Saw Ba U Gyi by SheePoe

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									Voices of the          Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

           Saw Ba U                                         Gyi
                                    Paul Keenan

                Karen History and Culture Preservation Society
                        Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

Publishing Information

Title: Saw Ba U Gyi
Series: Voices of the Revolution
Author: Paul Keenan

Format: Electronic PDF
Publication date: March 2008
©2006-2008 Paul Keenan

Correspondence should be directed to the Karen History and Culture
Preservation Society (KHCPS):

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Images: KHCPS Archive, BBC, KNU, Benedict Roger’s ‘Land without Evil’, IKHRA , Tha Noo Htoo


The Karen History and Culture Preservation Society (KHCPS) is a non-profit,
non-political organisation that seeks to research, preserve and promote materials
for a better understanding of the ethnic Karens of Burma. Publications are made
available for historical and cultural purposes and do not necessarily represent the
views of the society.

                             Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

Saw B U Gyi remains paramount in signifying
in most Karen people’s minds the struggle
for a Karen homeland. Turning his back on
wealth and career in an attempt to free his
people from the injustice of a prejudiced and
repressive society, Saw B U Gyi was one of
the first architects to envision Kawthoolei* – a
Karen homeland where Karens would be able
to shape there own future.

With the support of likeminded people
including Mahn Ba Zan, Saw Sankey and
Saw Hunter Tha Mwe, Saw B U Gyi built the
foundation on which the Karen struggle would
rest. While his martyrdom would strike a
major blow to the Karen revolution his legacy
continues to live on in the hearts of those who
share his vision:

 Saw Ba U Gyi’s Four Principles

 1. For us surrender is out of the question

 2. The recognition of Karen State must be complete

 3. We shall retain our arms

 4. We shall decide our own political destiny.’

* The term Kawthoolei first saw widespread use after the June 1949 radio broadcast in which Saw B U Gyi announced the
establishment of a free country of Kawthoolei. Prior to this calls had been made for recognition of a ‘Kaw Lah’ and ‘Kanyaw
Kaw’ meaning Green Country and Karen Country respectively.

                Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution
                                  Prior to his appointment on to the
                                  Burmese cabinet, Saw Ba U Gyi
                                  had already begun to petition for
                                  Karen independence. In September
                                  1945 he had been one of the main
                                  signatories, along with Saw Tha
                                  Din and other leaders of the Karen
                                  Central Organisation (KCO),
                                  behind the first memorial to the
                                  British Government. The KCO
                                  asked that, believing they would
                                  eventually be granted their own
                                  homeland, the British recognise
                                  what they termed their own United
                                  Frontier Karen States - which
                                  they stated should include all of
Saw Ba U Gyi, the guiding light Tenesserim, Nyaunglebin, a sub-
of the post-independence Karen division of Pegu, and parts of
leadership, was a charismatic Thailand as far as Chiang Mai.
figure born in Bassein in 1905 to
a wealthy land owning family. The British however were too
After completing his degree at eager to get rid of Burma at as
Rangoon University in 1925 he early an opportunity as possible;
went to London and became a for London, Karen interests were
lawyer where, two years later, already protected by representation
he was called to the English Bar. on the Governor’s executive
After that he returned to Burma council, and it was more than happy
where, in 1937, he joined the to ignore reports that the Karens
Government of Ba Maw as Minister were often out voiced at such
of Revenue. After the Japanese meetings, even though at least one
occupation and subsequent defeat British Government representative
he joined the pre-independence commented that the Karen members
cabinet and became Information who had attended the GEC, Saw
Minister and later Transport Ba U Gyi and Mahn Ba Khaing,
and Communciations Minister had said ‘not a single word’ while
from February to April 1947. the other three members present

             Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

- Aung San, Thakin Mya, and Tin      1995 recollected that it was made
Tut were the only ones who spoke.    absolutely clear by the under-
                                     secretary of state for India and
Undaunted by the lack of British Burma that there ‘would not and
support, Saw Tha Din, Saw Ba could not’ be any British support
U Gyi, Sidney Loo Nee and Saw for an independent Karen State.
Po Chit, all bar at law, formed a On the 27th January 1947 the
goodwill delegation and arrived in Aung San-Attlee agreement was
London on the 25th August 1946 finally inked giving Aung San
to put forward their representations and the AFPFL rule over Burma.
- the British refused to consider
the Karens demands. Saw Tha Din The Karens were shocked, not
interviewed by Martin Smith in only had there been no Karen

       U Ba Pe, ClementAttlee, General Aung San and U Tin Htut
                       in London January 1947

                Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

            Saw Ba U Gyi, Saw Po Chit and Sydney Loo Nee
representation at the meeting must be a recognised Karen State,
despite there being two Karen EC and part of that state must have a
members in the AFPFL, to which seaboard, in addition they called
the Karen Central Organisation was for exclusive Karen units in the
a constituent member, but also, the armed forces and an increase to
Aung San-Attlee agreement gave 25% of seats in the forthcoming
no provisions for Karen aspirations constituent assembly, a deadline
for their own land. To present was given to the British Government
their case between the 5th and 7th to act on their grievances, but
of February 1947, 700 hundred once again they were ignored.
members of the KNA, Baptist
KNA, BKNA, KCO and it’s youth On the advice of KYO leader
branch the KYO, which had been San Po Thin, Saw Ba U Gyi was
formed in October 1945, met at advised to show his dissatisfaction
the Vinton Memorial Hall for an with the AFPFL by resigning his
all Karen congress where they position in the AFPFL cabinet
formed the Karen National Union. – a move in which he complied on
Resolutions were passed that there 4th March, only to be replaced by

              Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

San Po Thin himself thus splitting        to a Karen State that included
the KNU into two factions – with          Karenni, Mong Pai sub-state,
the Karen Youth Organisation              Salween district, Thaton, Taungoo
(KYO), led by San Po Thin and             and the Pyinmma hills tracts
Mahn Ba Khaing allying itself
to the AFPFL on the 10th March.           Howwever Saw Ba U Gyi and the
                                          KNU were insistent on securing
On July 19th Both Aung San and            those areas they believed they
Mahn Ba Khaing were assassinated          had traditionally occupied, and
along with several other members of       were only too aware that should
the post-independence cabinet. The        they accept U Nu’s proposals it
new Prime Minister U Nu, (below)          was most likely that any future
supported by San Po Thin, realised        representation for the Karen people
that he had inherited a country           would be that provided by San Po
on the verge of rebellion and was         Thin and the KYO, who, Saw Ba
prepared to meet the Karens half-         U Gyi believed, perhaps correctly
way in offering limited autonomy          so, did not have the Karens best
                                          interests at heart. To counter the
                                          KYO’s influence the KNU held
                                          a further conference, the second
                                          KNU Congress, in Moulmein on
                                          the 3rd and 4th of October 1947,
                                          attended by 600, delegates that
                                          passed two further resolutions;

                                          .      That this Karen conference
                                          does not accept the constitution of
                                          the Union of Burma Government
                                          hitherto made because the
                                          constitution does not include
                                          the granting of a state to the
                                          Karens to satisfy their aspirations.

                                          .     To request an independent
                                          sovereign Karen State of the
                                          following areas:

