Wednesday, February 10, 2010

U Thant(1909-1974)

U Thant(January 22, 1909 – November 25, 1974) was a Burmese diplomat and the third secretary-general of the United Nations, from 1961 to 1971. He was chosen for the post when his predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, died in September 1961.

"U" is an honorific in Burmese, roughly equal to "mister." "Thant" was his only name. In Burmese he was known as Pantanaw U Thant, in reference to his home town of Pantanaw.

U Thant Early Life
Thant was born in Pantanaw, Lower Burma, and was educated at the National High School in Pantanaw and at University College, Rangoon, where he studied history. He was the eldest of four sons and was born into a family of well-to-do landowners and rice merchants. His father, Po Hnit, who came "from a mixed background, with both Muslim and Buddhist forebears," had helped establish The Sun (Thuriya) newspaper in Rangoon. He was also a founding member of the Burma Research Society. His father died when Thant was 14, and a series of inheritance disputes forced Thant's mother, Nan Thaung, and her four children into difficult financial times.

After university Thant returned to Pantanaw to teach at the National School and had become its headmaster by the age of 25. During this time he became close friends with future prime minister U Nu, who was from neighbouring Maubin and was the local superintendent of schools. Thant regularly contributed to several newspapers and magazines under the pen name "Thilawa" and translated a number of books, including one on the League of Nations. U Thant was a devout Buddhist.

U Thant for Burma
When U Nu became the prime minister of the newly independent Burma, he asked Thant to join him in Rangoon and appointed him director of broadcasting in 1948. In the following year he was appointed secretary to the government of Burma in the Ministry of Information. From 1951 to 1957, Thant was secretary to the prime minister, writing speeches for U Nu, arranging his foreign travel, and meeting foreign visitors. During this entire period, he was U Nu's closest confidant and advisor.

He also took part in a number of international conferences and was the secretary of the first Asian-African summit in 1955 at Bandung, Indonesia, which gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement. From 1957 to 1961, he was Burma's permanent representative to the United Nations and became actively involved in negotiations over Algerian independence. In 1961, the Burmese government awarded him the title Maha Thray Sithu as a commander in the order of Pyidaungsu Sithu

U Thant in United Nation

U Thant began serving as acting Secretary-General from November 3, 1961, when he was unanimously appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council in Resolution 167, to fill the unexpired term of Dag Hammarskjöld. He was then unanimously appointed secretary-general by the General Assembly on November 30, 1962, for a term of office ending on November 3, 1966. During this first term he was widely credited for his role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and for ending the civil war in the Congo. He also said that he wanted to ease tensions between major powers while serving at the UN.

U Thant died of lung cancer in New York on November 25, 1974. By that time Burma was ruled by a military junta which refused him any honors. The then Burmese president Ne Win was envious of U Thant's international stature and the respect that was accorded him by the Burmese populace. Ne Win also resented U Thant's close links with the democratic government of U Nu which Ne Win had overthrown in a coup d'etat on March 2, 1962. Ne Win ordered that U Thant be buried without any official involvement or ceremony.

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