Saffron Crackdown Commander in Parliament Stirs Outrage

By The Irrawaddy 30 April 2012

A week after the National League for Democracy (NLD) declined to take its seats in Parliament over an oath promising to safeguard the military-drafted Constitution, another controversy is emerging over the appointment to the legislature of a commander believed to have played a key role in crushing the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

The oath issue has now been set aside, thanks to the NLD’s decision on Monday to end its objections in response to appeals from party supporters, but the appointment of a colonel who allegedly ordered his troops to fire on protesting monks in 2007—variously identified as Aung Kyaw or Hla Myint Soe—could cause renewed tension.

The colonel, from Pegu-based Light Infantry Division (LID) 77, entered Parliament last week to replace one of 59 appointees who were reassigned as part of a reshuffle. Under Burma’s 2008 Constitution, 25 percent of seats in the legislature are reserved for armed forces appointees.

In an edited image widely circulating among Burmese Facebook users, the colonel is seen in one photograph speaking into a walkie-talkie, allegedly during the operation to crush monk-led protests in September 2007, and in another receiving his ID card as he prepared to enter Parliament last Monday.

In both photos, he is wearing the same uniform. The only difference is that in the more recent photo, he has an additional star on his shoulder, indicating his promotion from lieutenant-colonel to colonel.

Many Facebook users, convinced that both photos show the same man, and that he was involved in a deadly crackdown believed to have claimed at least 30 lives, have expressed outrage.

Readers of The Irrawaddy’s Burmese-language website, which has published an article on the photos, have voiced similar sentiments.

“Criminals who killed and beat the Monks are now at Parliament,” wrote one reader who identified himself as Ko Phone.