                 Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

a)     Tenesserim     Division             ‘Kawthulay’ and the setting up
including     Taungoo  District            of a committee comprising of 4
b)     Irrawaddy      Division             Burmese and 4 Karens from the
c)     Insein          District            AFPFL Karen Affairs Committee
d)     Hanthawaddy     District            to delineate borders. The secretary,
e)     Nyaunglebin sub-district            it was proposed, was to be an ethnic
                                           Burman from the home ministry.
The request was sent to U Nu                     Adding to the confusion
(pictured above) on the rd                newspapers began to contrast
February 1948 with a response              the requests of the KYO and the
requested within one month, the            U Nu government to those of
KYO for the main part agreed with          the KNU and there were soon
the AFPFL saying that the areas            rumours spread that there would
proposed by the U Nu government            be communal clashes between the
were sufficient and that KNU               Burmans and the Karens as the
demands were unfair. San Po Thin           latter struggled towards securing
immediately began to rally Karens          their own homeland based on
to denounce the KNU’s territorial          KNU demands. Further tensions
claims and support those of the KYO.       were raised and rumours fuelled,
                                           by the newspapers carrying
The KNU on the th February               conflicting Karen views, often
mobilized hundreds of thousands            confirming an anti-government
of Karen protesters to demonstrate         (i.e. Burman) bias on the part of
against the government’s failure           the KNU, including one story
to accept Karen claims and                 that the Karen M.P. for Amherst,
also repeating earlier KNU                 Saw Ba Zan had said that the;
requests     demanding       that:
                                           KNU’s demands were unreasonable
‘Give the Karen State at      once.        and that those Karens who had
For the Burmese one            kyat        attended the nd Congress had come
and the Karens one             kyat        back full of hatred and with the desire
We do not want communal       strife       to have vengeance on the Burmese.
We do not want civil           war’
                                           In response Saw Ba U Gyi clearly
On the 4th March the KYO met with          reaffirmed the Karens desire not
U Nu and asked for recognition of          to split Burma and also stated

             Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

the problems caused by San the President of the K.N.U., had
Po Thin and the contradictory been asked by the Government of
stand taken by the KYO: the Union of Burma to meet and
                                      discuss with Saw San Po Thin who
‘It is not our intention to is now the Karen Affairs Minister.
disintegrate Burma as some people He is all by himself and has no
have reason to fear because we followers. I do not even want to
quite realise that anything which see his face, for the single reason
is detrimental to the Burmese will that after advocating boycott of
have the same effect on the Karens. the constitution of the Union of
In fact, it is our intention to Burma, which he said was unfair
strengthen both the Karens and the for the Karens, and for which
Burmese by asking for a State. We reason I resigned from the Cabinet,
asked for it once from the British, and after acting as President in
and once when Bogyoke Aung San that very meeting convened for
was still alive, and once more now. this purpose he went and accepted
This time the areas asked for are the office which I vacated.
more than before. We consider that The Government erred in that, and
the areas now asked for are a fair instead of negotiating with the K
request, because historically they .N .U. on this matter, they invited
belong to us, whoever may say various people from the districts
otherwise; it is our conviction that and dealt with them. Are these
they belong to the Karens, hence people Karen representatives?
our claim. What the KNU asked Not by any means. They have
for the KYO do not agree and they no followers whatsoever. It is
say that they are quite contented now already one month and we
with Salween district or Papun received no reply. That means
area. They claim to be the Karen the Burmese Government is
representatives but what Karens are not going to give us a State.‘
they, if they do not try to meet the
desire of the majority of Karens? It U Nu made several overtures to
is now up to you all to find out what arrange a meeting with Saw Ba U
is the aspiration of the majority Gyi with the hopes of getting the
of the Karens and give your Karen leader to finally agree to
support to which you think best. the government ‘s proposal for a
Regarding the Karen State, I, as Karen state defined by those areas

