On This Day

The Day Myanmar Said Farewell to Japan’s Maverick Wartime Spy

By Wei Yan Aung 12 July 2020

Yangon — On this day in 1942, the Burma Independence Preparation Committee led by Dr. Ba Maw hosted a farewell party for Colonel Suzuki Keiji, who had to return to Japan at the order of the Imperial Japanese forces.

Suzuki came to Yangon (then Rangoon) pretending to be a correspondent for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, on a mission to prevent a road being built to China. He made contact with young nationalists in Myanmar (then Burma). In the mission that lasted for more than a year, the leader of the secret intelligence organization, Minami Kikan, managed to arrange military training in Japan for 30 recruits, including the future independence hero, Aung San. Suzuki played a central role in establishing the Burma Independence Army (BIA).

In the war against the Allies, Suzuki chose a Burmese noms de guerre, Bo Mogyo or “Thunderbolt.” He called himself a descendant of Prince Myingun, who was exiled from the Burmese royal family, and won popular support during the war.

Suzuki said he favored independence for Myanmar and allegedly suggested Burmese forces form their own government and revolt against Japan.

Col. Suzuki Keiji’s recruits: front from left: Bo Zeya, Bo Aung, Nagai, Bo Teza, Bo Moegyo, Bo Ne Win, and Bo La Yaung. / Public Domain

U Maung Maung, the assistant attorney-general in General Ne Win’s caretaker government before the 1962 coup, visited Suzuki in 1959. U Maung Maung, who later became the president during the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, claimed Suzuki said he asked his officers if they would follow him if he fought against the Japanese forces.

It is unclear why Suzuki would have encouraged mutiny. He might have wanted the BIA to become his own army, away from Tokyo’s command. Maybe he romanticized the nationalist struggle. But his approach did not go down well in Japan and he was recalled to Tokyo in 1942.

Two days after the farewell party, Suzuki returned to Tokyo and spent the rest of the war as head of shipping, overseeing transport and logistics.

He met Gen. Ne Win when the dictator visited Tokyo in 1966, a year before Suzuki died. The military strongman awarded Suzuki the title of Aung San Tagun, the second-highest honor for those serving the national interest. In 1981, his widow visited Myanmar and received the medal.

Myanmar’s current commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, visited Suzuki’s tomb in 2014.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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