Although it has been nearly two weeks, Ko Myo still mourns as he talks about his relatives who were brutally killed in an unprovoked attack by Myanmar junta troops. Ko Myo’s two nephews Kyaw Win Thant, 18, Thuta Nay, 19, and close relative Kyal Sin Nyein Chan, 19, were killed in the early morning of July 28 while staying at Ko Myo’s house in Nyaung Kan village, Butalin Township in Sagaing Region.
The three youths had taken the high school exam under the civilian National Unity Government (NUG’s) Ministry of Education. They also headed Butalin Student’s Union, which is a member of the All Burma Federation of Students Union (ABFSU). Kyaw Win Thant, the president of Butalin Student’s Union, Kyal Sin Nyein Chan, vice president, and Thuta Nay, information officer, were living in Ko Myo’s house to take care of Ko Myo’s 68-year-old father.
Around 100 regime soldiers raided the house at 4.30 am on July 28, reportedly stabbing the three students to death as soon as they arrived and cutting their tongues out. They then seized Ko Myo’s father and other villagers as hostages.
“The students could only react with a shout [before being killed]. They shot the students without even interrogating them,” Ko Myo said.
Although Ko Myo was a member of The Ronin resistance force, his nephews were only involved in anti-regime protests, not armed resistance. The three students began their activisim one week after the coup with a protest in Butalin Township on February 8, 2021.
“After that demonstration, they continued their anti-dictatorship activism all the way,” Ko Myo explained.
The Butalin Student’s Union was formed after the coup and the students were mainly involved in the All Burma Federation of Students Union’s anti-regime activism, such as protest rallies, revolution-commemoration ceremonies and public organization activities.
Youths in the revolution
Kyaw Win Thant was always smiling and was the only son in his family. He was brother to two sisters and was very clever, said Ko Thein Oo, a Nyaung Kan villager.
Although the students led happy lives, they had very strong convictions about the revolution, according to the villagers.
“They were committed to the revolutionary struggle until the end,” Ko Myo said.
Kyal Sin Nyein Chan wanted to be a rapper and was a talented graffiti artist. However, the coup destroyed that ambition and he remained committed to the uprising against military rule until his last breath, family members recalled.
Thuta Nay loved playing guitar and admired classic songs by singers like the late Khin Wan, who was popular in the 1980s and 90s.
“Away from the revolution, they relaxed by playing guitar and singing songs. They were just like other youngsters,” Ko Myo said.
The three students were also helping to form a students union in schools under the NUG and trying to form a teachers union in the township.
“They always said that they wanted the revolution to succeed very quickly and they wanted to go to school,” Ko Myo said of the trio’s hopes for the future.
But instead, they were among those killed when junta troops conducted a nightime raid that left victims no time to escape. Soldiers arrived from Butalin town, just 8 kilometres away, and launched the deadly raid before torching the village.
The three students were among nine villagers killed in the July 28 raid, which also left three others wounded. Ko Kyaw Htoo, a local resistance member, was killed while trying to save Ko Myo’s father, who was captured as a hostage.
“Actually they [the soldiers] wanted me but I was not at the house. So, they arrested my father and threatened to kill him. Ko Kyaw Htoo then ran to my father and pretended to be me despite my father’s denials,” Ko Myo said.
“Ko Kyaw Htoo died instead of me. He saved my father,” Ko Myo muttered.
Regime troops also burned houses in Nyaung Kan and nearby villages during the raid.
A pro-junta Telegram news channels reported that troops had seized weapons during a clash in Nyaung Kan village. However, a villager and Ko Myo rejected that report, saying that junta troops had conducted guerrilla raids and killed the students and villagers.
“The students did not take up arms. The arms are mine,” Ko Myo told The Irrawaddy.
An ABFSU spokesperson said that junta troops had raided the house where the students lived as if it were an armed base.
Students sacrificing their lives
Since the 2021 coup, 17 students of the ABFSU have been killed and nearly 60 sentenced to at least three years in prison. Three were handed life sentences and one has been sentenced to death, according to the ABFSU.
Arresting and killing opponents all over the country, including members of the ABFSU, is seen by most of the population as a hallmark of hated junta rule.
“They can’t overcome the uprising with this strategy. Killing revolutionaries will not stop the revolution. We will continue to fight until the people’s democratic revolution ends,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the parents of the students in Nyaung Kan village are still grieving for their sons.
“Whenever they see me, their mothers cry and talk about their sons,” Ko Myo told The Irrawaddy.
But they want Ko Myo to carry on with the task that their sons had not completed.
Nyaung Kan villager Ko Thein Oo said that killing young students without even questioning them first was a despicable act.
“We will fight the military dictatorship instead of killing students,” Ko Thein Oo told The Irrawaddy.
Memories still haunt Ko Myo, who was close to the students and his other relative.
“I still think of them like they were still here.”