The Death of a student – Ko Phone Maw – March 13th 1988 in Rangoon, Burma

As soon as they learnt of it, his elder sister Mar Mar Ei went to inquire about the event at the emergency department of Rangoon General Hospital (RGH). Doctors from there told her that Phone Maw was killed with a sharp awl. The doctors replied that he would probably died at university before he was taken to hospital, when she asked them about the time of death. She aked another question, “What kind of weapon would cause his quick death?” Doctors answered that perhaps his wound were caused by gunshots.

Later, she was brought to the office of the head of Rangoon Division Police Force located on 47th street, and was questioned closely about Phone Maw by the police investigators.

Mar Mar Win added that a marquee had already been set up by the neighbors when they got back home. They are, however, told to go down by the quarter council. When they had done so, the council also ordered them not to host many guests (In Burmese tradition, many people nearby usually come and help when a funeral happen.) Besides, that quarter had been blocked for 3 days.

“Military Intelligence personnel (MI) asked our close neighbors about Phone Maw. They shouted at them for answering that Phone Maw is a smart and quiet student,” said Mar Mar Win. She added that her family was not allowed to put his death in an obituary in the newspaper.

“The street and the house we live was swarming with MI watching and taking photos of those who visited. On 15.3.88, some students came and informed us that Phone Maw died from gunshots,” continued Mar Mar Win, “Around 9:00 am, some neighbors came and told me that security forces had been photographing those who came in and out of the street.” She also proclaimed that her family extremely hated and despised the oppression of tyrants.

According to Mar Mar Win, his younger sister wrote his death on a blackboard and set it up in front of the house, since the obituary was not permitted. When the quarter council ordered her to erase the blackboard, she insisted that she would do so only when the obituary appeared in the newspaper. As a result, the authorities agreed to call their superiors to get permit for that matter.

“The secretary of the township council asked us whether we would perform the funeral ourselves or whether the authorities concerned would have to take responsibility for it. We told him that we, together with the circle of student friends, want to perform the funeral of Phone Maw,” Mar Mar Win said.

“Around 11:00 am, we were brought to the police office on 47th street to view Phone Maw’s death body. The authorities also said that they would hand the body over to us on 17.3.88. But it was not true. We, as the shopkeepers, thought the government would honor their words more than a seller would. Contrary to this, they were unable to keep their promise while even a merchant did keep his words,” she simply expressed her view.

“After waiting for hours there, we were again brought to RGH. Only one of us was allowed to view the corpse after spending another 30 minutes at RGH. It seemed that his body was transferred there from the nearby hospital and was urgently put it in an empty room of the emergency department of RGH. Apparently, some blood on his head and his swollen face had been fabricated. His whole body except his face was wrapped in a piece of cloth,” she said distressingly.

Mar Mar Win added that the obituary appeared in the newspaper, omitting the word “Suddenly” on 16.3.88. “At 7:00 pm, on the same day, two police officers came and asked us if we needed any help. We replied that nothing was needed except to get his body on 17.3.88,” she said, “Some tea and snacks had been ready to be offered to monks for the funeral on that day. Unexpectedly, a person who introduced himself as secretary came and invited all of his siblings to meet his superior, a minister, according to him.”

Mar Mar Win kept explaining that that so-called secretary ordered them to come along with him, by saying his superior only wanted to have a talk with them when she asked him about the reason for his invitation. The youngest sister, however, remained at home waiting for the monks.

“Around 6:30 am, in quite a large room in the police office on 47th street, being treated with snacks and tea, we had to wait for about 30 minutes: but that man did not answer our question ‘where is your boss?’” she stated. “Then we had to get into a car and were taken to the new general hospital called ‘Japan Hospital’, at that time by the public. We saw two 929 MAZADA cars, a hearse, five monks in a car ,and some government vehicles, as we approached there. When we realized their trick that the funeral was under way, we tried to get off from the car but we were blocked by three female police officers. We were not able to do anything except to cry,” Mar Mar Win said inconsolably.

