On This Day

The Day the Karen Were Defeated at the Battle of Insein

By Wei Yan Aung 21 May 2019

YANGON—Seventy years ago today, the historic battle between the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) and government troops in Yangon’s Insein Township came to an end with the KNDO fighters failing in their mission to seize the seat of Myanmar’s government.

In 1949, the government of newly-independent Myanmar was on shaky ground, struggling to survive the civil war against several armed groups including communists and Karens of divided and shifting loyalties.

After their demand to be allowed to secede from the Union was denied, and at odds with the central government over the Karen’s territorial boundaries within the Union, the KNDO, the armed wing of the Karen National Union—which had been established before independence— rose in rebellion against the government.

In the early days of 1949, the KNDO was able to occupy Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin, Pyay, Meiktila, Toungoo, Mawlamyine and several other towns before reaching and occupying Insein, on Yangon’s doorstep.

All together, at least 100 soldiers from both sides lost their lives in the Battle of Insein, which lasted for 111 days.

At one point, Yangon appeared to be on the brink of falling into the KNDO’s hands, but the tables were turned when the Second Karen Rifles was annihilated in February on its way to Yangon from Pyay by a much weaker Third Burma Rifles Battalion, which led to the ultimate defeat of the KNDO in Insein.

The battle led to some key events in Myanmar’s history, including the resignation of Myanmar’s first commander-in-chief, Smith Dun, an ethnic Karen, and pro-military politicians encouraging General Ne Win to stage a coup.

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