Wednesday, October 04, 2006

96 Uprising - At the foot of Shwe Dagon

There were almost no street lights along the way towards downtown. We passed Kyimyindine and Ahlone in the dark. The crowd became bigger and bigger as we passed one townships after another. By the time we crossed Pann Soe Dann Bridge, it grew to almost 5000 (that’s my estimate though. The last independent count by foreign journalists was 2000 at Hledan Junction). By the time I crossed the bridge, at a point I was beside Aung San Stadium, I looked back and still could see the crowd coming down. And I was not even in the front.

It was then somebody in front made the tactical error, the error which leads us the violent beatings and arrest. Somehow, the front line marched along the KabarAye Pagoda Road between the Rangoon Zoo and Army office compound. We sensed danger, but at the same time we were so proud to let the army know that we did not fear of marching down right beside them. Many, in fact far too many people opted to left behind and returned back downtown. Just when we reached U Htaung Bo Circle, the front row sighted the riot police moving towards us from opposite direction. Soon, the crowd grew thinner. We had no choice but to turn left on U Htaung Bo street where we were absolutely trapped. Half way along the street, the march stopped. By that time, everyone could see blockade at the top of U Htaung Bo heights, at the foot of Shwe Dagon Pagoda. The riot police had sealed off the road back, the wall of military compound on our left, the army coming towards us from our right basin (the small road coming upwards, which name I never know), we had no where to go and got no chance to escape.

Thankfully, US embassy car was still with us until then. The army set up a line of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder carrying guns with shinning bayonets and almost a leg long stick hanging on their waists on our far right. We were on the left side of the street and soon, dyna trucks were sent to the right side of the road. Almost all the Head of School are presented there. They told us to return to schools, which we agreed but on our own. They demanded we board the dynas and went back to schools, which we objected because we all knew would never reach back schools if we board. After some more very unsafe options our beloved professors presented, all of which we could not follow, one of them told us “We have done our part. Whatever happens later is not our responsibility.” We were shocked to hear that. They were supposed to protect us at all cost. We were their students. We were like their sons and daughters. Anyway, the leaders apologized them for not being able to accept any of their options and promised them we would silently went back schools if the blockade were lift, which the army blatantly refused.

The professors disappeared, the dynas disappeared and we saw fire-engine brought in. To be honest with my feelings, I was quite relaxed at the sight of that fire-engine. Tissues were distributed and instructions to cover the eye were told in case of any tear gas attack (I still have that tissue with me). However, the fire-engine lasted less than 5 minutes. It was never to be seen again.

Being the president of Buddhist Association at YIT, our leader Ko Soe Tun, urged us to say prayers while we are awaiting the outcome. We paid homage to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, said prayers and shared our good deeds with all the spirits nearby (saying myitta thoat). By the time we finished our prayers, I looked at the US embassy car parked just nearby us and saw an army officer spoken with the person inside. After a few minutes, the car left. It was the defining moment. They have been waiting for that moment. There was no witness left whatsoever.

Very soon after the US car left, the army sent open trucks right beside us. Another row of soldiers were set up in front of the trucks. The riot police were sent to guard our left, which actually was nothing but a pavement and the wall which we were no fool to climb upon. The back row was took over by the army and another row of soldiers coming down in front of us and stood just a step before our front line. The situation was pretty bad. We shifted all the girls in the center and all the big guys at the far ends. I was on the third row from the right. It was now us, the line of soldiers, the trucks, and the line of soldiers. Every single soldiers was equipped the same and standing a step away from us.