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By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.3

(Page 5 of 11)

Once again, Min Ko Naing called on people to be strong:

"World history has shown that people with strong spirit, unity, courage and discipline can bring down authoritarian governments. We believe in people power. Without your participation, we can achieve nothing."

On August 26, Min Ko Naing and other activists arranged for students in Rangoon to listen to Aung San Suu Kyi’s first public speech. Several hundred thousand people went to Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma’s most famous sacred shrine, to hear her speak.

On August 28, Burma’s first student congress in 26 years was held on the RASU campus. Thousands of students, veteran politicians and former student activists from the 1960s came to celebrate the official reestablishment of the ABFSU, with Min Ko Naing as its leader. Prominent leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, sent congratulatory messages.

At the students’ conference, Min Ko Naing read one of his poems, entitled "Faith," in which he promised that he would be faithful and committed to the people’s struggle, which he regarded as a fight for the truth. He took an oath that out of respect for those who had died before him, he would continue the fight until democracy and human rights were restored. When he finished, the crowd applauded ecstatically.

At that time, transportation and communication had come to a complete halt, and the MIS was trying to create anarchy by releasing criminals from the prisons. The various pro-democracy groups that had begun to form organizing centers around government buildings such as police stations, schools, and universities dealt with this situation in a very orderly manner. They distributed rice to those in need and provided small amounts of money to the poor and to released prisoners to prevent looting. When mobs gathered to attack looters or suspected informers, members of the ABFSU always arrived to calm down and disperse the crowd. The ABFSU also reorganized communications and transportation and encouraged people to form local security teams together with monks and other respectable people.

Arrest by the Slorc

On September 4, Min Ko Naing met with US congressman Stephen J. Solarz, who was visiting Burma to meet with top political leaders in order to assess the situation. Min Ko Naing told Solarz that the military had not responded to the people’s demand for an interim government, and that whether the situation became explosive or not depended on the military.

On September 18, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was formed following another bloody crackdown. A curfew was imposed and gatherings of more than five people were declared illegal. However, the junta promised that it would only stay in power until multi-party elections could be held.

Min Ko Naing did not dare show himself in public for several months. Then, in December 1988, Daw Khin Kyi, the mother of Aung San Suu Kyi, passed away and about 200,000 people gathered to pay their last respects. Despite the dignified solemnity of the occasion, military trucks appeared on the Prome Road to block the procession following Daw Khin Kyi’s coffin. Then Min Ko Naing suddenly appeared in the middle of the crowd, and appealed to the troops to let the people pass. Finally, the troops withdrew.

Min Ko Naing’s last public speech was given exactly one year after his first, on March 16, 1989. Thousands had gathered in the compound of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house to mark the first anniversary of the student massacre that ignited nationwide protests. Min Ko Naing’s speech criticized Ne Win and the junta for that massacre and all the others that were to follow in 1988.

On March 23, 1989, Min Ko Naing was arrested, amidst tightened security throughout Rangoon in anticipation of protests to mark Armed Forces Day on March 27. It was an important signal to other leaders that nobody was safe from arrest and imprisonment. Within days, Aung San Suu Kyi and several others were also arrested.

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