                  Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

included in the constitution. Aware      drafted into those areas where
of the great stakes involved Saw Ba      there were insufficient forces.
U Gyi postponed his answer until
after a third KNU Congress had           At this juncture the situation was
been held in Rangoon on the rd          to be further manipulated by San
March 1948 which was attended            Po Thin and the KYO who still
by over 500 delegates many of            continued to support U Nu and
whom were in disagreement                the AFPFL line. San Po Thin and
with U Nu’s plan for Kawthulay.          Mahn Win Maung arranged a
Despite the negative feelings            further meeting with the prime
expressed by the delegates Saw Ba        minister where they presented him
U Gyi responded positively, while        with information that the KNU
also ensuring the Karens position        had been attempting to purchase
was made clear when he stated            arms with a desire to use force to
that ‘If they use diplomacy, we          settle the Karen question and that
must use diplomacy,’ however, he         it was the intention of the KNU
continued, in a more emphatic tone,      to run a parallel Government.
‘but this time we won’t talk about
requesting our state, but having it.’    Such identification with western
                                         inspired plots was hardly to help
The KNU had already declared             the Karen cause with many of
what it considered its obligation        the Burmese painting the Karen
to the people when it stated after       nationalist movement as an
a conference in Bassein that ‘[the       imperialist plot to begin with.
Karen leaders] are resolved that the     Saw Ba U Gyi quickly moved
KNU shall accept responsibility          to reiterate the KNU’s position
for safeguarding lives and               regarding foreign assistance at
property…in Karens areas.’        To     a dinner on October 9th at the
fulfil this responsibility the KNDO      Karen National Club, Alhone-
headquarters immediately began           Mission       Road,     Rangoon,
secretly supplying arms, supplied        attended by U Nu and a number
by sympathisers in the Karen             of Burmese and ethnic leaders:
rifles, to local KNDO units and
organising them into guarding ‘A foreigner once told me that
villages in Karen areas, with further their desire was not to govern
additional KDNO units being the country, but to trade. These

Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

                  Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

foreigners without exception are       Good people should join forces and
traders and more. All of them come     work together to prevent this. We,
and take away all. And so they         the KNU, will take the responsibility
should better be called exploiters     to solve the problems within our
than traders. If these people come     reach. If there are Burmese who
again we will be left bare. We have    have fled from our areas, we the
been much misunderstood by our         Karens together with the Burmese
demand for a separate Karen State.     will jointly go and call them to
Some people misunderstand it as a      come back with complete trust.
manifestation of our desire to return  In like manner, when the Karens
to servitude under the British...      are urged to return, Karens and
We are not so foolish. We know them    Burmese should go together. We
better than others and that is the     must give protection and make
reason why we steer clear of them.     arrangement so that all will be
We further assure you that in our      able to live in trust and harmony.
aspirations for a separate State, we   Words are not enough. This
will never adopt any unfair means.     is a matter we must deal with
We will use only what is legal.’       immediately. At our congress held
                                       recently in Bassein, we adopted
He also reaffirmed that it was not the the resolution that the Karen,
KNU’s intention to split the country were to give help, if the Burmese
and that it was committed to solving people requested, for peace in the
the ongoing communal tension: country. We are ready to give help
                                       if it is asked for. We are also laying
‘What we have to handle urgently down the guide-lines for this.’
is the matter of the people fleeing
from one village to another Despite such assurances, the
because they have been alarmed increasing strength and ability of
by some rumours. There are the KNU and KNDO was of great
those who flee because they fear concern to the U Nu government.
the communists, there are some The promised Regional Autonomy
Karens who flee, because they fear Enquiry was pushed ahead
the Burmese, and some Burmese to October 1948 among the
flee, because they fear the Karens. committee members included were
The truth is, the alarm has been Saw Ba U Gyi, Mahn James Tun
caused by some wicked elements. Aung and Saw Tha Din all from

               Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

the KNU which still demanded an
independent state where the Karens
could ‘develop socially, politically,
educationally and economically on
their own lines and claim the right of
self determination.’ Though it was
also stated that ‘Attainment of this
objective, will not, of course shut out
the possibility of what will always       the part of the police while Saw Ba
be regarded as the ultimate goal,         U Gyi in an effort to calm the Karen
namely the Common Federation              community called for restraint and
of all the peoples of Burma.’             patience. It was to be too late.

Despite Saw Ba U Gyi’s assurances,        A number of inflammatory
on Christmas Eve, 1948, in Palaw,         disturbances      soon      occurred
a small village between Mergui            between local KNDO units and
and Tavoy, Burmese police, with           Sitwundun forces stationed in the
the unwitting help of a Karen             main Karen area of Insein, north of
elder, disarmed the villagers before      Rangoon, where large numbers of
leaving them to prepare for the           KNDO troops had been relocated
night’s mass. The carol parties           to avoid further conflict with the
that had met in the church that           government and with the possibility
night to begin worship suddenly           of disbanding them and returning
found themselves victims of               them to their villages. At that time
grenades thrown into the church           in August 1948 it appeared that
by the Burmese police who had             Insein, 9 miles north of Rangoon,
surrounded it – those who were not        was about to be captured by the
instantly killed were mown down           communists and the Burmese
by machine gun fire as they fled.         government was more than happy
The rest of the village - houses and      to have the KNDO garrisoned in
schools, was razed by the police in       the area to release the pressure on
an action that eventually cost the        Government forces. However by
lives of over three hundred Karens.       the end of the year reports began to
 U Nu immediately flew down to the        be filed with the Insein police that
scene and on his return declared the      the KNDO units were responsible
whole incident to be a mistake on         for ‘High-handedness against the

