From the Archive

Who Killed Aung San?

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 17 July 2017

Kin Oung is the author of the book “Who Killed Aung San?” He is the son of Tun Hla Oung, the deputy inspector general of police, CID department, who was credited with the rapid capture and arrest of U Saw and his men after the assassination of Gen Aung San. He is also the son-in-law of Justice Thaung Sein, who played a vital role in bringing the assassins to justice.

Kin Oung spoke to Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of The Irrawaddy magazine, in 2010, just before the 63rd anniversary of Martyrs’ Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the assassination of nine heroes of Burma’s independence movement—including Aung San—on July 19, 1947, just six months before Burma won independence from Britain.

Aung San, the father of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, is also considered the father of Burmese independence, and led the fight for colonial liberation from Britain, which had ruled Burma since 1885.

Were the British thought to be involved in the assassination of Aung San?

Aung San wanted independence and wanted the Burmese to be wealthy. He also wanted the Burmese and ethnic nationals in hill areas to be united and friendly. Then some British companies got involved because it was important for them to stay on in Burma and for Burma not to gain its independence. Aung San’s ideology was close to socialism and he gave some speeches about it and hinted that nationalization should take place for the sake of the Burmese people. But whether they [the British] had an intention to kill Gen Aung San and his ministers is unclear.

So Aung San could potentially have united the whole country and seemed to be a left-wing leader who sympathized with socialism. Were these the two main factors that caused him to be assassinated? Were there other factors?

Among the British there were differing points of view. It’s possible that some British companies financially supported the ambitious politicians who disliked Aung San. But British governments, first [Winston] Churchill’s and then [Clement] Attlee’s, were not able to provide such support. The government could not give openly, but the British companies could give clandestinely. They did provide financial support to U Saw [a rival of Aung San who plotted to kill him]. At that time, Maung Maung Gyi, the brother of U Saw, was in London. U Saw would take as much as they were willing to give. And there was a black market after the war.

At that time I was in Burma’s navy and knew such things well. People tried to sell or trade everything they got—just like you see high-ranking officials of the current military government involved in the businesses of opium, jade and so on. In those days some smuggled in even small items such as flint. What I mean is people did business in whatever was accessible to them. As for British military officers, they had to send their weapons to Singapore because Burma was soon to be given independence. They also sold their machine guns, tommy guns and other weapons. So U Saw bought them.

Were Maj C.H.H Young, a British commander of No.1 BEME, and Maj Lance Dane the core suppliers of weapons and ammunition? Some said Lance Dane was not a core supplier and U Saw got weapons from Young.

The police might have heard this from my father, who was deputy police commissioner at the time. But the military intelligence men detected these facts in many ways, and they became known by U Nu, U Kyaw Nyein and Aung San. They informed the British governor, but he did nothing. Many weapons had been lost.

They informed the British governor after they received information that U Saw had obtained many weapons?

Yes, the governor was informed by my father’s department. They knew something would be happening due to the loss of weapons. At that time, U Nu and U Kyaw Nyein also received information that something was in the works.

It was reported that Aung San was not actually assassinated by the weapons that Young supplied. Reports said other weapons were used to assassinate him and his colleagues. Is this correct?

There were four assassins. Three of them used tommy guns. The youngest assassin, Yan Gyi Aung, used a Sten gun. After the assassination, the weapons were taken to India and thoroughly examined.

What was discovered?

They found that the weapons had come from the British army, and they found out who sold them. Young was arrested. But later, the suppliers were secretly freed.

How did British leaders regard Aung San and other Burmese leaders?

Churchill was the war-time prime minister. When U Saw asked for dominion status, Churchill told U Saw to ask him again after the war. But Churchill was defeated in the election and succeeded by Attlee, a socialist. If Churchill had kept power, Burma wouldn’t have gained its independence.

Churchill said something about Aung San after he was assassinated.

He said that Aung San, his 30 comrades and the Thakhins were rebels who fought against the British, so why should he contact and help them? Churchill meant they didn’t need to help Burma because it had fought against the British. Lord Mountbatten, however, favored Burma. After the war these issues needed to be debated, and there were debates in the British House of Commons about how to handle Burmese affairs. Nothing would have happened if Lord Mountbatten was not there. He helped Burma a lot. He told Aung San that he must give up his military position if he wanted to be a politician. Then Aung San resigned from the military.

What is your opinion of U Saw?

U Saw was very ambitious and selfish. Although he was an uneducated person, he achieved a high position due to his political ambition. Probably some British in the government liked him and used him.

U Saw went to London together with Aung San to make an agreement with Prime Minister Attlee. Was his refusal to sign the agreement due to envy of Aung San or policy disagreements?

As you know, an agreement must consist of many points, so one can easily find fault and withdraw. U Saw tried to find fault in the Nu-Attlee agreement and then the Aung San-Attlee agreement. Thakhin Ba Sein as well. Thakhin Tun Oak accused Aung San of killing a village headman and attempted to have him jailed.

What do you think would have happened in Burma if Aung San and his cabinet ministers had not been assassinated?

It would have been much better. He was not a god. He himself said that he was not a god. U Nu was the only person who listened to him when he said that U Kyaw Nyein, Thakhin Than Tun, U Ba Swe and Thakhin Soe needed to be controlled.

Was it possible for Aung San to get along with those men who needed to be controlled or those who opposed him?

The military respected him. There were people who admired him. Although our navy was small, we had many well-trained and well-disciplined men. As did the air force. The air force and navy supported him. Our men knew all about them. Communists started organizing the
military personnel, but well-disciplined personnel could not be organized. Those personnel supported Aung San. Karen and Kachin army personnel also supported Aung San.

Do you see any significant differences between Aung San and his daughter, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

His daughter returned to Burma for her ill mother. When her mother died, she decided to lead the people in their struggle for democracy. She resembles her father. She has a good nature and is intelligent as well. People like what she has spoken and done. I say she is very smart and wise.

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