March 1988: A Month of Revolt

By The Irrawaddy 14 March 2018

The bloody events of March 1988 set the stage for the uprising in August of that year and, ultimately, for Myanmar’s political course over the next three decades. Here is a detailed timeline of how that pivotal month unfolded.

March 12, 1988 — Students from the Rangoon Institute of Technology and youths from west Gyogone Ward, Insein Township, had a brawl at the Sandaw Win Teashop. The Insein Police Force opened a case against the youths from west Gyogone Ward.

March 13 — While police held two youths — Zaw Zaw, also known as Nyi Nyi Lwin, and Khin Maung Myint — in detention, other youths from west Gyogone Ward started a brawl with students from the Rangoon Institute of Technology.

Ko Phone Maw, a fifth-year student at the Rangoon Institute of Technology studying chemical engineering, was killed by riot police on the school campus. Five others were injured. One of the five, Ko Soe Naing, died of gunshot wounds 23 days later. The other four were kept shackled at a hospital.

The Rangoon Institute of Technology Students Union was formed with 70 members to oppose the Burma Socialist Program Party.

(In 2012, democracy advocates including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi designated March 13 as Myanmar Human Rights Day.)

March 14 — Students of the Rangoon Institute of Technology painted a star on the ground where Ko Phone Maw was shot and killed. They staged a protest march to demand student rights.

March 15 — Following further protests, the military raided the Rangoon Institute of Technology and arrested hundreds of students. They closed the country’s universities and said students were free to go back to their home towns.

March 16 — Students from Rangoon University took to the streets in response to the military’s raid on the Rangoon Institute of Technology. Soldiers and riot police used force to disperse the students at Tada Phyu (which means White Bridge in Burmese) on Pyay Road. Dozens of students were killed and injured and hundreds of them were detained. This event later came to be known as the Red Bridge incident by activists, as the area had been turned red with the blood of students.

March 17 — Following the government’s brutal crackdown, the State Council formed an investigation commission led by U Ba Maw, a member of the Council of People’s Justice, and invited those wishing to give their account of events to come forward.

(The commission’s report would claim that the riots were triggered when civilian youths beat students from the Rangoon Institute of Technology, that appropriate actions were taken against those who exacerbated the brawl and instigated the riots, and that the majority of students at the Rangoon Institute of Technology were peaceful by nature.)

Members of the public joined the students in their protests against the government in downtown Yangon.

March 18 — Soldiers and riot police cracked down on demonstrators in downtown Yangon and sent those they detained to Insein Prison. Forty-one of them died inside a prisoner transport vehicle on their way to the prison.

March 19 — It was found that they died after inhaling tear gas and because of poor ventilation inside the transport vehicle. The minister for home affairs and religious affairs, U Min Khaung, a former army major general, subsequently resigned.

March 21 — Twenty-three of 27 detained female students were released.

March 30 — 1,233 of 1,723 detainees were released.