“After arriving there, we refused to get off. They changed their tune and attempted to drag us from the car, thus we had to do as we were told. They have power and arms,” she said, “Then the eldest brother went along with them into the mortuary. Khin Maung Win, the deputy minister for home affairs, was also there and all the activities were being recorded with a video camera. In the mortuary the eldest brother saw Phone Maw’s death body being tightly wrapped in a white shirt and a longyi.”

After asking permission to view, the eldest brother found out a long stitch under his chin through the chest, and a diagonal suture on right side of the trunk. A wound was also found above his pubic region. Two bullet wounds, one on the chest and the other on the right thigh were covered with stitches. The eldest brother sorrowfully said that a doctor showed him two bullets, and he was allowed to look at his younger brother body for only a short time. Then, he was pull out of the mortuary. At the outside, only a short ceremony of Phone Maw’s last rites attended by his eldest brother alone was performed by five monks, invited by the authorities.

Due to his family members, it was a heartbreaking funeral without any Burmese traditions. Besides, the government claimed that Phone Maw died from two wounds of the baton in its letter which was read out in the cemetery.

Although his family wanted to lay his urn in a tomb in Kyantaw grave-yard, the body of Phone Maw was completely cremated, under government’s forcible pressure, in Tarmwe cemetery. Even his family was not able to collect the ashes of him.

His sister said that the cremation finished at 8:45 am, in the morning. The whole cemetery was silent and clear. People and children from far quarters were watching that early morning funeral, with fear and shock.

On the way back to home, his family members were not properly treated and were even told to get off from the car at the corner of the street, and had to walk to their home. Mar Mar Win added that having known that many students were waiting at Kyantaw and Hletan to attend the funeral, the government played a trick to carry it out, in order not to be a well-attended event.

Being afraid of arrest rumored by military intelligence staffers, students and civilian could not come to the charity held by his bereaved family on 19.3.88, the seventh day of his demise. Government newspapers and broadcasting service described that Phone Maw had contacts with the insurgent organizations and he died in a quarrel in a quarter. Not only did the government hide the actual facts about his death, but they also intimidated and treated the bereaved inhumanely as criminals.

When we continued asking Mar Mar Win about the youngest sister of Phone Maw, she explained that the authorities made up a false story that his sister was arrested, imprisoned and killed for giving anti-government speeches so as not to happen student strikes again.

We, the editors of Sethmu Ahman newsletters, briefly presented Phone Maw’s life told by his sister Mar Mar Win, along with his close friends from Red Cross Association.

Attending the aerial training for youths and Lan Zin youth program of Latha township, Phone Maw studied at No.1 Basic High Cchool of Latha from 5th to 10th standard. He passed 10th standard in 1981. He joined Rangoon University (Hlaing Campus) and participated in Red Cross association, until he attended RIT. He was well admired for his work. He was also a reserved member of the then BSPP, and received many honorable certificates, including from Red Cross association, university training courses, and Buddhist organizations. He volunteered his services to the building of Rangoon-Mandalay high way in October, 1982 and cultivating paddy in Warkhal Ma township in October, 1983. Finally, as a leader of Red Cross association, he attended the last Union Day ceremony. He donated his blood five times, and was acting as the secretary of the association of Chemical Engineering Department in RIT before he was killed.

“Phone Maw is a highly ambitious young student. He loves his country and wants it to be prosperity. He wants to become a military engineer, despite his sisters wishes for him to be a business man,” said Mar Mar Win.

“Government lied to its own people and described Phone Maw as criminal in order to hide its inhumane and cruel murder of an innocent student, who was doing good deeds for his country,” his sister added.

“All of our family have been desolated and inconsolable for his untimely death. It is the unbelievable loss which cannot be compensated nor be compared with anything, for us,” his family said.

“I wish he would not be born again, until these military tyrants have been toppled,” Mar Mar Win finally expressed her feelings.

This is the article from “Sethmu Ahman” newsletters, issue (4), 17.9.1988