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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2759

The Kandy Agreement and Aung San’s death

By Janaka Perera

July 19 marks the 67th death anniversary of a great Asian leader, assassinated in a failed attempt at regime change. The victim, General Aung San, architect of Myanmar’s independence, was to become the country’s first Head of State after the departure of the British colonialists.

Myanmar, as we know, has strong cultural and historical inks with Sri Lanka which played an indirect role in the highlight of the General’s political career two years before his tragic death.

On September 4, 1945 Aung San - then head of Myanmar’s Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League – led a military delegation to Kandy where he signed the historic agreement that paved the way for his country’s freedom from British colonialism. The event took place at the Allied Forces South-East Asia Command (SEAC) Headquarters in Kandy. The agreement concluded between SEAC Commander Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and Aung San was on the disbandment of the Burma Patriotic Forces and its reorganization as a standing National Army.

The Kandy agreement meant that the British would soon be compelled to give up Myanmar. Aung San had fought the Japanese on condition that the British give full independence to Myanmar. He had promised his people self-rule in less than two years after the end of World War II.

By 1947, the young general had almost fulfilled that promise – which however proved fateful for him – for the British had realized that an independent Myanmar under Aung San would never serve their objectives in the region. Although Britain’s Labour Government had decided to grant independence to Myanmar not everyone in the colonial administration was happy about it. As Deputy Chairman of the Governor's Executive Council, Aung San had selected the members for independent Myanmar's first Cabinet. Aung San was expected to be the first Prime Minister.

But reactionaries in the pay of vested interests were not happy about the way things were going in Myanmar. So they marked their time until the hour was ripe to strike with all the vengeance.

The British sowed the seed of secession in the constitution to keep Myanmar’s people disunited although they regained independence. The colonialists covertly instigated the people to disunite by inserting an article in the 1947 Constitution that there was the right to secede from the Union after ten years.

Aung San entered Myanmar’s national politics in 1938. Following the outbreak of World War II Japan promised him and his freedom fighters (known as the Thirty Comrades) to help win independence for Myanmar from the British. The 30 comrades were followed by other Burmese patriots. The Japanese trained all of them, gave them weapons and uniforms and Aung San was put in charge of the force after being made a colonel.

However towards the end of the war they realized that Japan had no real intention of giving independence to Myanmar though Tokyo made a public declaration to that effect. It was really a case of one colonial power trying to replace another. Also by 1944 the tide of the war had turned against Japan. Relying on the Japanese any longer served no purpose at all.

Aung San had no alternative but to switch sides although he did not fully trust the British to whom he finally gave help towards the end of the war. Japan formally surrendered to the Western Allies on September 2, 1945. Aung San had fought the Japanese on condition that the British give full independence to Myanmar.

July 19, 1947 dawned like any other day in Myanmar’s then capital Rangoon (now Yangon). The traditionally serene Myanmar people ambled about the streets of the city, through a typical July drizzle. In the red brick secretariat building, the hands of the clock lazily crept up to 10 as members of the Governor's Executive Council patiently waited for their Deputy Chairman. Ten more minutes ticked away before Gen. Aung San arrived.

At exactly half-past 10, members of the Council were in session.

Suddenly, a noisy jeep carrying five khaki-clad young men screeched to a halt opposite the building's main entrance. Four of them, in jungle-green uniforms and armed with sub-machine guns, ran and pushed their way up towards the Executive Council Room where the members were in session.

“Don't get up! Don't run away" barked one of the intruders.

None of the Councilors moved. None of them spoke. They stared at the grim-faced gunmen in blank amazement. The seconds ticked away.

Then the assassins opened fire – killing most of Myanmar’s national leaders and shattering the nation's serenity. Aung San, symbol of Myanmar’s patriotism, was the first to die. Bullets ripped into his body from all quarters. With blood oozing from his tightly drawn lips, he slumped to the floor. When he breathed his last he was just 31 – one of the world's youngest national leaders at the time.

