Ye Htut, last of Burma’s ‘30 Comrades’ freedom fighters, dies aged 92

 

Independent Burma’s last human link with its founding fathers was severed this week with the death in Rangoon  of Ye Htut, one of the so-called “30 Comrades”, at the age of 92. He was the last surviving member of a band of students who invaded Burma alongside the Japanese with the aim of overthrowing British colonial rule, in which they succeeded with remarkable ease.

Tin Oo, the deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, led tributes to the old soldier, who died on Wednesday.

“He served as a patron of the Patriotic Old Comrades’ League – a group formed by retired army leaders during the peak of the 1988 uprising,” Tin Oo said, remembering  Ye Htut’s guidance for the democratic activists during the uprising against dictatorship in 1988. “He shared his experience and gave us advice during the early days.”

Ye Htut was one of a group of radical Rangoon university students, led and inspired by General Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, who travelled to China in 1941 to obtain help from Chinese communist insurgents in forcing the British out of Burma. Instead, they were identified and adopted by Japanese army officers and taken to Tokyo to be indoctrinated with the ideology of Japanese imperialism and moulded into a force that would aid Japan in the projected invasion of South-East Asia. They trained secretly in a camp on the Chinese coast, then in a house in Bangkok.

A couple of weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, 25 of them had blood extracted from their arms by syringe and mixed in a bowl from which they all drank, swearing loyalty to each other and to the cause of free Burma, in an ancient Burmese ritual.

The 30 young freedom fighters formed the nucleus of the Burmese Independent Army and invaded Burma alongside their Japanese patrons in the spring of 1942, their numbers swelling with Burmese volunteers as they went along. Under the leadership of the maverick Gen Aung San, the nascent army outgrew the Japanese military’s plans and, as the Allies fought their way back into Burma they smartly switched sides, helping British forces to finish the job of destroying the Japanese remnants.

Ye Htut rose to the rank of brigade commander in the new army but the solidarity of the 30 Comrades did not survive Aung San’s assassination in July 1947. Independence from Britain the following year saw a rapid and total breakdown of public order, and Ye Htut joined a communist insurgency against Prime Minister U Nu’s fragile elected government, which at one point controlled little territory beyond the Rangoon city limits. With his army, paid and remotely controlled from across the border in Mao’s China, Ye Htut and his communist guerrilla force dug in for nearly two decades in the rugged country around the town of Pegu, north of Rangoon.

After the democratic government was toppled in a coup d’état by another of the Comrades, General Ne Win, in 1962, Ye Htut laid down his arms and returned to the capital to serve in Ne Win’s newly established Burma Socialist Programme Party, where he became instructor in the military training school. But he eventually fell foul of the notoriously temperamental Ne Win and was purged in 1974.

His last reprise came during the uprising against Ne Win’s tyranny in 1988, when he and other veterans banded together to fight their old comrade. Tin Oo was elected their leader but later confessed: “I knew that I could not lead the entire country … We needed a strong leader who could lead the whole show … somebody who understood democracy, who had really lived it.” That person turned out to be the daughter of their first leader, Aung San.

Ye Htut’s decision to join forces with the opponents of the military dictatorship had repercussions. His son, Kyaw Kyaw, told The Independent that both Ne Win’s Socialist regime and the military clique that replaced it “refused to  recognise Ye Htut as a legendary member of the 30 Comrades”.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?