(Saw Yannaing, Irrawaddy online magazine, May 30, 2008)
May 30 marks the fifth anniversary of the Depayin massacre, one of the most notorious incidents in recent Burmese history.
Five years after this planned attack on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, Toe Lwin still can’t forget that horrific night when junta-backed thugs blocked their convoy and went on a murderous rampage.
Protesters from the National League for Democracy shout slogans during a rally calling for the immediate release of their pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi near the Burmese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on May 30. (Photo: AP)“They blocked our vehicles. They tore clothing off of women and then beat them. They hit elderly people. I saw them collapse in front of me. I will never forget it,” said Toe Lwin, a survivor of the Depayin massacre who now lives in exile in Mae Sot, on the Thai-Burmese border.
“My duty was to protect Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I was standing beside her car for security. The attackers moved toward Daw Suu’s car, and soon there around 30 of them surrounding us. I told them it was Daw Suu’s car and asked them not to attack. I told them to stop beating people and asked them to go back.”
“Suddenly, they started to hit Daw Suu’s car. First I tried to cover it. Then they started to beat me. They hit my head three times and I collapsed. Daw Suu’s driver finally sped away and escaped,” said Toe Lwin.
There are many Burmese people who will never be able to forget the Depayin massacre, which left at least 50 people dead.
On Friday, about 300 members of Burma’s main opposition group, the National League for Democracy (NLD), gathered at the party’s office in Rangoon to mark the fifth anniversary of the brutal Depayin attack.
The massacre took place in Kyee village, on the outskirts of Depayin Township in Sagaing Division, central Burma.
Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Friday: “We held a religious ceremony at our office today. We offered food to the monks in memory of democracy supporters who died in the massacre.”
Members of the NLD in Mandalay also held a memorial ceremony in Burma’s second largest city.
The attack was launched by a pro-junta group consisting of members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Swan Ah Ashin militia, who blocked the road to prevent vehicles from escaping the ambush. They also shone floodlights from trees lining the road, which was partially covered with barbed wire.
After the massacre, police appeared and rounded up the survivors. Men and women were detained separately on the night of May 30, and some of the women were raped by the authorities, claimed witnesses.
This incident is commemorated by Burmese democracy activists around the world. Many democracy supporters in South Korea, Japan and Thailand marked the fifth anniversary of the massacre with protests.
On Friday, about 20 demonstrators gathered in front of the Burmese embassy in Seoul for more than one hour calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the Depayin massacre.
The protesters held the NLD flag, photos of Aung San Suu Kyi and signs calling for an investigation of the incident. The group also demanded that Burmese authorities take action against the perpetrators of the attack. During the demonstration, the protesters shouted “Release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.”
“Burmese authorities are worried about reprisals,” said Yan Naing Htun, one of the organizers of the Seoul protest. “If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is released, she will tell the truth. So the authorities continue to detain her.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s latest period detention began in 2003; this week, she completed five years of house arrest. She was first detained in the run-up to the 1990 parliamentary election, which the NLD won by a landslide. The military regime announced on Tuesday that Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention had been officially extended for six months, although several sources have claimed that the detention order was for one more year.