U Nu

(1907—1995) prime minister of Burma

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(b. Wakema, 25 May 1907; d. Rangoon, 1995)

Burmese; Prime Minister 1947–56, 1957–8, 1960–2 Born in the Irrawaddy Delta town of Wakema in British Burma, U Nu was the son of a small shopkeeper. Educated at Rangoon University, where he became involved in student and nationalist politics, he was closely associated with the major political movements of the country until ousted from office in 1962 in a military coup led by General Ne Win.

A leading figure in the Thakin or Do Bama (We Burmese) nationalist movement of the late 1930s, he was chosen by Dr Ba Maw to serve as Foreign Minister in his Japanese-sponsored government in 1942. Having to abandon politics for a career as an author in 1945 when Britain resumed control of the colony, Nu was made Deputy Chairman of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), the popular organization with which Britain subsequently negotiated Burma's independence. On the assassination of General Aung San in 1947, Nu assumed the deputy chairmanship, effectively the prime ministership, on the eve of independence in January 1948.

Immediately the country was plunged into civil war between Nu's anti-Communist, neutralist government and a variety of Communist and ethnically-designated separatist and revolutionary groups. Dependent on the army under General Ne Win for support in the areas of greatest conflict, his government rested on support from various AFPFL political barons and local bosses in the parliament. Disgusted with their squabbling for spoils, Nu resigned in 1956 to ‘clean up the party’. Resuming office in 1958, the AFPFL soon split between his ‘Clean’ and the two Deputy Prime Ministers' ‘Stable’ faction. This was the opening for an eighteen-month military ‘caretaker government’ under General Ne Win.

Though winning re-election in 1960, Nu was ousted in a coup by Ne Win in 1962. Attempting a comeback with the support of armed insurgents along the border with Thailand in the 1960s, Nu eventually slipped from political view, except for a brief resurgence at the time of the collapse of Ne Win's socialist regime in 1988. A devout Buddhist, Nu's years in government were noted for his attempts to bridge the gulf between the West and China at the height of the Cold War. While never a member of the Socialist Party, which formed the intellectual core of his governments, he advocated a set of political ideas which attempted to meld Theravada Buddhist and socialist concepts. His last major project, after accepting a pension from General Ne Win, was to embark on a major translation of Buddhist texts into English.

His autobiography, U Nu: Saturday's Son (1975), written in the third person by a fictitious nephew, provides a candid insight into his life.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Politics.

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