On This Day

The Day Myanmar’s Modern Military First Took Shape

By Wei Yan Aung 26 December 2019

Yangon—On this day 78 years ago, the Burma Independence Army (BIA)—the first national army to be formed since the abdication of Myanmar’s last monarch, King Thibaw, and the predecessor of Myanmar’s modern military—was founded in Bangkok, Thailand.

Established to fight British colonial rule in Myanmar, the ethnically diverse army was formed by the “30 Comrades” including Aung San (later to become Myanmar independence hero General Aung San) and Ne Win (later military dictator General Ne Win). With the help of the Japanese Army, the BIA managed to drive the British out of the country.

During Japanese rule, the structure of the BIA changed, and it was renamed, at various times, the Burma Defense Army (BDA), the Burma National Army (BNA), and the Patriotic Burmese Forces (PBF). The army finally freed the country from the yoke of Japanese fascist rule through armed struggle.

The military was reconstituted after World War II. Gen. Aung San resigned as military leader to lead the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) on the political front. He was assassinated before Myanmar regained independence in 1948.

The power struggle within the AFPFL government paved the way for the military to intervene in politics.

The military toppled the democratically elected government led by Prime Minister U Nu in a coup in 1962, after which Gen. Ne Win, a founding member of the BIA, ruled the country for 26 years under a single-party dictatorship. To this day, the military retains the tight grip on politics it established at that time.

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