Archive: Eyewitness Account of Burmas Depayin Massacre

June 2, 2003—Video footage of protesters from the National League for Democracy (NLD) parading in the streets around the time of the Depayin violence. Photo: AFP

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2003—A pro-government activist paid to take part in a May 30 attack on the convoy of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in northern Burma has revealed that as many as 100 people were killed and an unknown number of women raped in a series of government-led atrocities in the area.

In testimony recorded for RFA's Burmese service, the man has described a well-planned terror operation by the junta against its own people, including a carefully orchestrated cover-up to conceal the number of dead.

"At midnight, [local junta official] Ko Tin Nyunt came to houses in [Kyi and Yitthay villages] and hired men to shovel... In [an abandoned irrigation department compound called] Sei Myaung Wun, they dug holes between the buildings’ foundations," said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Later they brought the bodies, maybe 100 there, including people who were alive with serious injuries."

Locals hired to dig mass graves

The men filled roughly one dozen burial sites inside the compound, each containing three to four bodies—although medical officers, police, military intelligence personnel, and firefighters told villagers to sign affidavits saying that only four people had been killed.

On May 31, under supervision of Depayin Township Police Commissioner Than Win, the villagers exhumed four bodies, washed their faces and photographed them, then buried them again.

According to several sources, scores of bodies were delivered to a crematorium in Monywar Industrial Zone and cremated over two nights, June 1-2.

RFA has confirmed the existence of a crematorium in Monywar Industrial Zone but—unlike other elements of this report—was unable to independently corroborate that it was used on those nights to cremate people who died in the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi’s convoy.

He heard women crying for help. The doors were closed, and nobody was able to escape.

While the number of dead cannot be independently verified, opposition supporters who witnessed the worst of the attacks in floodlights near the Ywarthit Bridge, near Depayin Township in the north of the country, say at least 100 people were beaten to death by government gangs in the area.

Then deputy home minister Brigadier Gen. Thura Myint Maung and chairman of the junta’s district branch Lt. Col. Myint Lwin met May 31 at the Sei Myaung Wun compound with other officials, the man said.

Myint Maung instructed everyone present to relate the events of May 30 as a brawl between supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi and supporters of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), with authorities stepping in to restore order.

Attackers forced to back government story

Myint Maung was promoted Aug. 25 to minister of religious affairs.

"We, the civilian staff, were forced to attend briefings by the authorities. They read out the government press conference as covered in the newspaper. We were told that four people had been killed and 50 injured, and they asked us to sign forms testifying to this," said the pro-government activist, a member of the government-led Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

The government activist who recorded his testimony for RFA said he had been recruited to carry out the attacks and that he had agreed for fear of being denounced as an opposition supporter.

"The training we got was very simple. Stand firmly at the position we were assigned, one step forward and beat anyone who came within our reach, and step back," he said.

Screams of women heard from warehouse

"Since many people were positioned everywhere, there wouldn’t be any way to escape from the attack," he said, adding that a number of men dressed to look like Buddhist monks attended the training sessions.

He described how men and women were detained separately on the night of May 30 in storage halls in the abandoned Sei Myaung Wun compound. "Many women were raped by authorities in the hall. I learned from a friend who was in the next room on duty and secretly watched these horrible events. He said it was unfair and atrocious, but he could do nothing to help."

"He heard women crying for help. The doors were closed, and nobody was able to escape," he said. "There were a lot of missing persons around our area. We, the whole town, knew that it was a premeditated attack. But the authorities are trying to cover it up by arresting and killing those who witnessed it."

Officers with the rank of major instructed two cars to collide with Aung San Suu Kyi's car--they tried to kill her this way.

The commander of the Northwest Military Division Command arrived in Depayin Township at about 9 p.m. on May 30 and told subordinates to clear away all evidence of the attack during the night, he said.

Attempt to smash Aung San Suu Kyi's car

"The deputy home minister and the divisional commander were in Monywar Township before Aung San Suu Kyi arrived, and they monitored the situation very closely," he said.

Witnesses agree that government officials arrived in the area many days before the attack on the National League for Democracy (NLD) convoy, commandeering a local school and 50-60 trucks and vans from the local population.

They also commissioned local carpenters to make bamboo spikes, iron spikes, and other homemade weapons, which were issued to the attackers.

All USDA members in the area were ordered to congregate at the No. 1 State High School in Depayin Township no later than May 27, where they were provided with training and free food. They were paid on May 30.

Dinner was withheld on May 30, however, until after the ambush, "so these people were hungry and more impatient and mad," the USDA member reported.

"Officers with the rank of major instructed two cars [by walkie-talkie] to collide with Aung San Suu Kyi's car—they tried to kill her this way," he said.

The USDA member said Aung San Suu Kyi's car initially escaped the ambush in scenes reminiscent of a Hong Kong action movie. But her driver was finally stymied by a train blocking a railway crossing outside Ye Oo Township a few miles from Depayin.

The junta has kept Aung San Suu Kyi in detention since the Depayin attacks, drawing widespread international condemnation. The SPDC has repeatedly characterized the attacks as a brawl between NLD and anti-opposition supporters, with police trying to stop the conflict.


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