Some of the councilors tried to escape but they were cut down by a hail of bullets before they could reach the door. Thakin Mya, U Ba Win, U Razak and Mahn Ba Khaing – all expected to be Ministers in Independent Myanmar's first Cabinet – fell one by one.

The Council's Deputy Secretary U Ohn Maung, who rushed to the chamber when the shooting began, also died instantly. Sao Sam Htun and Deedok U Ba Che were less lucky. They writhed in agony in their chairs, fatally wounded. Only Councilors U Ba Gyan (who was hit in his right hand), U Aung San, Wai Pyawbew, U Mya and Council Secretary U Shew Baw escaped death.

For full five minutes the assassins' lethal guns spat hate and terror.

Thereafter, the killers ran down the Secretariat's stairs killing a young bodyguard on the way. The jeep picked up the assassin's at the foot of the staircase and sped off.

Many people in Myanmar wept publicly when they heard of the carnage in the `chamber of horrors.' To them it was a nightmare that cut into their slumber.

The bodies of Aung San and his friends who died with him were taken to Rangoon's Jubilee Hall on the road leading to the famed Shwe Dagon ‘Golden' Pagoda – the scene of many of the General's political victories.

There they lay in state for two months so that thousands of people from all over Myanmar could pay their respects to the beloved leaders. As these peace-loving people filed into the hall, one question kept nagging them: ``Why? Why? Why?"

The answer to this question was to be found in the home of a political buzzard in suburban Rangoon. It was the residence of Galon U Saw, Leader of the Myochit Party. He was the most prominent among the lackeys the British had bred during their colonial rule.

At the time of the assassination, U Saw was pacing up and down in his sitting room waiting for a telephone call. He was convinced in his twisted mind that the Governor would ask him to accept office as soon as Aung San and his fellow councilors were out of the way.

U Saw waited in vain. The phone did not ring. But in the middle of the afternoon, there was a knock on the door. Could it be the Governor's courier? Could this be the moment he had hoped for – planned for?

He was smiling as he opened the door. But pleasure swiftly turned to fear when in walked Deputy Superintendent of Police U Soe Yin and his officers. Beads of sweat clustered on U Saw's forehead. He knew this was the end of his wild political dreams.

The police who searched his house found four tommy guns, a sten-gun and many rounds of ammunition – sufficient evidence to put U Saw and 10 of his accomplices behind bars. Police investigations did not end with those arrests. Detectives found that 27 days before the assassination, some unknown men, using forged seals and signatures, had drawn 200 Bren guns and four boxes of revolvers from the Army Ordnance Depot in Rangoon.

Immediately, police raided the Myochit Party Headquarters where enough weapons and ammunition to equip a private army were found. More guns and boxes of ammunition were recovered from the lake surrounding U Saw's house.

Police also uncovered sufficient evidence to prove that U Saw planned to use his private army against the government if the assassination failed.

But the carnage sparked-off precisely the opposite of what the conspirators had hoped for. Instead of cowering, the people of Myanmar threatened to oust the colonialists from their seats of power in a revolutionary upsurge. Consequently, the British were compelled to give up their colonial possession within six months of Aung San's death.

Aung San was the father of Myanmar’s present Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Investigations gave credence to the theory that elements in the British colonial administration were behind the assassination plot. Several low-ranking British officers were found to have sold guns to a number of Burmese politicians including U Saw.

Shortly after U Saw's conviction, British Army Officer, Captain David Vivian, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for supplying U Saw with weapons. Captain Vivian escaped from prison during the Karen uprising in Insein in early 1949.

The evidence clearly implicated U Saw, who was tried, condemned, and sentenced to death. He was executed at Insein Jail on May 8, 1948. According to an eyewitness, a prison warden present at the execution, U Saw refused to have a hood over his face before he was hanged. U Saw was buried, according to custom, in an unmarked grave within the prison.

Self-rule came to Myanmar on January 4, 1948 – exactly one month before Sri Lanka regained her independence.

- Asian Tribune -

The Kandy Agreement and Aung San’s death
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