MANDALAY — Survivors marked the 15th anniversary of the Depayin Massacre on Wednesday with a ceremony in Sagaing Division’s Depayin Township to remember the scores of National League for Democracy members and supporters killed in the deadly ambush.
About 100 locals and survivors gathered at the monastery in Kyi village, where they offered donations to Buddhist monks and laid wreaths at the site of the 2003 massacre.
On May 30, 2003, a convoy transporting a group National League for Democracy officials and supporters, including party leader and current State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was attacked by a group of thugs who killed at least 70 people.
Many more NLD members and supporters were seriously injured during the attack, with some later being jailed for many years, their families threatened and their businesses forced to close.
“We hold this ceremony to ensure that the past is not forgotten and the people who died and were hurt during the massacre are remembered,” said U Ko Lay, a vice president of Mandalay District NLD office and an organizer of the ceremony.
During the commemoration ceremony on Wednesday, survivors recalled their memories of the bloodbath.
“We remind the public of how we were attacked. But we do not recall these vicious memories in order to seek vengeance,” said Ma Thandar Soe, a member of the youth wing from Mandalay District which was responsible for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s security on the day.
Ma Thandar Soe was among the injured during the Depayin massacre, but managed to escape from the scene.
The military regime of the time and the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA)—the military-backed organization that later transformed into the Union Solidary and Development Party (USDP)—has often been implicated in the massacre, though no legal action has been taken so far.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly said that for the sake of stability and national reconciliation, she will not seek vengeance for the incident, of which she was the main target.
“We believe in our leader and will follow her example; we will not seek vengeance either,” Ma Thandar Soe said.
“However, we are the ones whose lives were destroyed, so we want the perpetrators to face justice if the opportunity arises,” she said.
While many politicians have accepted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s view, there are many others who believe the truth about the incident must be revealed.
“There is one step that is necessary before we can forgive and forget. It is to reveal the truth. In the case of the Depayin massacre, the victims can forgive the culprits, but they will not be able to forget how they’ve suffered,” said lawyer U Thein Than Oo, who was a political prisoner under the military regime.
The lawyer said that when it came to acts of violence in Myanmar, finding the truth and delivering justice often take a back seat, as perpetrators take advantage of the moral goodness of the Burmese people and their forgiving and sympathetic nature.
“If avoiding vengeance really is good for the reconciliation and stability of the country, then we will follow her [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] example. But if not, then legal action must be taken against the culprits,” he said.
“It would be wonderful if the perpetrators confessed; if we had a truth commission which could both uncover the truth and hold the perpetrators accountable, not only for the Depayin massacre but for all brutal incidents in the past. This would be great for everyone and there would be no need to take vengeance,” he said.