The 1964 Emergence of Zo Separatism in East Zoram

The 1964 movement began without any organization or planning and resulted from a variety of government actions and policies. One factor was that Zo members of parliament were angry with the military government of General Ne Win for dissolving parliament. This meant that their hard won seats provided no more work or income, and they were forced to be idle.

The actions of the government, especially the nationalization of banks and shops, were also being watched with suspicion by Zo politicians. The military government’s introduction of the “Burmese Way to Socialism” was seen as an attempt to turn Burma into a Communist country. When the government ordered termination of the circulation of one hundred and fifty kyat notes, the politicians of eastern Zo country could no longer accept the government’s activities. They believed that Communism meant natonalization of land and houses, and even of pigs and chickens. It was also understood that under Communism the government would introduce forced

sonkhopauIndividuals then started to begin their own resistance movements without consultation with others who might also have an interest in overthrowing the military government. Among those who started alone were Ex-Lieutenant Colonel Sonkhopau, Damkhohau and Mangkhanpau. There actions preceded a larger nationalistic movement. Soon the leaders of the Chin National Organization, which was banned by the government, followed suit, and former members of the Stable AFPFL also became involved in antigovernmental activities.

Sonkhopau, one of the first initiators of action against the government, joined the British Burma Army in his early youth. He was selected to be a member of General Wingate’s Penetration force and was dropped behind Japanese lines in Burma. After the second World War Sonkhopau rose rapidly in rank to become commanding officer of the Second Chin Rifles, a Lieutenant Colonel at the age of twenty six.

His career in the Burma Army was very short lived however. He was very straightforward and honest, and he did not understand politics. His problem started when he served under the command of Brigadier Kyaw Zaw. Kyaw Zaw along with many Burmese high ranking officers, including Generals Aung San and Ne Win, were political appointees rather than professional soldiers.

Lt. Colonel Sonkhopau was assigned to capture Thakin Than Tun, the most wanted man in Burma and leader of the Communist underground movement. Than Tun went underground after having political differences with his brother-in-law General Aung San, and his organization was so strong that the Rangoon government was at one time ready to hand over, its power to it.

When the Burma Army received news that Thakin Than Tun and other Communist leaders were in Prome they ordered the Second Chin Rifles to attack and capture the Communist leaders. Sonkhopau was immediately ready to proceed to Prome, but Brigadier Kyaw Zaw, his superior, ordered him to wait several days until reinforcements could come. When the Zo soldiers were finally ordered to attack Prome the Communists had disappeared. This incident was not the first time that Brigadier Kyaw Zaw had prevented Sonkhopau from capturing the Communist leaders. As a result Lt. Col. Sonkhopau suspected that Kyaw Zaw was helping the Communists. In a letter to the war office in Rangoon he accused Brigadier Kyaw Zaw of helping and giving assistance to the Communists and also mentioned the incident at Prome. The army immediately dismissed Sonkhopau from duty without any pensions or benefits. There were two reasons : (1) Army law prohibits a soldier from denouncing his superior. (2) The commanding officers of the Burma Army wanted to expand the army, and to obtain necessary financial backing from the government the army could not allow themselves to be without enemies.

The higher ranking officers’ promotions depended on the strength of the insurgency, and thus Sonkhopau could not be allowed to .wipesout Than Tun and his communist allies. Lt. Col. Sonkhopau was therefore bitter against the army, especially when some years later the army refused to reinstall him to his old rank after they had discharged Brigadier Kyaw Zaw because of the Prome incident.

Thus when the Burma Army took power Sonkhopau decided to oppose and overthrow the military government and build a free independent Zo state. To start he and a few followers proceeded to Nagaland to meet leaders of the Naga National Council. He expected to gain support from the Naga leaders as they recognized him as a reliable friend and one who had given assistance to the Naga leader Angami Phizo when he was hunted by Burma Police in the early 1950s.

