Burmese Govt Urged to Ring Sirens on Martyrs Day

By San Yamin Aung 16 July 2014

RANGOON — Civil society groups are calling on the Burmese government to resume a tradition of broadcasting a ringing siren on the morning of Martyrs’ Day, an annual holiday that falls this year on Saturday, to honor the country’s independence hero.

State-owned radio stations once broadcast sirens for about one minute each year on July 19 at 10: 37 am, to mark the moment when Gen. Aung San and his comrades were assassinated by gunmen during a cabinet meeting in 1947. But the tradition was dropped by the former military regime, which sought to downplay the legacy of Aung San, whose daughter is opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Last year, opposition lawmakers called for a resumption of the siren ringing, but the government rejected the proposal, saying the noise could lead to traffic accidents. Instead, civil society groups launched a campaign to encourage citizens to play sirens on their own.

This year, 20 civil society groups on Tuesday urged the government to resume the broadcast of sirens on state media, to allow people to play sirens on their own, and to publish profiles of the martyrs on the days leading up to the holiday. They also called on President Thein Sein to attend a Martyrs’ Day ceremony along with Parliament speakers and the commander-in-chief.

“We sent the requests to the president, the President’s Office and Parliament,” Thiha Maung Maung, one of the campaigners, told The Irrawaddy. “If the government does not approve our proposal, they are essentially forbidding Martyrs’ Day.”

After the 1988 popular uprising against the military regime, the government downgraded the ceremonies on Martyrs’ Day and declared that the martyrs’ mausoleum would be off-limits to ordinary people, fearing a public gathering at the burial site would spark more unrest. Thereafter, the only visible commemoration on July 19 was the state flag flying at half-past.

But since Thein Sein took office in 2011, some of the decades-long Martyrs’ Day traditions seem to have been resurrected. The quasi-civilian government has allowed some public tributes at the mausoleum, and in 2012 government officials attended a state-level ceremony to mark the holiday for the first time in five decades.

“Last year we played sirens in some places and vehicles honked out on the roads. I hope this year we can celebrate more widely,” D Nyein Linn, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Union, told reporters on Tuesday.

Some tech-savvy Burmese are downloading an application for their mobile phones that will play a mournful siren for two minutes at 10:37 on July 19, followed by a popular song honoring Martyrs’ Day. Ethnic minorities also plan to give speeches to share their feelings on the holiday, according to Salai David from the Ethnic Youths Development Center.

The President’s Office was not available to comment on whether the president, Parliament speakers and the commander-in-chief would attend the ceremony on Martyrs’ Day.