Let Them Finish What They Started
By KYAW ZWA MOE Monday, August 8, 2011


We marched out of the campus in the afternoon drizzle—dozens of students, each wearing a white shirt and a green sarong (the Burmese high school uniform), none holding an umbrella and all singing kabar ma kye, the national anthem.

Everything appeared calm until an army personnel truck approached and stopped nearby. Then soldiers wearing red cloth around their necks (a symbol of Burmese commandos) filed out and confronted us with the stainless steel bayonets of their G3 assault rifles. Each commando had their index finger on the trigger, as if he were facing off with guerrilla fighters in the jungle.

All of us dispersed and ran, some trying to hide in neighboring houses. The soldiers saw one student had covered his face with a scarf, and chased him because they thought he was the leader. When they seized the student and were about to take him away, I stepped out and told a captain that he was just a young, 8th grade boy.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

The captain gave me a stern glance and said nothing. I insisted again they let him go, and this time a soldier stepped in and pointed his sharpened bayonet at my chest.

“Shut up!” he said. “You wanna die.”

This was Aug. 7, 1988—one day before the Aug. 8, 1988 nationwide protest that has since became known, poignantly, as 8.8.88.

On that day, 23 years ago today, thousands of students from our school, once again wearing our white and green uniforms, joined the demonstrations. And after having marched for a couple of miles towards downtown Rangoon, we once again confronted troops.

The soldiers knelt on the paved road and pointed their G3s at us, while armored vehicles and army personnel trucks raced their engines behind. Using a loud speaker, an officer addressed the protesters and told us that we had 15 minutes to reverse direction and disperse. Time passed; we stood our ground.

Then gunfire erupted. Everyone ran, and I heard panicked colleagues yelling that students had been hit, but I had no time to look back over my shoulder when bullets were flying over my head. After finding a safe place to hide, I looked down to see that I was still holding my school book bag.

On 8.8.88 and the days that followed, bullets fired by regime troops cut down protesters in Rangoon and other cities across Burma. Prime targets were university and high school students leading columns of people calling for democracy, and the blood of those young, brave students stained the streets throughout Burma. In total, at least 3,000 demonstrators died during the uprising.

No political leaders organized the protests. No one saw Burma's first prime minister, U Nu, or other political figures such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Shwe, on the streets at the time. Neither did they see the leaders of any of today's political parties, nor any current member of Parliament who now sits in the shiny new building in Naypyidaw.

The movement that unseated Gen Ne Win's socialist regime, which had ruled the country with an iron fist for 26 years, was led by student leaders like Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeya and Htay Kywe.

Prior to 1988, past generations of Burmese students had unsuccessfully attempted to resist Ne Win's regime—which had removed U Nu from power in a bloody coup in 1962 and a short time later dynamited the historic Student Union building at Rangoon University.

In 1969, U Nu fled to Thailand and the following year launched a revolutionary movement against Ne Win's regime by setting up the Parliamentary Democracy Party and forming a militia, but his plan failed and he later returned to Burma. In 1974 and 1976, significant strikes were organized by students and workers, but they were crushed by the junta and the movement took years to bounce back.

However, the 1988 student movement succeeded, at least initially, where the others had failed. Although the military seized power again in Sept. 1988 and crushed the demonstrations, the new regime promised to hold a free and fair election to restore a system of parliamentary democracy. In addition, U Nu and other veteran politicians became involved in politics once again, and parties were officially registered.

When Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in the 1990 election, it appeared that Burma's nearly three decades of authoritarian rule was in the rear-view mirror.

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Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Wasn't Brigadier Aung Gyi (co founder of NLD)a servant of Fargaung ShuMaung? Was he not a party to treason against the people of Burma, against the democratically elected government of U Nu? Fargaung ShuMaung, instead of staging the military coup, should have protected U Nu's government against internal rebellion.

Did AungGyi become co-founder of NLD becaue of opportunism?
Come on people. Stop sympathising turn-coat traitors. Be consistent.Think logically. AungGyi thought he was on the winning side, assisted by ex-coloniser. What a joke!

Zaw Min Wrote:
I hope people remember or recall the role played by former Brigadier Aung Gyi (co founder of NLD) and small group of former officials in exposing the situation of the country to the people and thus to the world in late 1987 and early 1988 prior to 8-8-88.

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