‘I am devastated.’ Burmese parents’ horror at burning death of sons

The parents talk to RFA about a video of the ‘cruel and brutal killing’ that appeared on social media.
By Soe San Aung for RFA Burmese
2024.02.17
‘I am devastated.’ Burmese parents’ horror at burning death of sons Phoe Tay, left, and Thar Htaung were captured in November during fighting between pro-Myanmar junta forces and resistance fighters at Myauk Khin Yan village in Magway region.
(Provided by family)

Earlier this month, a video of the burning deaths of two anti-junta fighters was widely viewed by Burmese people on social media.

Phoe Tay, 23, and Thar Htaung, 22, were captured Nov. 7, 2023, in fighting between pro-junta forces and resistance fighters at Myauk Khin Yan village in Magway region’s Gangaw township.  

The video showed them in shackles as they were interrogated by armed men. They were then dragged to a nearby tree where they were suspended as a fire was set underneath them. The two young men screamed as flames rose up and engulfed them.

The video was taken by a villager who fled the area in December, according to a local official from the administration of the shadow National Unity Government. It’s unclear who first posted the video that began circulating in early February.

Phoe Tay’s father, Myint Zaw, told Radio Free Asia last week that he was aware of his son’s death but had not seen the video.

Edited transcripts of RFA’s interviews with Myint Zaw and the parents of Thar Htaung – Ye San and Soe Linn – are below.

Interview with Myint Zaw

RFA: We watched the video of the burning alive of two youth People’s Defense Force fighters – Phoe Tay and Thar Htaung. Myint Zaw, what would you like to say first?

Myint Zaw: When Phoe Tay died in action, it was immediately posted online. Yes, it is Phoe Tay, my son. He is gone. His life as a human is over. 

I learned that he was beaten on the head, beaten on the knees. In one photo, he was on his knees. That image is still springing to my mind. The image is still in my phone. 

After that, I didn’t know how he was killed. We could not retrieve the body. Nobody could go there because Myauk Khin Yan is a stronghold village of the pro-junta Pyu Saw Htee militias. 

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Phoe Tay’s father says his son joined the resistance after the 2021 coup. (Provided by family)

RFA: You saw photos from just before the burning. Did you watch the video of them being burned alive? What did you hear about this video?

Myint Zaw: I haven’t watched it. But there are reports about it, and many people are talking about it. My phone is not available for such things because of poor internet connections. 

His friends in the village are horrified by it. “Is it true? They really did that?” People are deeply hurt. They cannot accept such an act. Many people are talking about it. 

I heard that they dragged him by tying a rope around his neck and that they burned him alive. So, I’ll never forgive the perpetrators.

RFA: Please tell us about Phoe Tay. What was his education?    

Myint Zaw: My son, Phoe Tay, is also known as Myo Htet Aung – that was his school registration name. Before the coup, under the National League for Democracy government, he sat for the matriculation exam. Two months after the 2021 coup, when the exam results were announced, he passed with two distinctions.

RFA: We learned that he joined the Yaw Defense Force. Why did he join the YDF?    

Myint Zaw: When the 2021 coup d’état took place, he was in a jade mine in Hkamti, where he was learning to drive a backhoe. My nephew, his cousin, was driving a backhoe there. He brought my son there. 

Then some friends called him and asked him what he was doing. With politics in his mind, he immediately returned home. Then he joined the YDF.

RFA: Did he seek permission from you to join the YDF?

Myint Zaw: I told my son that if I was your age, I would have already joined the resistance. My son and I had the same opinion. But he did ask for my permission.

RFA: Did you talk to him at all after he joined the armed group?

Myint Zaw: I still have to take care of his younger brother. After the Thadingyut festival (to celebrate the harvest moon) in October, (Phoe Tay) said we had to initiate the brother as a Buddhist novice. 

He said, “Father, I can look after you only when the revolution is over. Please try hard now. We have to initiate my brother as a Buddhist novice monk. I can help you only after the revolution.” I told him not to worry about us.

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“I’m proud that my son sacrificed for the people and the country. But I feel sad … I am devastated,” says Phoe Tay’s father. (Provided by family)

RFA: What do you do to make a living?

Myint Zaw: I’m a farmer. There is a land plot given by my mother in Maw Lel village of Gangaw township. I make a living with a rice milling machine. I have a tricycle to transport sand and stones to nearby villages.

RFA: On Nov. 7, when Phoe Tay was killed, did the Yaw PDF inform you? How did they inform you?

Myint Zaw: They arrived one-and-a-half days later, because they had to come on foot. His comrades looked glum. They came and told us that he was killed and asked us what they should do.

RFA: Did the YDF provide your family with cash?

Myint Zaw: Yes, they gave us cash. They provided 2 million kyats (about US$950) for Thar Htaung and the same amount for Phoe Tay.

RFA: How do you and your family feel about your son being burned alive, killed brutally and inhumanely?

Myint Zaw: I’m proud that my son sacrificed for the people and the country. But I feel sad. I don’t want to talk about it. And I don’t know what to say. I am devastated.

RFA: Phoe Tay might have been the smartest in the village. He passed his exam with two distinctions. What were his goals? Did he tell you about what he wanted to be?

Myint Zaw: He didn’t say exactly. What he used to say was that he valued being dutiful. He also said that he wanted to support people like him. I still remember that. He wanted villagers to be educated like him.                

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Burmese social media has seen an outpouring of AI-generated art tributes to Phoe Tay and Thar Htaung after the nature of their deaths became public. (Clockwise from top left: AIMasterPieces, Christine Ang, ChanHlong, Hein Htut Aung, Crd-AungYeWin and UKhaing)

 

Interview with Ye San and Soe Linn, the parents of Thar Htaung

RFA: What can you tell us about Thar Htaung?

Ye San, the mother: He asked us two times to join the resistance two, but we did not let him because our family depends on his wages. One day when we went to the forest, he left a letter to us asking for forgiveness for his decision, saying that they will fight for a better future.

RFA: We understand that you were left with a broken heart after watching the video of him being burned alive. What is your comment as a mother who lost her son in the brutal killing?

Ye San: I felt heartbroken as my son was tortured and killed. I was so angry at first that I wanted to take revenge but we could do nothing but grieve. I have never heard of such a cruel and brutal killing among Buddhists.

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“I was so angry at first that I wanted to take revenge but we could do nothing but grieve,” says Thar Htaung’s mother. (Provided by family)

RFA: After the video went viral, international human rights activists have begun seeking ways to bring justice. What is your request to the international community in response to the loss of your son?

Ye San: I want to ask for more support for the resistance groups. They need more food and other supplies. 

RFA: Did you watch the video?

Soe Linn, the father: I also did not watch this video. How could I? But I have grieved the brutal killing of my son.

RFA: Before Thar Htaung joined the resistance force, did he say anything to you? 

Soe Linn: He asked how much we can get if we sell the home and yard. When I asked him why, he replied that he wanted to buy guns. I asked: “How could we do that? We already pawned the home and yard due to lack of income. But we will support you to buy guns in other ways.” 

He did not complain about it and did not express any displeasure. He never said things against his parents’ will. 

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“I think the Pyu Saw Htee forces killed him. I will never forgive them till the end of the world,” says Thar Htaung’s father. (Provided by family)

RFA: What do you do to make a living in your village? 

Soe Linn: We work on farms.

RFA: Do you know who is responsible for your son’s death?

Soe Linn: I think the Pyu Saw Htee forces killed him. I will never forgive them till the end of the world. I want to take the same revenge and burn them.

RFA: Do you have any last words regarding your son? 

Soe Linn: My son sacrificed his life for the good of the country, and I am proud. I would never cry for him.

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw and Aung Naing. Edited by Matt Reed.

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