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Parliamentary Government, 1948-62

U NuRegarding the first two years of independence, Thakin Nu (known as U Nu after 1951) quotes, in his autobiography, the British proverb that "trouble never comes singly." The Red Flag communist faction under Thakin Soe was already underground, operating in the mountainous Arakan Yoma region; the Mujahadin - Muslim rebels - attempting to set up an independent Islamic state, were in northern Arakan near the border with East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). As the October 17 agreement between Britain and Burma was signed, the White Flag communist faction, led by Thakin Than Tun and H.N. Ghishal, accused U Nu of settling for "sham independence". The communists organized strikes and demonstrations. In March 1948 a reconciliation of the government with the communists was attempted; when the attempt failed, Thakin Than Tun left Rangoon for Pyinmana and raised the standard of revolt. The White Flag insurrection spread through central Burma in the Sittang-Pegu Yoma region; at its height it involved as many as 25,000 rebels.

In July 1948 the procommunist White Band faction of the PVO rebelled against the government, threatening the capital. The First Burma Rifles and part of the Third Burma Rifles also joined in the revolt, leaving the government dependent upon its Kachin and Chin troops, the loyalist Yellow Band PVO, and the Fourth Burma Rifles, commanded by General Ne Win.

A number of Karen leaders, embittered by what they perceived as British desertion of their people and uncertain of the future under Burmese rule, took advantage of the chaotic state of affairs to initiate their own armed resistance. In 1947 the Karen National Union had demanded that a Karen state be established with the right of secession and that its territory include large portions of Tenasserim, Pegu, and Irrawaddy divisions. An armed group, the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), was established. The government's failure to resolve the question of a Karen state and increasing communal violence between Burmans and Karens pushed the KNDO into insurrection in January 1949, and KNDO forces soon captured Insein, Bassein, Prome. and Toungoo. At the same time, Naw Seng, a Kachin commander involved in suppressing the communists in central Burma, joined forces with the Karens, capturing Mandalay on March 13, 1949.

The darkest days for the government occurred during February-April 1949, when insurrectionists controlled most of the countryside, and even parts of Rangoon were at times in rebel hands. Yet as the year wore on, the tide began to turn in favor of the government, in part the result of U Nu's determination. Mandalay was recovered from Naw Seng's forces on April 24. By autumn he had fled to China, to resurface in 1967 as leader of a reconstituted Burmese communist party. General Ne Win, commander in chief, organized thousands of "peace guerrillas" - civilian auxilianies - to supplement the armed forces. The communists, Karens, and rebel PVO and army units were never able to coordinate their plans or objectives.

By 1950 the KNDO was driven back into the trans-Salween area and parts of Tenasserim. The following year a constitutional amendment was passed creating the Karen state of Kawthule. Areas under communist control were significantly reduced, although the Red Flag faction maintained its base in the Ardan Yoma and the White Flag faction its base in the Pegu Yoma. The White Band PVO "broke with the communists, and in July 1950 the entire PVO was disbanded. A government minister, speaking in 1951, however, admitted that less than half of the country was under effective government control; in many areas its authority was limited to the daylight hours.

A new threat appeared in 1949 when the Chinese civil war spilled over onto Burmese territory. After Yunnan Province in southern China was taken over by the communist People's Liberation Army, Nationalist (Kuomintang) forces crossed the border into Burma and began using the border area as a base from which to attack the communist forces. Before long these troops in Burma, labeled the Chinese Irregular Forces (CIF), had entrenched themselves in Shan State, numbering as many as 12,000 in 1953, including Shan levies. They turned their attention from battling the communists to building up a profitable opium export business, extending their control over most of the Eastern portion of Shan State. Here, a system of warlordism flourished, which gradually extended into western Laos and northern Thailand, creating what would be known as the "Golden Triangle," a major world center for opium cultivation and export. By 1953 some five-sixths of the Burma Army was tied down in fighting CIF groups; Chinese irregulars in southern Shan State even constructed a loose alliance with the KNDO. Although numerous offensives were launched against them during the 1950s, the CIF were never dislodged from their Shan State stronghold.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2011 12:16:48 ZULU