The Cabinet meeting room, where Aung San and his ministers were gunned down 19 Juli 1947

Revisiting the killing of Burma’s Aung San and his dream

Rangoon, March 2019. It is with a chilling feeling that I try to take in all the details of the room in through the dirty glass doors. A rusty padlock prevents me from entering. Dozens of bullit holes can still be seen in the walls.  This is where the four assassins in green army uniforms struck 19 July 1947, at 10:37 a.m., armed with British stenguns.  Seconds later, Burma’s independence hero Aung San’s body was on the floor riddled with specially made dum-dum bullits, designed to ensure a kill.

Around Aung San were the bodies of six cabinet members of the Burmese government and the secretary.  A few meters outside the cabinet meeting room, lay the body of Aung San’s lone bodyguard, who had tried to stop the assassins.  Still today, he is honored with a photo copy of his photo and his name.

Aung San and his cabinet had met that fateful morning to discuss the multitude of challenges facing the new interim government of Burma, only a few months after the British colonial empire had started falling apart. The meeting took place at the enormous Secretariat, built to accommodate the British colonial administration in Burma’s capital Rangoon.   Considering the tensions in post colonial Burma, it is unbelievable that there was virtually no protective measures at the headquarters of the new Government, except for a single body guard.


Aung San’s body guard honored on the wall on the spot where he was found dead.

The three assassins made their way with no resistance except for the lone bodyguard.  “They just ran up the stairs and stormed into the cabinet room, a few minutes later they left the same way they came in. A jeep was waiting for them downstairs and they just drove away,” I am told by a renovation project manager, who has offered to show us around in the vast building complex.

After decades of neglect and closure to the public,  private investors have been allowed to restore the Secretariat.  From the outside it looks nearly complete, repainted in its original beauty of splendid yellow and red colors.  Workers in flip flops are sweating, while they install an enormous clock (made in Japan) where the original British time piece used to be on the top floor of the entrance building.


The Secretariat is being restored to former glory by private investors.

The interior tells a different story.  Hundreds and hundreds of bigger and smaller rooms and the connecting hallways look like they are beyond repair. Endless meters of decay.   There must be a two digit billion USD expense waiting for the investors there.  A single staircase is coming close to completion. It gives me some idea, how beautiful the end result will be, if the investment funds do not dry out.


It is unclear, exactly how the investors plan to ensure their profits.  Cafés, restaurants and shops are mentioned, but there are no real investment prospects, only rumors.

Then again, the Secretariat has been all about rumors, ever since the massacre in 1947.  The presumed assassins were arrested the same day in the villa of U Saw, Aung San’s fierce political rival. U Saw himself was arrested as well, while he was having a whisky in his splendid home at the Inya lake.  Less than a year later, U Saw and his alleged co-conspirators were tried and executed by hanging.


Aung San and U Saw (with sunglasses) celebrating Burma’s independence, a few months before the massacre.

It has been argued for decades that the massacre in fact was the murder of an entire nation in the making, and that British military intelligence master minded the killings to prevent Aung San and his allies from establishing a socialist Burma.

It is well documented that the assassins were using British weapons, reportedly stolen from a break-in into a British munitions depot.  However, it was soon disclosed that two British senior officers had been involved in large scale supplies of weapons to U Saw and his allies.  It is inconceivable that the officers acted on their own.  They both escaped from Burma along with a senior British diplomat,  who allegedly was involved on the ground as well.


The last photo of Aung San and his family. Aung San Suu Kyi is in front as a 2 year old. Her foster mother Ma Than E gave the photo to me, when I interviewed her in 1991.

If Burma indeed became a victim of a British destabilisation attempt, it was very succesful.  During the first few months of indepence, Aung San had managed to sign peace treaties with the most important ethnic minorities.  His death plunged Burma into a renewed bloody chaos, which has marred Burma ever since – and sadly enough also now destroying the international reputation of Aung San’s  daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, once a rock star Nobel laureate.

Now Suu Kyi has become a paria being shunned by her former international supporters, who sees her as a silent accomplice to the violent persecution of the muslim Rohingya’s in present day Burma – this tragedy is yet another legacy of the British empire.


The victims of the massacre in The Secretariat.