The Burma Independence Army
The British administration in Burma was withdrawn completely in early 1942 as they left for India. Together with 30 comrades, the Japanese troop formed the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in Thailand. Dobama (We the Burman) party was getting more popularity as the Burmese people were longing for independence. Many rumours were floating around through Burmese radio from Thailand as a huge Burmese army would invade Burma with Royal Japanese army. Col Kiichi Suzuki was the key Japanese army officer dealing with the BIA. As the Burmans were believers of astrology Suzuki took the Burmese name Bo Mogyo ( Col Thunderbolt ) to strike the British.
After ethnic people and migrants like the Chin’s and Indians were living peacefully in Burma for centuries sharing the wealth and exchanging cultures. When the British left, some of the Burmans picked on the Karens as a revenge. It is very similar to the Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda. Many Karens were living in Irrawaddy Delta-like other ethnic people. As the administration was getting weak crimes increased. It was usual for most village headmen kept guns (double-barrel ) to protect the villagers. Some villagers possessed local-made guns. The tension rose as the Burmans tried to disarm the Karen villages.
Finally, the riots broke out among two ethnic groups of the Karens and the Burmans. One record mentioned the loss of 1092 lives, 200 villages were razed to the ground at the cost of about 20 million kyats ( US$ 1= K 4 ). One Japanese army officer Maj Ijima was killed in one skirmish. That enraged Col Suzuki. Many Karen leaders and well-known figures in Myanungmya and nearby were arrested and jailed. Pado Tapeloo was amongst the murdered. Even the minister of the government Saw Pe Tha, cousin of the Karen leader Saw Ba Oo Gyi, his British wife and children were massacred during that period. Some foreign missionaries were also slaughtered in Myaungmya. It was the doomsday for the helpless Karen while the Burmans were with arms and strong backup of the Japanese army.
The Rice-Mill Manager (U Mhan Saw Bu)
Surrounded by the Burmese and Japanese army Col. Suzuki controlled the situation in Irrawaddy delta from Myaungmya himself. Myaungmya was the epicentre of the problem. All the Karens fled to a remote area. There was no hope for the Karens at all. In that darkest hour, one Karen man bravely stood up. He was Phu Saw Bu. Col Suzuki held the ultimate power to do anything according to his will. He’d already planned to annihilate all the Karen village and kill everyone. His office was on an armoured ship anchored at Myaungmya jetty. On 01 May 1942 one Karen bravely walked onto that ship asking to meet the colonel.
Col Suzuki was surprised to see one thin weary Karen man in front of him. The man looked without food for sleep for days but surprisingly calm. He introduced himself as Saw Bu of Torkalok village and rice-mill manager. Saw Bu tried to plea for his innocent people. But the colonel was so adamant and determined to kill. Saw Bu pleaded repeatedly but to no avail. Finally, he knelt down in front of the colonel begging him to behead him first with the sword. “ Just kill me before you kill my innocent people.” was his final words while kneeling motionless. Everyone on the ship stood in awe. Col Suzuki stood up. Calmly he said,” Saw Bu , you’re the brave man. I always admire the brave.” He said to Saw Bu to bring the Karen people.
He said to Saw Bu to bring the Karen people in the field beside the rice mill in Torkalok the following morning at 10 am. Saw Bu went home in a hurry, wrote letters to nearby Karen villages to see the Japanese colonel. The big crowd of about 10,000 made the Japanese colonel amazed again as there was no guarantee of their safety. It could simply be a trap just to mow down everyone with machine guns. Surprisingly his people listened to Saw Bu. They were Pwo, Sgaw, Buddhists, Christians, animists, men, women and children listened quietly to the Japanese man speaking about peace. That was 02 May 1942.
Everyone went home in peace. Col Suzuki went home a changed man. All the Karen prisoners from Myaungmya prison were released. Burmese and Karens signed the brotherhood agreement on that day again. The fate of Col Suzuki was unheard since. Saw Bu started his community work again by building schools and boarding houses for his people. The stubborn Japanese royal army surrendered unconditionally after 08 Aug 1945.
When British restored their administration in Burma after WW II. Saw Bu was elected to be a member of the parliament after WW II by the British government without an election. Many non-believers became Christians through him even though he did not preach.
The Pwo and the Sgaw are two major Karen tribes with different dialect and scripts. Saw Bu let all of them learn both dialect in reading and writing. That was a very smart idea. Many Karen leaders and professionals were his old students. The British granted Burma independence on 04 Jan 1948. He passed away on 21 Sep 1952 after his 3 rd and unsuccessful operation on his stomach. He was only 52. His funeral was the greatest and unforgettable. On the tombstone you can see “ U Mahn Saw Bu “ as U stands for the Burmese, Mahn for the Pwo and Saw for the Sgaw. Now we affectionately call him Phu Saw Bu, while Phu stands for grandfather.
While preparing the story of Phu Saw Bu I tried to collect all information from many sources. I even traced Col Keiichi Suzuki, Dr Kimura, Maj Ijima and Gen Ida. It was a bit strange as we could not trace about Col Suzuki’s life during and after WW II. Some unreliable sources said he was summoned back to Japan on the ground of becoming pro-Karen. Most of the Japanese army officers were prosecuted and charged by war tribunal. Mysteriously, I could not find Col Suzuki’s name in the list.