COVID-19 Forces Ceremony for Depayin Massacre to Downsize

By Zarni Mann 29 May 2020

MANDALAY—Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 17th anniversary of the commemoration ceremony to remember the victims of the Depayin massacre on May 30 will be held with a few local residents, according to the ceremony’s organizing committee.

About a hundred survivors usually hold a commemoration ceremony every year to remember the scores of National League for Democracy (NLD) party members and supporters killed and injured in the deadly ambush under the military regime. On May 30, 2003, a group of pro-junta thugs in Kyee Village in Sagaing Region’s Depayin Township attacked the convoy of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD party members and their supporters.

Although the vehicle of now-State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi managed to escape, many NLD members and their supporters were seriously injured and at least 70 were killed during the attack.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was later detained and kept under house arrest and other survivors were jailed for many years. Survivors’ families were threatened and their businesses were forced to close down.

Every year, the survivors now hold a commemoration ceremony by offering alms to Buddhist monks and recalling the vicious memories.

“This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, we will only do the offering of alms to three Buddhist monks with a few locals and will lay a wreath at Kyee Village, where the massacre took place,” said U Than Lwin, a local NLD member from Depayin and one of the members of the ceremony organizing committee.

The construction of a pagoda to commemorate those killed during the massacre is also stalled due to COVID-19 restrictions and a funding shortage.

“COVID-19 prevention is important not only for our region, so we will not be going to join the ceremony this year,” said U Ko Lay, an NLD member from Mandalay who was seriously injured in the massacre and later jailed. “Although we will send our merits for the fallen from our home, we will never forget them and the incident as well, because this massacre is the most malicious history for us and for our country’s democracy struggle.”

No legal action has been taken against the culprits behind the massacre, which mainly targeted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The military regime at the time and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) have been implicated in the massacre. The leading generals of the USDA later transformed their association into a political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), before the 2010 elections.

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly said that she will not seek vengeance for the incident, for the sake of peace, stability, national reconciliation and the democratization of the country.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi recently visited Depayin for the first time in the 17 years since the massacre on March 11, to meet with local residents.

During her visit, she didn’t mention anything about the massacre or share her opinion on the incident but said only that she is glad to be back in Depayin after 17 years and thanked the locals for their hospitality.

“Our mother Suu said we shall not seek vengeance, so we will not. However, we will never forget the incident and it shall never be wiped out from history,” U Ko Lay added.

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