YANGON—In a message to a commemorative event honoring two university students who were killed during a bloody police crackdown 31 years ago Wednesday, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said there are still many “obstacles and challenges ahead to overcome” in building a democratic federal country. Their deaths became one of the major factors that sparked the nationwide popular pro-democracy movement known as the ’88 Uprising in 1988, the year Suu Kyi appeared on the political scene.
The two students, Ko Phone Maw and Ko Soe Naing, were shot by riot police on the night of March 13, 1988 on the campus of the Rangoon Institute of Technology (now Yangon Technological University). Ko Phone Maw died the same day but Ko Soe Naing died 23 days later of injuries sustained at the scene. Three other university students who were wounded survived.
On Wednesday, the Yangon Technological University Student Union remembered the duo at an event commemorating the 31st anniversary of their deaths. The ceremony was joined by former student activists including U Min Ko Naing, who was a prominent student leader during the ’88 Uprising.
In her message to the commemoration, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi described the deaths of Ko Phone Maw and Ko Soe Naing as “a public call” to struggle against single-party dictatorship.
“I would like to urge you all to work for a condition in which such sacrifices are no longer necessary, by taking lessons from those who have sacrificed [during the democracy movement] as well as appreciating those sacrifices,” she said.
She said that while Myanmar has yet to achieve genuine democracy, the country is in a “democratic transition”.
Four months after the students’ deaths, the nationwide pro-democracy ’88 Uprising broke out and the Ne Win regime was toppled. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s political career dates to that time. Despite the collapse of the regime, the military staged a coup and began its oppressive rule of the country, which lasted until it handed power to a quasi-military government in 2011. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the general election in 2015, becoming the first democratically elected government in more than five decades.
Since taking office, the NLD government has embarked on peace deals with the country’s diverse ethnic armed groups, but the effort has been in vain so far. The party is now trying to amend the military-drafted Constitution to pave the way for a democratic federal union. However, the attempt appears unlikely to bear fruit in the near future, as the military and the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development party object to the NLD’s approach to reform as unconstitutional.