History & Current Events
Independence & General Aung San
Centre: Aung San and Clement Atlee. (Photo: Getty Images)
_Burma was annexed by the British Empire in the late 19th century. Soon the injustices of colonial rule, together with a growing self awareness amongst university students and the general population, led to the growth of nationalist movements in the early 20th century.
After the Second World War, in which Burma was invaded by Japan and eventually regained by Britain, General Aung San became a prominent figure in uniting the various national groups of Burma and securing their independence. He is recognized as the leading architect of independence, and the founder of the Union of Burma. Aung San is the father of Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San had previously studied at Rangoon University, where he served on the executive committee of the Rangoon University Students’ Union, as well as being the editor of the student magazine Oway. He was later involved in the founding of nationalist organisations, and assisted in the Japanese invasion from 1942-5. Having become skeptical of Japanese promises of true independence and of Japan's ability to win the war, he organised an uprising and, with British help, expelled the Japanese. After the war ended, plans slowly began for Britain’s withdrawal from Burma:
He was appointed deputy chairman of Burma's Executive Council in late 1946, a position which still remained subject to the British governor's veto.
On January 27th 1947, Aung San signed an agreement with the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee declaring Burma’s independence within one year.
In February, he met with other national and ethnic leaders at the Panglong Conference, who unanimously decided to join the Union of Burma with the signing of the Panglong Agreement.
In the election for a constitutional assembly in April 1947, Aung San’s party, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), won a landslide victory. As his term began he started to make plans for Burma’s rehabilitation. However, on July 19th, Aung San and six of his colleagues, including his brother, were assassinated in the council chamber in Rangoon while the executive council was in session. The former Prime Minister and Aung San’s political rival, U Saw, was later executed for ordering this assassination.
Aung San is widely admired and fondly remembered in Burma, because of his campaign for independence and the continuing efforts of his daughter. He is affectionately known as "Bogyoke", which means ‘General’, and his name is still invoked in Burmese politics to this day.
After his assassination, there followed a period of great instability for Burma, which was marked by several insurgencies, and ultimately led to Ne Win’s coup d’etat in 1962, and the establishment of a military government.