Damkhohau was another leader of the Zo 1964 uprising. He was the son of Ngullang, who had been a prominent communal politician in Tedim. Ngullang had been responsible for the opening of Tedim High School after the war, and he lead the Church and other organizations. Politics was no new ground for Damkhohau as his political activities had begun when U Nu brought the state religion issue into Burmese politics. At that time Damkhohau had been in his final year at Rangoon University and had participated when non-Burmese students formed an organization to fight against the introduction of Buddhism as the state religion. Damkhohau was elected Chairman of the organization, and Zau Seng from Kachinland was General Secretary.

In 1964 Damkhohau was working as a teacher in Zo country and forming an organization with the idea of liberating Burma from the military. Damkhohau, unlike Sonkhopau, wanted a democratic Burma and he had no intention of separating the states.

Mangkhanpau, a former circle chairman from the Yo area in north Tedim, began his movement against the military dictatorship by conferring with Burmese political leaders such as U Kyaw Nyein and Ex-Brigadier Aung Gyi—who were known to disagree with the policies of General Ne Win. Mangkhanpau also went to the British and American Embassies asking for aid, and he went to India to see officials of the Indian Government. Then he met with Yo tribesmen from Manipur and agreed with them to oppose both the Burman and Indian governments.

In the mid-60s some former East Zoram members of the Burma parliament openly voiced their resentment against the government. They were Ralhmung, a former minister of Zo affairs in Burma; Rothang,-a. former member of Parliament and Hmunhre, a member of the stable AFPFL.

The best organized anti-government movement was the Chin National Organization under the leadership of Hrangnawl and Soncinlian, both former members of parliament.

Soncinlian was born in Tedim and lost his father very early in life. As a teenager he continued his father’s contracting business and carried it out so successfully that he was a respectable businessman in Tedim in his early twenties. When the Chin National Organization was formed in 1957 he was one of the founding fathers. He contested the 1960 general election for a seat in the Chamber of Nationalities, and he beat all the pro- Burmese Party, Clean AFPFL and Stable AFPFL candidates. In Rangoon he was elected Chairman of the Zo Affairs Council and served in that position until the military dissolved parliament in 1962.

Hrangnawl was born at Thlantlang in 1934. He was interested in politics at an very early age, and in 1956, at age twenty-one, he was elected to parliament. He contested the seat as an independent candidate on a political platform that demanded an autonomous state within Burma. He later admitted that, similar to all other Zo politicians, he did not know what to do with Zo country other than that. Hrangnawl was disqualified by the court in the 1960 general election but got himself elected in a bye election.

The returns of the 1960 general election resulted in a stalemate. The CNO had three members; the Clean AFPFL had five members, and the Stable AFPFL had five members, so none could build a Zo government. The GNO attempted a coalition with the Stable AFPFL because they did not want to have Zahrelian as a partner, but U Nu, the Prime Minister was not favourable to a non- AFPFL (clean) minister in his cabinet. Thus Hrangnawl acted as a go-between between the two seasoned politicians Zahrelian and Captain Mangtungnung.

The job was not easy however, as Zahrelian and Captain Mangtungung did not like each other. rangnawl first went in secrecy to Zahrelian and told him that if he fulfilled Hrangnawl’s conditions Hrangnawl would make him minister for Zo affairs. Hrangnawl’s conditions were : (1) All positions in the Zo ministry were to be filled by CNO members, except the post of minister. (2) Zahrelian was to contact Captain Mangtungnung with cautious respect. (Their earlier relationship had been one of arrogance and contempt.)

