U Thant, UNSG

Brief Bio

  • He had excellent communication skills (reading, writing, speaking).
  • He won essay and translation contests.
  • His mother requested him to study only for two years at the University of Rangoon and then return home and work.
  • He became a Saya at the Pantanaw National School.
    For accreditation requirements of the school, he requested help from U Nu (who was a Principal)
  • Later, U Nu (leader of AFPFL and Prime Minister) asked U Thant to help the party and the government in various capacities.
  • U Thant succeeded Mr. James Barrington (ICS, RUBC Gold) as the Permanent Secretary of the Burmese Delegation to the United Nations.
    The post would later be called “Myanmar Ambassador to the United Nations”.

UNSG (United Nations Secretary General)

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  • Daj Hammerjold, the second United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) perished in an air crash during a UN mission.
  • In trying to find a successor to Hammerjold, the two super powers USA and USSR could not agree.
  • USSR refused to accept USA’s candidate.
  • USA refused to accept USSR’s proposal of Troika (a three member committee from each of the Three Blocs).
  • They agreed to have U Thant (who hailed from Burma, a co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement) as the Interim UNSG.
  • The General Assembly later ratified him as the third UNSG.
  • U Thant became the first Asian UNSG.
  • U Thant retired after serving two terms as UNSG.

Post retirement

  • After retirement, U Thant started writing his memoirs but was interrupted by failing health.
  • His younger brother U Thaung was by his side in the final days, and helped bring U Thant’s body home.
  • The higher authorities were told explicitly or implicitly not to pay respect to U Thant’s body.
  • The Deputy Minister who paid respect to U Thant was dismissed effective immediately.
  • Most people expected a decent ceremony (if not a State Funeral befitting the Head of the World Organization), but they learned that U Thant’s body was to be placed at the Kyandaw Cemetery.
  • This led students to take U Thant’s body to the Main Campus and and make it a temporary (may be final) resting place for U Thant.
  • Details can be read in the book by Htein Win (Dat Pone).
  • There were three dissenting votes by the student representatives for the higher authorities’ proposal to have U Thant buried in the Mausoleum (in Cantonment Park), and they lost by 8-3 margin.
  • The dark moments resulted in students being jailed or debarred, and some having to wait more months for their graduation ceremony.
    A few never had a chance to graduate.
  • One participant had already distributed invitation for the wedding, but ended with the loss of his freedom for a few years and his love.
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  • Htein Win Sar Pay published a book about the “U Thant Ah Yay Ah Khin”.
  • The book contains rare photos (most of them recovered from an archive overseas).
    Many photos (that were in Burma) were destroyed “out of fear” for harassment / punishment.
  • Met Ko Htain Win at the 5th ILF (Irrawaddy Literary Festival) in Mandalay in November, 2019.
    He was promoting another book 8-8-88.

U Khin Maung Zaw (EC76) wrote :

The sad thing I discovered at my last visit to Myanmar in Nov/Dec 2018 was that the tomb of U Thant has been closed and in disrepair. The entrance was padlocked, the compound was unkempt.

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Ko Tin Maung Thant

  • Ko Tin Maung Thant (“Ah Pho Gyi”, U Thant’s son) was my sister’s classmate at the Private Primary Boundary Road School (PPBRS).
  • He left the school to join his father (then Permanent Secretary of the Burmese Delegation to the United Nations).
  • Sadly, he passed away unexpectedly during his visit to Burma in 1962.
  • His funeral service was grander than that of Commodore Than Pe (Minister of Health and Education), the first member of the 17-man Revolutionary Council to pass away.

Centennial Birthday

At the Centennial Birthday Celebration for U Thant held a few years back in the San Francisco Bay Area a few years back, I was a guest speaker.

Categories: Pioneer

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