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Junta, opposition activists hold dueling events to mark Martyrs’ Day in Myanmar

Myanmar’s military regime and opposition forces held dueling events Tuesday to mark the country’s 75th Martyrs’ Day, with heavy security deployed in the commercial capital Yangon for an official ceremony as anti-junta activists marched and held protests in several cities and towns.

The families of the nine assassinated national leaders honored on the holiday laid wreaths at an official ceremony held by the junta at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon. Noticeably absent from the event were the families of independence hero Gen. Aung San, whose daughter Aung San Suu Kyi was thrown in prison following the military’s Feb. 1, 2021 overthrow of her government, and his elder brother Ba Win.

The military closed several of the main roads in the city for the early morning ceremony, which junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing did not attend.

A resident of Yangon told RFA Burmese that the military set up checkpoints throughout the city ahead of the event.

“Armed police were placed on pedestrian bridges and there were a lot of junta vehicles patrolling the streets. In addition, there were police and soldiers in front of City Hall, at many intersections and posted at various checkpoints,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There were soldiers and police in plain clothes too … [The authorities] checked everyone who approached the cordoned areas.”

The military also tightened security and carried out inspections along various roads in Myanmar’s second-largest city Mandalay, where the opposition maintains a strong presence.

Demonstrators march in Kachin state on Martyrs' Day, July 19, 2022. Credit: Citizen journalist
Demonstrators march in Kachin state on Martyrs’ Day, July 19, 2022. Credit: Citizen journalist

Despite the clampdown, people on the streets in many townships, including Yangon, commemorated Martyrs’ Day by honking their car horns and carrying wreaths honoring the nine leaders.

Even political prisoners in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison marked the holiday by writing excerpts of speeches by the nine martyrs on their uniforms.

Meanwhile, anti-junta activists staged protests and hung posters denouncing the military regime in the regions of Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Magway, and Tanintharyi, as well as in Kachin and Kayah states.

A monk in Mandalay told RFA that activists held a march on Monday to commemorate Martyrs’ Day in anticipation of tight security in the city for the actual holiday.

“We were able to lead a protest column … on the eve of Martyr’s Day,” said the monk, who also declined to be named.

“Today, security was tight and we couldn’t undertake any activities … But we held a prayer ceremony this evening.”

In Mon state, a member of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group in Thaton township told RFA that a ceremony was held honoring not only the Nine Martyrs, but all who had died in the struggle for democracy.

“[They] are also martyrs who deserve to be remembered,” he said.

“They fought and sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country and people, for the truth and for justice, so we also must salute them.”

Martyrs’ Day activities were also observed in Sagaing region’s Budalin, Chaung-U, Kani, Khin-U, Yinmarbin, Salingyi, Tamu, and Shwebo townships; Magway region’s Pauk, Gangaw, and Tilin townships; Tanintharyi region’s Launglon and Thayetchaung townships; Bago region’s Bago and Letpadan townships; Kachin state’s Hpakant township; and Kayah state’s Phekon township.

Vice-Senior Gen. Soe Win (front), vice-chairman of the junta, salutes with officials at the tomb of Myanmar's independence hero Gen. Aung San during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of his 1947 assassination, at the Martyrs' Mausoleum in Yangon, July 19, 2022. Credit: Myanmar Ministry of Information via AP
Vice-Senior Gen. Soe Win (front), vice-chairman of the junta, salutes with officials at the tomb of Myanmar’s independence hero Gen. Aung San during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of his 1947 assassination, at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon, July 19, 2022. Credit: Myanmar Ministry of Information via AP

Abandoned goals

Nan Lin, a member ofUniversity Students’ Unions Alumni Force in Yangon, told RFA that the junta had abandoned the goals of the Martyrs, so it was not strange that the family members of Aung San and Ba Win did not attend Tuesday’s official ceremony.

“The number one thing they wanted was independence and the formation of a federal union, followed by the flourishing of democracy and human rights in our country,” he said.

“However, what the military has been doing is totally against the aspirations of the martyred leaders.”

On July 19, 1947, nine of Myanmar’s independence leaders were gunned down by members of a rival political group while holding a cabinet meeting in Yangon. The victims were Prime Minister Aung San, Minister of Information Ba Cho, Minister of Industry and Labor Mahn Ba Khaing, Minister of Trade Ba Win, Minister of Education Abdul Razak, and Myanmar’s unofficial Deputy Prime Minister Thakin Mya.

The nine played key roles in Myanmar’s independence movement and, following the end of British rule less than six months later, the date of their assassination was designated a national holiday.

Speaking to RFA in Yangon on Tuesday, youth protester Myat Min Khant said that Martyrs’ Day is now a day to commemorate all those who have sacrificed their lives for the nation.

“There may have been nine martyrs in the past, but presently there are many more than nine,” he said.

“There were martyrs in the urban clashes, in the street protests, and in the liberated areas [of Myanmar’s remote border regions]. We must recognize the brave warriors who died in battle [against the junta].”

The military seized power from Myanmar’s democratically elected government last year, claiming voter fraud led to a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the country’s November 2020 election. The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide protests calling for a return to civilian rule.

According to Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the military has killed at least 2,092 civilians and arrested nearly 15,000 since the takeover, mostly during peaceful anti-junta demonstrations. The group acknowledges that its list is incomplete and says the numbers are likely much higher.

Translation by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.