Bogyoke who? Myanmar military destroys Martyrs’ Day monuments in Kayin State

Destroyed Martyr’s Day monument in Myawaddy township, Kayin State (Ye Min, Facebook)
Destroyed Martyr’s Day monument in Myawaddy township, Kayin State (Ye Min, Facebook)

In the dead of the night, the Myanmar military deployed bulldozers leveling eight Martyrs’ Day historical monuments in Kayin State on Sunday, according to local media and several pictures and videos circulating on social media.

The bulldozers, guarded by security forces, arrived in Kawkareik, Myawaddy, Hpa-An, Kyain Seikgyi, Thandanggyi, Hpapun, Hlaingbwe, and Three Pagoda Pass townships in Kayin State late Sunday and worked well into the early morning. They cleared away monuments and shrines honoring nine martyrs, including Bogyoke Aung San, who were assassinated on July 19, 1947, shortly after Myanmar’s independence.

The monuments were erected under the Thein Sein administration and the recently overthrown National League for Democracy (NLD) administration. Several featured statues of the fallen martyrs, but all of them included Bogyoke Aung San’s likeness.

Some of the bulldozed monuments were replicas to those erected in honor of the nation’s heroes at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon, which contains the remains of Aung San, Thakin Mya, Ba Cho, Ba Win, Mahn Ba Khaing, and Ohn Maung.

The site has a notably violent history. In 1983, North Korea, plotting to assassinate then-South Korean President Chun, bombed the site and killed 19, including two senior advisors to the president and four Cabinet Ministers. The blast also destroyed the mausoleum, which was rebuilt by a 12-member Special Task Force assembled by the Ne Win government.

The lead architect of the task force, Sun Oo, told the Irrawaddy in a 2016 interview that military generals wanted to “wipe away the identity” of the nine martyrs and erase them from history.

When the NLD government came into power in 2016, the civilian government made up for lost time and began a building spree of Aung San statues across the country, including in ethnic minority regions.

Bogyoke Aung San statues quickly became a source of rising tensions between the NLD government and ethnic minorities who felt marginalized by the general’s policies. Protests, sprouting up across the country in response to Aung San statues, were crushed with tasers, rubber bullets, and tear gas.

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