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Ne Win Military Rule - Nationalities and Insurgency

Ne WinGiven the military's perception at the time of the 1962 coup that national unity was threatened by the demands of restive minorities, it was not surprising that the Revolutionary Council radically transformed the quasi-federal structure of the country. The state legislatures or councils, the office of minister and head of the states, and the separate state administrations were abolished and replaced by a system of state councils under the direct control of the central government. The military-controlled SAC hierarchy was extended to the states as well as to Burma Proper.

In February 1964 the government issued the "Declaration of the Conviction of the Revolutionary Council on the Question of Union Nationalities." It declared that both economic and social development were tasks to be undertaken by the nation as a whole. Minorities were cautioned that divisive movements would not be tolerated. Minority autonomy was limited to the area of culture: languages and literature, national customs, visual and performing arts, and religion. Minority cadres were trained at the new Academy for the Development of National Groups, founded at Sagaing and later moved to Ywathitgyi; (ironically in the heartland of Burman culture in Upper Burma). According to political analyst Josef Silverstein, these measures in fact represented the Revolutionary Council's commitment to the "nationalization of the society and the Burmanization of its culture."

In June 1963 the Revolutionary Council issued an invitation to the various communist and ethnic insurgent groups to come to Rangoon and discuss peace terms. Safe conduct was guaranteed, even if the negotiations failed. Between June and November, delegations from the Red and White Flag communist factions, the Karen National Union, the Karenni National Progress Party, the New Mon State Party, the Kachin Independence Organization, the Chin Group, the Shan State Army, and other groups appeared in the capital to talk with the government. Initially, there was optimism that peace might be achieved; by mid-November, however, the talks had broken down. One small Karen group had agreed to demobilize, but the only lasting result of the parley was the creation of the National Democratic United Front (NDUF) by the rebels, a loose coalition including both communist and ethnic groups, which fell apart in the early 1970s.

Although none of the insurgent groups, or coalition of groups, was strong enough to seize power, the role of China in the communist movement in the late 1960s posed a new threat. In the mid-1960s the White Flag faction of the BCP, based in the Pegu Yoma, was in the process of carrying out a "cultural revolution" purge similar to the one going on in China at that time. Thakin Than Tun, the organization's leader, had purged most of the old leadership but was himself assassinated in September 1968. As a result of a Burma Army attack on the White Flag stronghold that disrupted radio contact with Beijing, a new leader, Thakin Zin, was chosen without consulting China, which favored the selection of another BCP leader, Thakin Ba Thein Tin, then living in China.

Relations between Rangoon and Beijing worsened after anti-Chinese riots in June 1967. In response, China began to give material support to communist insurgents in Burma. Rather than aiding the White Flag faction, which was located too far from the China border to be readily accessible, the Chinese recruited veteran Kachin rebel Naw Seng - living in China - to form a new insurgent force. Naw Seng was made a member of the BCP White Flag Central Committee and later of the BCP Politburo; in reality the new insurgency, known as the BCP Northeastern Command, was quite separate from the original White Flag movement. It was directly dependent on China for training, aid, and support, and its personnel consisted primarily of ethnic Kachin, Shan, and Wa minorities; the Burman contingent was virtually nonexistent, in contrast with the original Red Flag and White Flag factions.

Naw Seng's army of some 1,000 strong began attacking villages in northern Shan State and southern Kachin State in early 1968; by the ptime he was killed in the early 1970s, the center of BCP insurgehcy had shifted to these areas. In November 1970 the Red Flag insurgency had been critically weakened by the capture of its leader, Thakin Soe, by government forces; the White Flag faction was virtually eliminated in March 1975 when Burma Army troops killed Thakin Zin and other leaders in combat. Thakin Ba Thein Tin, who had previously switched his allegiance within the party to the Northeastern Command, was then elected chairman of the entire BCP, encompassing both the Red Flag and the White Flag remnants and the insurgency in the northeast. The latter had diversified at that time into several components. It made alliances with ethnically based groups, such as the Kachin Independence Organization, the Shan State Army, the United Pa-O Organization, and the Shan State Nationalities Liberation Organization.

Another insurgent group was established by U Nu following his departure from Burma in 1969. Called the National United Liberation Front, a coalition of his Parliamentary Democracy Party and ethnic groups, it operated along the Thailand-Burma border. The movement gradually lost momentum, however, after U Nu resigned as its president in January 1972.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2011 12:16:46 ZULU