Photo: Flickr/K.Aksoy
Photo: Flickr/K.Aksoy

The Myanmar connection

‘Rendezvous With Rebels’ explores the links between Burma and the insurgency in India’s Northeast.

Until 2011, Burma was among the few countries still veiled in secrecy. In 1962, Chief of Army Staff General Ne Win staged a coup against the elected government of U Nu, and became the head of the state as Chairman of the Revolutionary Council and prime minister. This began the army's domineering presence in all spheres of Burmese life. The military junta's policy of banning foreign aid organisations from the country and the imposition of autarky turned Burma into one of the poorest countries in the world. Meanwhile, the clampdown on freedom of press and travel – expelling of foreigners and restricting their visit to no more than one week – led to international isolation and Burma's eventual downfall.

When the British withdrew in 1948, the Burmese people were quite optimistic of their country's prospects as General Aung San had set the ball rolling for a new constitution. Aung San sought to lessen the animosity between the Bamar dominated state and the hill tribes by offering the latter a decisive say in the government. Representatives of the Kachin, Shan and Chin peoples were invited to take part in discussions which resulted in the Panglong Agreement of 1947. But a few months later the general was shot and the constitution put away in cold storage by the army. The stage was set for chaos: ethnic groups began to prepare for war; the Karens were the first to raise the banner of revolt demanding independence and soon other tribes followed. There emerged a plethora of insurgent outfits challenging the army's rule in Burma. Among the biggest, and better organised, were the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). With active assistance from the People's Republic of China, the CPB almost succeeded in capturing power. The junta, however, managed to push back the communists to the remote mountains. By the late 1980s, civil war had engulfed the country, with the army battling guerrillas on several fronts. Some groups had even managed to stitch a coalition among them and put up a united resistance. The state was also threatened by student protests in March 1988, which, by 8 August, turned into a nationwide uprising, known as the 8888 uprising, against Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) rule. The Tatmadaw – the Burmese army – killed over 3000 demonstrators between August and September 1988. This was the largest uprising in the history of independent Burma, until the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian