Just a couple of weeks before his autobiography was due to be launched in Burma, former Brig-Gen Kyaw Zaw, one of the two surviving “Thirty Comrades” and ex-leader of the Burmese Communist Party, passed away on Wednesday morning in a Kunming hospital in southern China.
The 93 year-old former brigadier-general had been in intensive care for the past month. The government invited him to return to his homeland after The Irrawaddy had reported that his last wish was to pay his final respects at Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda.
His daughter, Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the funeral service will be arranged by the communist party.
The Burmese Communist Party issued a message of condolences on Wednesday. It said, “His ossuary should be placed side by side with [poet and peacemaker] Thakhin Kodaw Hmine’s tomb in Shwedagon Pagoda.”
Tin Oo, a former chief-of-staff in the Burmese army and a veteran of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, expressed his condolences to the family. He told The Irrawaddy: “I remember his words to me: ‘You look more like a student rather than a soldier’ when I was a 19-year-old at military training.”
Among the fabled 30 Comrades, Kyaw Zaw was renowned as a courageous commander and was second only to late dictator Gen. Ne Win. “The brigadier-general gave fair treatment to the ethnic peoples,” Tin Oo recalled. “He always reminded the commanders to treat the ethnics fairly, and threatened action against those who did not follow his warning.”
Born in Hsaisu village in Tharyawaddy District of Pegu Division in 1919, Kyaw Zaw titled his autobiography “From Hsaisu to Man Hi”—meaning from his birthplace to his last place of residence. The bio-epic was first published in Thailand in 2007 when any mention of his name was banned by Burma’s censors.
In 1957, he was dismissed from the armed forces for allegedly leaking military secrets. He lived in exile for 36 years after he left Rangoon in 1976 to join with his fellow communists at the Sino-Burmese border.
Kyaw Zaw leaves behind two daughters, one son, and seven grandchildren.