On This Day

A Death to Herald Change

By The Irrawaddy 13 March 2019

On this day 31 years ago, Ko Phone Maw, a student at the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT), was killed by riot police on the university campus. The 23-year-old’s death is considered to be the one of the major factors which lead to the historic 1988 pro-democracy popular uprising four months later.

The death of Ko Phone Maw brought students to the streets and they were soon joined by people from all walks of life who were plagued by the political and economic mismanagement of the Burma Socialist Program Party’s government. This act of defiance led to the 1988 pro-democracy uprising in August and the fall of the one party-dictatorship, which paved the way for the ensuing political developments in Myanmar.

Left: A scene from a commemoration ceremony for Ko Phone Maw and Ko Soe Naing at RIT on September 13, 1988. Right: Ko Phone Maw.

On the night of March 12, 1988, drunken civilians beat three RIT students sitting at a teashop in west Gyogone Ward near their university. Instead of settling the issue through negotiation, the soldier-turned-riot police turned to violence, cracking down on students at the university campus with tear gas and guns. In violence which spilled over to the next day, many RIT students were injured and Ko Phone Maw was killed. Another injured student, Ko Soe Naing, died days later.

An investigation commission which was formed to examine the incident concluded that the riot police did not act line with proper procedures.