Returning to Scene of 2003 Massacre, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Focuses on Present

By Zarni Mann 12 March 2020

MANDALAY—Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday returned to Sagaing Division’s Depayin Township for the first time since she narrowly escaped a deadly organized attack by military-backed thugs there 17 years ago.

The State Counselor was in Depayin to hold a public meeting with local residents, one of a series of meetings that have taken her across the country since January.

Known as the Depayin Massacre, the attack on her motorcade took place in Kyee Village, on the outskirts of Depayin Township, on May 30, 2003.

According to reports, about 70 people lost their lives and a number of people were severely injured in the attack, but the precise death toll remains unknown. At the time, military government officials said no more than five people were killed.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, her driver and some other National League for Democracy (NLD) members managed to escape the massacre, but were later arrested as they entered Ye-U Township and imprisoned there. She was eventually sent back to Rangoon and placed under house arrest for six years.

NLD offices were sealed off and survivors of the massacre were later arrested and imprisoned across the country.

It is widely believed that Lieutenant General Soe Win, who served as Secretary-2 of the then-ruling military junta, orchestrated the attack. Some have speculated he did so without the knowledge of Khin Nyunt, who served as Secretary-1 at the time.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi holds a public meeting in Depayin, Sagaing Region on Wednesday. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

Many local residents attending Wednesday’s meeting, including survivors of the massacre, expressed hoped that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would discuss the events of 2003. She didn’t raise past events, however, and focused instead on answering questions regarding current local issues.

“She just said in her opening remarks that it was remarkable to have the chance to visit Depayin again, and said thank you to local residents. Other than that, she didn’t mention the massacre, and focused exclusively on local residents’ questions and complaints about poor road transportation, electricity, health and education,” said U Ko Lay, a massacre survivor and NLD member, who attended the public meeting on Wednesday.

Despite her brush with death in 2003, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said on previous occasions that she is willing to let bygones be bygones.

“We hoped she would say something, as it was her first time in Depayin for 17 years. However, she already told us to forgive and let the past go for the sake of national reconciliation, so it’s no surprise that she didn’t mention anything about the past,” said U Hla Oo, another massacre survivor and NLD member.

Many locals of Depayin said they were glad to welcome the State Counselor to their region for the first time in 17 years.

“We are so glad. After the attack, it was as if our town had been on a democracy ‘blacklist’ since 2003. We always wished Amay Su [Mother Su] would visit our region but she did not. We believed our region was a source of nightmares for her, as Depayin holds a dark place in our country’s history. But now Amay Su is here, saying that her visit to Depayin is a significant one. We are very happy that she has shown that Depayin no longer holds bitter memories for her,” said local resident U Tun Ohn.

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