Myanmar’s Failed Mutinies in History

By The Irrawaddy 11 May 2021

After Myanmar’s military coup on Feb. 1, some military personnel have joined the civil disobedience movement and left the armed forces.

The National Union Government (NUG), a shadow cabinet formed to rival the military regime, has urged personnel to mutiny and join the NUG’s People’s Defence Force.

It is widely believed that a counter-coup by disgruntled military officers or a large-scale mutiny could resolve the crisis.

However, analysts say any major mutiny is unlikely because of the leadership’s tight grip on personnel, including their families. Generally, the immediate family of personnel live inside military camps.

The first post-independence mutiny took place on August 10, 1948, eight months after independence in January.

Battalion 1, based in Thayet in today’s Magwe Region, and Battalion 3 in Mingaladon Township, Yangon (then Rangoon), which were pro-communist and opposed the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League government, seized weapons and ammunition and rebelled.

Only around 2,000 personnel were left in the military, excluding the Karen Battalion.

The Communist Party of Burma (CPB) rebelled against the government less than three months after independence. It had a serious impact on the Tatmadaw (military) and caused upheavals within the establishment. Some soldiers shot their superiors and joined the CPB.

Against the backdrop of the rise of communism, the Leftist Unity Council was formed on July 16, 1948, to build mutual understanding with the communists. The committee consisted of leftists from Myanmar’s military, the Burma Socialist Party, People’s Volunteer Organization and communists. It was led by Major General Ne Win, who staged a coup in 1962 and ruled the country as a military dictator for decades.

A faction within the Leftist Unity Council planned a coup, purportedly to build peace and unity, claiming it would form a left-wing coalition government after seizing power.

Maj-Gen Ne Win, however, refused to get involved in the plan for fear that the right-wing would seek international military assistance and defeat left-wing forces.

However, members of the Thirty Comrades — Burma Independence Army founders Bo Zeya and commander of Battalion 3 Bo Ye Htut – continued with their plan to stage an armed revolt. The CPB also instructed communist personnel to go underground and launch an armed revolt. And pro-communist military personnel persuaded their peers to join the uprising.

On August 10, 1948, led by Bo Zeya and Bo Ye Htut, around 350 troops, including more than half of the Mingaladon-based Battalion 3, members of the second engineering unit and Bago-based Battalion 6, mutinied in 32 military trucks.

U San Yu, who would later become the nation’s fifth president, was a henchman of dictator Gen. Ne Win serving with Battalion 3 at the time. He did not join his commander Bo Ye Htut chose to fight the government to establish a communist state.

At the same time, Battalion 1 in Thayet mutinied and occupied Pyay and its surrounding areas. As the revolting troops contacted one another and attempted to march on Yangon, the air force intercepted them, much to the relief of Prime Minister U Nu.

The RBA led by Bo Zeya and Bo Ye Htut continued to revolt against the government.

In 1949, it merged with CPB and the People’s Volunteer Organization in Pyay to form a military alliance against the government. The alliance collapsed in 1950 and the RBA disbanded.

In 1976 a youthful army captain, Ohn Kyaw Myint, and some of his comrades failed in an attempt to assassinate the military
leaders to topple the Burma Socialist Programme Party  government led by General Ne Win.

Many military personnel joined the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 but they brought no significant change.

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