The Myaungmya Massacres(BIA Occupation in WWII)

The Myaungmya Massacres(BIA Occupation in WWII) The Myaungmya Massacres After the British retreat and in the wake of the Japanese invasion Burman officials immediately took over administering the predominantly Karen area of Myaungmya. One of their first actions was to release all the convicts from the local jail and within days the convicts were rampaging through the locality looting and robbing from the local Karen, Chinese and Indian communities. The first BIA detachment, commanded by Bo Aung and Bo Myint, soon arrived in the area and, similar to BIA units in Papun, were primarily comprised of a number of young miscreants. Within days the unit had confiscated all weapons and had begun collecting money from the local villagers and government servants. In addition they also attempted to round up ex-British soldiers, mainly Karens, and under this pretext looted and stole as many possessions from the townspeople as they could. In a show of bravado the BIA arrested two Karens, supposedly on separate charges of rape and theft, and, outside the BIA Headquarters, bayoneted them to death before hacking the corpses to pieces. Such actions were hardly designed to produce trust in the local community and soon there was a state of open communal warfare as the BIA tore through the district burning down Karen villages and in response to such actions the Karens retaliated by destroying Burman villages. The victims - innocent villagers - found themselves scattered throughout the countryside living in small shelters and scavenging for food. A number of Karen leaders including Shwe Tun Gya (a Buddhist who was to become known as the Tiger of the Delta) and San Po Thin armed themselves with the intention of attacking the BIA headquarters in Myaungmya. On May 23rd, San Po Thin and 200 followers armed with 12 shotguns, five rifles, and an assortment of spears, crossbows and staves crossed into the district. San Po Thin had sent a letter to the Karen villagers asking for their support in the uprising and unfortunately the letter was intercepted by the BIA giving further impetus to any retaliatory action that would be later taken. On the morning of the 26th the attack, although well planned, failed miserably after the attackers expended what ammunition they had. While the Karen soldiers were able to retreat - the villagers in the area were not – BIA Units, panicked by the attack immediately stormed village after village in a bloodbath that would remain deeply entrenched in Karen minds today. The BIA immediately went to the Roman Catholic mission and massacred 152 men, women and children - all Karen, Anglo-Burman, and Anglo-Indian refugees. The priest Fr. Blassius, who was sick in the clergy house, was burned alive with his two helpers when the BIA deliberately set his house on fire. After burning the church they moved on to the orphanage where another priest, Fr Pascal, begged them to leave stating that there were only girls in the building, he was shot in the stomach as the girls ran upstairs to hide. The soldiers entered and shot up through the ceiling before then entering the upper rooms and cutting down the girls and sisters with dabs (machetes) another priest, Fr Gasper, was killed when he was hit with an axe from behind, the youngest victim was said to be a six month old baby, with only half a dozen girls being able to escape the carnage. The bloody rampage also continued unabated in the capital, in the Karen quarters in Shwedagon, another 52 Karen men, women and children were brutally slain including Saw Pe Tha, his English wife and three of their four children. Saw Pe Tha had been a former forestry minister, KNA leader, and colleague of Sidney Loo Nee and San C Po. Those Karens who had escaped the initial massacre soon found themselves rounded up and jailed. Two days later forty-seven Karen men were removed from jail and brutally bayoneted to death, not long after the same fate befell fifty Indians, who had long been the victims of Burman inspired communal violence, and with the emergence of the BIA found themselves fighting alongside the Karens – an act they paid dearly for. The situation was finally resolved with the arrival of the Japanese on the 14th June, the Karen were released and were given speeches by both BIA leaders and Col. Suzuki asking that the Karen desist from causing further problems after which they were allowed to return home. It is not clear how many Karens suffered during the first months of the BIA/Japanese occupation although it is believed that in Myaungmya alone over 400 villages were destroyed and there were over 1800 deaths. Images: (top) Japanese troops fighting in Burma, 1942 (bottom) Burma Independence Army (BIA) troops arrive near Tavoy, Burma in 1942 Excerpt from 'A Just Country - The Karens of Burma: History, Identity and Conflict' by Paul Keenan
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