                  Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

Burmese community, and a few             lost there lives when a UMP unit,
cases of dacoity and robbery.’ In        commanded by Bo Sein Hman,
addition the Sitwunduns themselves       the former Cabinet minister and
were also alleged to have abused the     second in command of the PVO,
local Karens including at one point      attacked a village in Taikkyi
threatening to exterminate them.         township. The KNDO retaliated
    Even prior to the Christmas          by raiding the treasury in Maubin
massacre the severity of the ethnic      only to then see the 4th Burma
tensions was becoming apparent           rifles raze an American Missionary
with shots and mortar shells being       School in a tit-for-tat action   .
fired into the Karen quarters in
Insein on the 29th December, the         No longer able to tolerate such
then Eve of Karen New Year, while        flagrent abuses against Karen
less than three weeks later on both      communities Lt Colonel Min
the 22nd January and the morning         Maung       the   Taungoo       born
after an armoured car had driven         commander of the first Karen rifles
through Thamaing Karen quarters          and holder of the British Military
strafing the area with indiscriminate    Cross, purportedly at the behest of
gunfire as mortar shells were also       Saw Ba U Gyi, seized control of
reported as randomly being fired         Taungoo and Tantabin on the 27th
into the area in one such incident       January 1949, the next day, the
seriously injuring a woman. Such         historically claimed city of the Pa-
episodes were not only confined to       Oh, Pyu, was also taken. Bassein,
Insein but were widespread. One          200 miles away was unsuccessfully
such incident was reported by ‘The       attacked by another KNDO
Nation’ on the 16th January and          unit commanded by Saw Jack.
described how 150 Karens had
                                         The attack on Thamaing was
                                         repelled by a number of KNDO
                                         support units who had been
                                         mobilized    throughout    Insein
                                         and surrounding areas including
                                         Taungthugon Karen quarters,
                                         where Mahn Ba Zan had his
                                         house which at the time was most
                                         probably serving as the KNU/

               Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

KNDO headquarters. The battle had          After abandoning Insein the Karen
begun and it was not long, the st         regrouped and Saw Ba U Gyi
February 1949, before the Burmese          decided to hold a new congress, to
Government declared the KNDO               be attended by everyone including
illegal. The Sitwunduns reacted            those Karens who had remained back
immediately – torching Karen areas         in the delta, on the 19th July 1950.
including, once again, Alhone.

Saw Ba U Gyi, Mahn Ba Zan,
Hunter Tham Hwe and Saw Sankey
all in Insein at the time had very
little option but to declare a full
scale revolt. The Karen rifles and
KNDO immediately started taking
cities throughout the country, while
in Insein itself a  day stand-
off was to take place between the
Karens and the Burma Army, under
the command of Ne Win. The
incident was to be known as the
Battle of Insein and would last until
the night of 20th May 1949 when
large numbers of Karen troops and
civilians were able to slip across
the swollen Hlaing River to safety.
The siege had lasted three months
and  days with the possibility of,       Saw Ba U Gyi stated in his
according to one source, a thousand        address that the Karen revolution
Karen casualties with fatalities           would be the first as well as the
amounting up to as much as 350-            last in the history of the Karen
400, half of which were most likely        people and that there would be no
civilians killed in the shelling alone.    defeat for the revolution ‘…unless
Although Insein had been lost              all the Karen revolutionaries
the Karens were still able to hold         went down to Rangoon and put
on to other areas of the country.          their necks on the chopping
                                           block in front of the enemy.’