Zahrelian was willing to fulfill the conditions, and when he called Mangtungnung and talked for a few minutes Mangtungnung agreed to work with him. The role played by Hrangnawl was never revealed to Mangtungnung. During his tenure as a member of parliament there was little that Hrangnawl could do to improve living conditions of Zo people, as every project was tightly held in the hands of the Burmans. Hrangnawl was involved only in changing some Zo laws. In early 1964 Hrangnawl organjzed a secret mission to Rangoon and approached the Embassies of the U.S., Great Britain and India. Although the embassies were very sympathetic to the ideas of Burma returning to civilian rule and better treatment of Zo by the Burmese government they did not promise any assistance. Hrangnawl reasoned with the British Embassy that it was the British who brought all the difficulties, and most importantly of all, that the British had torn the Zo people apart. The British showed their sympathy and that was all. At the American Embassy the CIA representative promised Hrangnawl that he would look into buying arms from international arms smugglers and ask them to accept Burmese currency.

When Hrangnawl-returned to Haka his movements were traced by the police because his activities had been leaked to the civil administration. The Sub-divisional Officer Runroth’anga told Hrangnawl that he knew that he was in the process of organizing an anti-government movement, and that from that day on he should regard himself arrested. Runrothanga could not put him in jail immediately because of the absence of the police commissioner, but he was put under house arrest and was not allowed outside the town of Haka. During this period Hrangnawl walked 42 miles one night to Falam to see Zahrelian. When Hrangnawl explained his activities, which had been coordinated with Soncinlian from” Tedim, Zahrelian was very interested; He declined to go underground however as His primary concern was raising his children. He did promise his assistance should the freedom movement need his help and said they should contact him through Nozam, a former aid and MP.

In the meantime Soncinilian and Thualzen, a former army sergeant, had organized the nationalist movement in Tedim. There they were overwhelmingly supported by the youth who envisioned a sovereign Zo state.

The organization spread quickly to areas outside the town itself and also reached Zo areas in Manipur. Soncinlian received news that the Manipur Rifles were to change their uniforms and fight alongside the freedom fighters, and that a high ranking officer of the Manipur Rifles was preparing tactics to be used. Events moved fast. A military government order to arrest all suspicious persons in the Chin Special Division was leaked to the – resistance movements, and the politicians, had no alternative but to go into hiding. Ralhmung, Hmunhre and Rothang went to Shillong from where they contacted the Indian and Assam governments. Hrangnawl and his followers went to Tuisan camp which had been organized by the Soncinlian- Thualzen group. Situated in a valley the camp was not satisfactory as a querilla base, but the movement, which was called the Anti-Communist Freedom League, used it as headquarters. They had one Sten gun and ten rifles. Damkhohau was also at the camp.

From Tuisan camp,’which was at the Burma-India border, the movement learned the true facts about aid from the Manipur Rifles. The Paite Natiortial Council was indeed ready to help the movement, but it did not have control over the Manipur Rifles. The stories heard earlier meant only that Zo soldiers in the Manipur Rifles might change their uniforms to fight for a free Zo movement. From Tuisan camp Hrangnawl went to India to see Indian officials. In New Delhi the Indian officials, assured him that all politicians would be given sanctuary. They were however to refrain from political activities, and they were to stay in the 25 mile border zone so as not to embarrass India’s relationship with Burma. As long as all the conditions were fulfilled the Indian government would give them financial assistance.

Hrangnawl then went to Shillong to meet with officials-of the Assam state government. The Assam officials, however, saw only Ralhmung, Hmunhre and Rothang. They were asked to go to Aizawl where they received living allowances equal to the pay of Indian MPs.

Rothang, who contested the general election as an AFPFL member, went to Champai with Hrangnawl and met other leaders of the nationalist movement. Soncinlian also decided to go to New Delhi and meet Indian authorities. When Soncinlian met with the Indian officials they wanted the leaders of the movement to name one man with whom they could deal. Soncinlian went back to Champhai and suggested that the nationalists elect a leader. Soncinlian himself was over whelmingly endorsed, but he refused because he did not speak English fluently and he had no experience in guerilla warfare. Instead he proposed Hrangnawl as the leader because Hrangnawl had studied guerilla warfare and spoke English and many Zo dialects fluently. As a result Hrangnawl was selected as leader of the group.

Click here to read page 2

One thought on “The 1964 Emergence of Zo Separatism in East Zoram

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s