretched for the desertion with a weapon and the murders in the army but also made my dear friend Min Aung Hlaing’s dream come true later.

By then Min Aung Hlaing had already attempted his third try for the 1974 batch in DSA and given up almost all hope as that was the last attempt for him since the maximum entry age for DSA is 19 and that year he was already nineteen. 

Anyway make the long story short Min Aung Hlaing was eventually admitted into DSA and he eventually became an army officer in 1977 and three years later in December 1980 he was back in Rangoon from the front line. My dear friend Min Aung Hlaing was already a war-weary Captain in a light infantry battalion of the LID 88 when he met recently-released Major Kyaw San another dear friend of mine.

The Trigger of A Suicide

A typical teashop in Rangoon (2010).
The accidental meeting between two that day might be the trigger for the dramatic events later. I met Min Aung Hlaing at their apartment when he first came back and that day he came to our place to say good-bye as he was going back to his battalion. But I was with Kyaw San at the teashop and he followed us there to meet me.

Kyaw San was surprised as I hadn’t told him about Min Aung Hlaing. They basically knew each other vaguely from their DSA days as they had a few months overlap there. I was in an awkward situation as they were also surprised to see each other. A chance meeting between a serving captain and ex-POW major wasn’t really a pleasing one.

For Min Aung Hlaing he didn’t know how to treat him as he’d known the fact that Kyaw San was an ex-POW and for the exact reason he was now sidelined from the army and as a general rule the serving officers were to avoid him.

But for Kyaw San it was a rare opportunity to let a junior serving officer know his exploits on the front line and also his inner wounds. So he opened up and said so much that he even told us about how the Communist injected him with drugs and interrogated him. He was the talker and we both his juniors were the listeners till Min Aung Hlaing had enough and said farewells to us and went back home.

His sudden departure basically had knocked the normality out of deeply-troubled Kyaw San. I could see in his eyes right there. But he was okay that day but not on the day later. Next day he showed up again at our place. He had on him his standard army-issued Browning 9 mm High-power semi-automatic pistol again. While we were at the tea shop his anxious eyes were all over the place and his right hand was quite frequently on his gun making me really nervous.

The most depressing for me was his frequent mentioning of suicide if he was to be captured again by the commies, right in the middle of Rangoon’s crowded Indian Town. So I decided to send him home and after half an hour of persuasion he finally agreed to go home. I stopped a Mazda B360 Taxi on the Mogul Road and gave the driver his address to take him home. Then was the very last time I saw him as that night he killed himself or that was what I was told a week or two later by one of our classmates from Hla Thaung School.

He said Kyaw San didn’t die immediately from the self-inflicted gunshot wound and lasted a few days on his bed at the Mingaladon Base Hospital. I almost cried then but I just shut myself down and managed to forget the whole sad affairs in a month. I was so busy then as our graduation results came out and I got a tutor job in our Mechanical Engineering Department of RIT. I immediately moved out of my mother's house as I also took a job as a hall-tutor at the Poppa Hall the dormitory for the junior boy students from RIT.

I hadn’t seen Min Aung Hlaing also for a while after that and only in late 1984 just before I left Burma we ran into each other at right in front of the Rangoon City Hall. By then he was a major in a LID and he wasn’t so pleased that I was quitting my government job in Burma Irrigation and looking for greener pasture overseas. So I didn’t think we departed in good terms that day.

I thought both Kyaw San and Min Aung Hlaing were out of my life forever till I saw Kyaw San’s photo as the notorious Information Minister of Burma and Min Aung Hlaing’s as a junior army general in SPDC the ruling military junta in the Burmese newspapers a few years back.

The good news for me was that my dear friend Major Kyaw San was still alive if the Minister Kyaw San an ex-POW was the same Kyaw San.

Minister Kyaw San in Tears.
Now in 2011 General Min Aung Hlaing is the new Commander-in-Chief of Burma armed forces and ex-Brigadier Kyaw San is again the powerful Information Minister in newly elected Government of the Union of Myanmar. And Kyaw San is widely said to be a hardliner among many moderates in the new Government led by the President Thein Sein.

So everybody was surprised and many reporters and journalists even made fun of him when he broke down into tears while giving a press conference on the recent breakout of hostilities between army and KIA in the Kachin State.

The donor stooge Irrawaddy even wrote of his inevitable dismissal from the Burmese Government.

I just wish those laughing reporters and journalists know how tough he is and the hell he had to go through to get to where he is now.

He is Lazarus with a triple bypass!