                 Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

In outlining the way forward The strength of the revolution
and      warning       of     future comes from the people. Therefore,
hazards     he     stressed     that: to get the people’s support,
                                      we must win the people’s love,
A national state for the Karens can confidence and respect. In order
be gained in three different ways: - to win the people’s love, we must
                                      first give our love, show our love,
‘1. As a voluntary gift given, to them. In order to win the
in good will, by the enemy. confidence of the people, we must
We can always be sure that build up and consolidate our force.
the enemy will never give In order to win the respect of
us a country, a state, so this the people, we must be well
possibility must be ruled out. disciplined and organised. We
                                      are bound to make mistakes in
2. By right of military conquest. the performance of [our] work,
The Karen revolution, being a in review of our revolution
just revolution, shall eventually which is more than a year old
be victorious. However, the now, I find that there have been
struggle will be long, difficult, the weaknesses and mistakes
arduous painful and distressing. of self-conceitedness, putting
Many lives will be lost. self-interest in the forefront,
                                      indiscipline, anti-mass attitude,
3. By force of circumstances. loose unity. We always need to
After a long war, the enemy could review our past work and correct
get into a quagmire of unending our weaknesses and errors boldly.
crisis. However hard the enemy            In history, we find that in
tried he would get deeper into spite of various difficulties and
the quagmire. That is the time hardship, all the just revolutions
when the force of circumstances when led with perseverance and
will be most favourable for courage eventually triumph
us. At that time, we must not without exception. I firmly
fail to grasp the opportunities believe that the just revolution
presented themselves and, by of the Karen people shall be
military and political means, victorious, eventually, in spite of
force our will upon the enemy. all the hardships and difficulties.

              Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

Saw Ba U Gyi also outlined              early part of Burma’s civil war
what were to be the main                which had started two years earlier.
principles and cornerstone              On that morning, the director of
of the Karen revolution:                Information invited us to a press
                                        conference at which he announced
1. For us surrender is out of the       important news about a remarkable
question                                victory by the government forces.
2. The recognition of Karen             Saw Ba U Gyi, leader of the Karen
State must be complete                  National Union and commander
3. We shall retain our arms             of the Karen National Defence
4. We shall decide our own              Organisation, was killed in a
political destiny.’                     battle two days ago’ he said.
                                        Saw Ba U Gyi was a prominent
The results of the congress were        leader in the Burmese political
broadcast on Free Karen Radio from      field. In a political career started
the 31st July to the 2nd August.        in 1944 when he joined the Anti-
    It still remains unclear what       Fascist People’s Freedom League
Saw Ba U Gyi had a mind to do           (AFPFL) which was struggling for
after the congress. After what are      Burma’s independence. He became
reported as being his last words        a minister of the government
in which he had said that ‘He was       Council during British rule. While
now about to pull a political stunt.’   undertaking the groundwork of
he, Saw Sankey and a small party        building a new nation, free-born
of followers set off to what was        Burma, Saw Ba U Gyi disagreed
believed to be a meeting. They          with the AFPFL political line and
headed towards the Thai-Burma           resigned to lead the Karen National
border, the destination is still not    Union. Negotiation with the AFPFL
known, what is known however            government for the benefit of the
is that they were not to reach it.      Karen nationals was not successful
                                        and eventually he led an armed
‘It was a rainy day even at noon        rebellion as commander of the Karen
it was already dark. I specifically     National Defence Organisation
remember the date, 14 August 1950.      (KNDO). He was captured, dead,
I will never forget that experience.    at a small village near Moulmein,
At that time I was only a young         170     miles     from    Rangoon.
reporter, aged 24, covering the         A press pool was organized to go

Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

                   Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

and see the dead rebel leader.      until the rains stopped, they had
I was chosen to take pictures       pushed on and arrived near To
of the fallen renegade. We, ten     Kaw Koe Village, Kawkareik,
journalists,    four     informationnot far from Myawaddy and the
                                    Thai border town of Mae Sot.
officials and military officers, flew
to Moulmein in a small plane.        On their arrival at the small village
The military officers continued the they were given a small Bamboo hut
press conference on the plane. Saw  to stay in until the rain slackened
Ba U Gyi had been captured, dead,   thus allowing them to more easily
along with a high-ranking Karen     cross a nearby river which at that
rebel leader and an English major   time was swollen and almost
who was imprisoned for supplying    bursting its banks. While the party
arms, they claimed. The journalists were staying there that night it is
succeeded in getting the true story believed a villager on recognizing
after cross-examining them. The     the Karen leader was able to
rebel chieftains were captured      slip away at inform the nearby
alive and killed even though they   army battalion at Nabusakan.
had surrendered. “They tried to run   Early the next morning, August
away when we arranged to take       12th 1950, Burmese army units
them to our nearest military camp.  commanded by a young lieutenant,
We couldn’t help it. There was no   Sein Lwin, surrounded the
way we could save them in such      village and demanded the group
a situation,” they said. We could   surrender, although there is some
not print the truth, but used the   disagreement as to what happened
                                    next it is believe that the group
official version, “captured dead.”’ *
                                    refused and as such were killed
There is no concrete evidence to in the fire fight. According to U
suggest that there was an informer Thaung, a young journalist at the
in or around the area where Saw Ba time, the request for surrender they
U Gyi, Saw Sankey, a Caucasian did capitulate to, but, as the Karens
– tentatively known as ‘Mr Baker’, tried to escape they were shot in
and the small party of Karens the act, what is known however
found themselves staying that rainy is that the party was killed and
night. Despite warnings from a their bodies transported by cart to
village headman at Tahkreh village Moulmein. After a brief display of
that they should remain with him the body, Saw Ba U Gyi’s corpse
*U Thaung, ‘A Journalist, a General and an Army in Burma.’

                 Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

was apparently transported four         the late Karen Leader, Saw Ba U
miles out to sea where the body was     Gyi, as a stupid man “Who could
thrown overboard thus ensuring          not see the other fellow’s point of
there would be no martyr’s grave        view”. I am sure this statement
for the Karen revolutionary leader.     is unwarranted. Lord Listowel’s
    Dorman-Smith the ex-British         main argument is based on the
Governor of Burma and one of the        fact he was personally present at
supporters of the Karen uprising        the negotiation. Unfortunately his
remembered the ex-lawyer fondly,        presence, the method adopted in
when writing in ‘The Times’             tackling the problem, and the very
on the rd August that year:           fact that he went out to execute
                                        an Anglo-Burmese agreement to
Saw Ba U Gyi was no terrorist…          which the Karens then strongly
I, for one, cannot picture him          objected        were        principally
enjoying the miseries and               responsible for the failure in the
hardships of rebellion. There must      Burmese-Karen negotiation. That
have been some deep impelling           is how Saw Ba U Gyi described the
reason for his continued resistance.    situation in a letter to me at the time.
                                        The trouble began from the Aung
However there were others who           San/Attlee Agreement between
disagreed Lord Listowell, a Labour      the British and the Burmese,
minister, writing in the same           whereby the former handed over
newspaper two days later accused        the entire administration of the
the late Karen leader of ‘obstinacy’    country to the latter, while the
and gambling on the fighting            Karens were excluded even from
qualities of the Karens’ and accused    the negotiation conference. The
him of being unable to compromise;      Karens felt they had been betrayed
a point of view that was quickly        by the British Government. Many
criticised by the prominent             of us Burmese, too, felt that the
Lawyer and second Secretary at          Karens, who had valiantly fought
the Burmese Embassy in London,          against the Japanese during the
Maung Maung Ji, who in reply,           war, had been badly let down. I
on the th, in ‘The Times’ wrote;      acted as a counsel to two delegates,
                                        the former Prime Minister U Saw
‘Sir, Lord Listowel’s letter to ‘The    and Thakin Ba Sein, then minister
Times’ of 25th August represents        of transport and Communications,

