‘Thirty Comrades’ Survivor’s Shwedagon Wish

By Yan Pai 6 September 2012

One of Burma’s legendary “Thirty Comrades” who has been receiving emergency medical treatment in China wishes to visit Rangoon’s sacred Shwedagon Pagoda for the last time, according to his family.

Ex-Brig-Gen Kyaw Zaw, 93, one of only two surviving Comrades, is currently admitted to the intensive care unit at Kunming General Hospital in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province.

His son, Aung Kyaw Zaw, told The Irrawaddy that his father’s health is worrisome as he must breathe via an oxygen supply and food is delivered through a nasogastric tube.

“He is at his wits’ end,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw. “The sad thing is he told me that he wants to visit Shwedagon Pagoda one last time.”

He said Kyaw Zaw still remembers his friends and colleagues during Burma’s independence struggle, and particularly misses Bo Ye Htut, 91, the only other surviving Comrade who still lives in Rangoon.

Kyaw Zaw was born in Hsaisu Village in Tharawaddy District of Pegu Division and later became actively involved in the anti-imperialist movement in Burma.

During the British colonial era, he went to China’s Hainan Island alongside Gen Aung San, Burma’s independence hero and the father of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, where they were give military training by the Japanese.

Those who returned to fight for Burmese independence were dubbed the Thirty Comrades.

When Burma changed sides to fight the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, Kyaw Zaw served as military commander of Division 4 based in the eastern part of the Sittaung River in Pegu Division.

At the beginning of the country’s civil war, which broke out soon after independence was proclaimed in 1948, he then became chief of Southern Military Command and managed to successfully defend Rangoon while it was surrounded by Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) troops. Afterwards, he managed to capture the towns of Pegu, Phyu and Taung Ngoo.

Kyaw Zaw reportedly wrote in his autobiography that the Battle of Insein, in which he fought against the KNDO for three months, was the unforgettable moment of his life.

In 1954, he led the Bayinnaung Operation that managed to drive out Chinese Kuomintang troops from Burma. Kyaw Zaw’s colleagues regarded him as a courageous commander who always fought alongside his fellow soldiers.

In 1957, the ex-Brig-Gen was dismissed from the armed forces for allegedly leaking military

As a civilian, he continued striving for internal peace under the leadership of the late Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing—Burma’s peace architect also considered one of the nation’s greatest ever poets. Kyaw Zaw left for the Sino-Burmese border, where the Communist Party of Burma was based, in 1976.

The Burmese government last week removed 2,082 people from its blacklist, but Kyaw Zaw’s name was not included.

Tin Oo, former armed forces chief-of-staff and a patron of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, recently paid respect to Kyaw Zaw and said he should return to Burma as soon as possible as one of the last Thirty Comrades.