Karen History and Culture Preservation Society

                  Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution

at the Anglo-Burmese conference           which my country is suffering,
which culminated in the Aung              would have been avoided. The
San-Attlee Agreement. Because             secretary of State for Burma
it was so unfair to the Karens            admittedly had no previous
that they were excluded from              experience of Burmese politics
the conference, in spite of their         and its ramifications; naturally he
repeated requests to participate in       was unaware of the complicated
it, a memorandum was forwarded to         and special problems that lay
the Prime Minister Mr. Attlee with        beneath the surface. A complete
the request that he should publish        breakdown of the negotiations
it. To our great surprise, this and       was the result. This seems to me
other dissident memoranda were            no reason for branding the late
suppressed when the Aung San-             Karen leader and his friends as
Attlee Agreement was published.           ‘Stupid People’, ‘intellectually
The Karens felt frustrated and            extremely limited’ and ‘incapable
are still bitter over the episode.        of reaching an agreement’
To aggravate the situation, Lord
Listowel, the Secretary of State                                The      deaths
for Burma, was sent to Rangoon in                               of Saw Ba
his own phrase “to induce them”                                 U Gyi and
to accept certain arrangements.                                 Saw Sankey
Ostensibly it was a negotiation for                             were a serious
agreement between the Karens and                                blow to the
the Burmese, but final approval                                 revolution;
rested with the Burmese Govt. The                               with two of
Karens could not refer to outside                               their     main
authorities in a case of disagreement.                          leaders gone
Saw Ba U Gyi and his people,              it was left to those remaining
already suspicious of the British         in the Karen Governing Body
Govt’s intentions, hesitated to           to reorganize and to plan a new
enter into any agreement. Even            strategy for the Karen resistance to
so, if a statesman with a practical       see them through the coming years.
knowledge of Burmese politics             For those leaders the four principles
had been sent out at that time, I’m       that Saw Ba U Gyi laid out at the
sure agreement would have been            start of the struggle still remain
possible, and a lot of the troubles       the foundation of the revolution.

                             Karen History and Culture Preservation Society
                                               Study Questions

  .      Where was Saw Ba U Gyi born?
  .      When did he complete his degree at Rangoon University?
  3.      What position did he originally fill in the Ba Maw Government?
  4.      When was he Transport and Communications Minister?
  5.      What should the United Frontier Karen States include?
  6.      When did Saw Tha Din, Saw Ba U Gyi, Sidney Loo Nee and Saw Po Chit
  arrive in London?
  7.      When did Aung San and Clement Attlee sign the ‘Aung San – Attlee
  .      When was the KYO formed?
  9.      Who advised Saw Ba U Gyi to leave the AFPFL government?
  10.     Which Karen organization ‘allied’ itself with the AFPFL?
  .     What areas did U Nu offer as a Karen State?
  .     Which areas did the KNU request after the Second KNU congress?
  13.     What happened on Christmas Eve 1948
  14.     Where was Lt. Col. Min Maung Born?
  15.     When was the KNDO declared illegal?
  16.     How long was the siege of Insein?
  17.     When was Saw Ba U Gyi killed?
  .     Who said Saw Ba U Gyi was’ terrorist...’?

                                                                   Dorman-Smith the ex-Governor of Burma.           .
17.       12th August 1950.
16.      Three months and 21 Days
15.      1st February 1949.
14.      Taungoo
.      Karen Villagers in Palaw were attacked by Burmese Police.
Nyaunglebin sub-district.
.      Tenesserim Division including Taungoo District, IIrrawaddy Division, Insein District, Hanthawaddy District, and
.      Karenni, Mong Pai sub-state, Salween district, Thaton, Taungoo and the Pyinmma hills tracts.
10.      The KYO.
9.       San Po Thin.
8.       October 1945.
7.       27th January 1947.
6.       25th August 1946.
5.       Tenesserim, Nyaunglebin, a sub-division of Pegu, and parts of Thailand as far as Chiang Mai.
4.       From February to April 1947.
.       Minister of Revenue.
2.       1925.
.       Bassein.

Saw Ba U Gyi - Voice of the Revolution


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