Narinjara news

12th August 2002


BLOODY 13 AUGUST
By Khine Mongan

It was Sunday on 13 August 1967. The day was cloudy unlike other wet August days in Sitetway (Sittwe), the capital of Rakhine State in Western Burma. General Ne Win was at the helm of the Burmese junta ruling the country.

The capital town is situated at the mouth of the Kalandan River that flows into the Bay of Bengal. Hundreds of people marched along is roads and streets, each of the protester held a banner, and cried out “Rice, rice, - give us rice”, “We Rakhine don't eat boiled rice”, and “Down with the military regime”. At that time the Burmese junta started selling rotten boiled rice to tackle the artificial famine created by themselves in Rakhine State.

Each year, Arakan (Rakhine) produce rice abundantly: in one working year Arakan harvests enough rice for three years. That August, the rice warehouses in every township were full of rice. But the Burmese junta would not sell enough rice to the people of Rakhine State. Disregarding the local needs, the junta exported the whole supply of rice stored in the government warehouses to foreign countries. The farmers received only 8% of the actual open-market price of rice for their rice sales to the regime. Hundreds of people: children, old people, pregnant women, workers and farmers died of diseases caused by malnutrition resulting from hunger. This happened in Rakhine State, also known as Dhanyawaddy the Land of rice!

At that time I was a student midwife in the Akyab General Hospital (now, Rakhine State Hospital, Sittwe). That Sunday was a day off for me. I went into the downtown area to join the protesters, but I failed to join them, as I did not know the exact location of the demonstration. So I went to see my family, and my mother explained what had happened the night before.

The rice mills and warehouses are on the Satt-ro-gya, a tributary creek of the Kaladan River. Many people had already gone there to force the rice warehouses open, my mother said. Hungry people started raiding the rice warehouses and taking the rice bags away. My 12-year-old brother had merely collected 3-4 kgs of rice when the army and navy arrived.

The gun-toting uniformed men caught some demonstrators from the spot. My brother fled and got on to a boat that operated by a rope: he was swinging from the end of a rope to cross the stretch of water and reach the other bank. One soldier saw him and pushed him into the water. Luckily he was able to swim across the creek. He had to hide from the view of the military and move surreptitiously from one house to another before he got home at midnight all wet and with about one kg of rice in his possession.

My mother fearing all the arrests and insecurity told me to go back to the student nurses’ hostel. We, students, were not allowed to go out of our homes after 6 pm. I got to the hostel at about 3:30pm. The military to bring the situation under control, stopped people from going to the rice mills and storage areas. The protesters defied the ban, marched on shouting slogans to open the warehouses. Finally, as the hungry people desperately needed rice and kept trying to reach the storage areas braving the repeated warning by the military, the junta ordered the soldiers to shoot. More than a hundred people, including women and children, were gunned down. The military just loaded the severely wounded into trucks and nothing of them has ever been heard. Many of the wounded never reported to the hospital but took medical treatment secretly for fear of arrests.

It was about 4 o’clock: the Akyab General Hospital was very quiet. The view of the Kaladan River from the hospital offered spectacular scenery. The Principal Surgeon’s house and the nurses’ quarters compound were to the right in front of the hospital. We noticed truckloads of soldiers on the road. Soon the soldiers rounded off the roadside, the hospital compound, the Principal Surgeon’s house and the nurses’ quarters. Everywhere we saw guntoting soldiers none was allowed to go on the road or to the hospital. The trucks stopped at the entrance of the hospital one by one. The soldiers, who were standing in their trucks, got off when we saw the trucks full of wounded people. Some women ran towards the hospital, but the soldiers held them at gunpoint. People came running and tried to pull the women away. The women refused to go back shouting at the top of their voice.

We saw the wounded people were being carried into the hospital, then the trucks drove away with some wounded people still inside. WHY? HOW MANY? WHO were THEY? We asked ourselves awestruck. We then realized that those people were already dead. I wanted to go there to help, but only on-duty nurses were allowed to go into the hospital. I could not sleep the whole night, and got up early next morning and went to the hospital.

There were many wounded people in the overcrowded surgical ward, the eye ward, the Buddhist-monks’ ward, and the gynecological ward. They were lying on beds, on the floor, on the trolleys and there was a long line in front of the operation theatre and X-ray room. In the gynecological ward, there were no beds, no mattresses. All wounded people were lying on the floor with no space left. It was very difficult even to step around. They were all men. The female patients had been moved to the nurses’ sickroom. It was the busiest day of my training life: pushing trolleys and wheelchairs from place to place, from ward to ward with wounded and groaning people. The nurses, the students, the doctors and all of the hospital staff were restless, on duty the whole day and until midnight. From early morning, crowds of people gathered in front of the hospital, looking for their missing sons and daughters, husbands and fathers. They looked at the inpatients’ list and dead people’s list. Many people were missing. No one knew how many people were dead and wounded. The government stated that only 21 people were killed. The list of the dead only included those who died in the hospital.

We heard that the critically wounded, senseless and dead or presumably dead were picked up and drove away out of the city and buried in undisclosed grounds. Slowly words came out from the soldiers’ quarters that even many of the people who gained consciousness and shouting for help in the trucks were buried alive to ensure that the true story of what happened that day and how many were killed remains undisclosed.

The Rakhine people each year remember with heavy hearts the mass killings on that day, remembering the atrocities and the ethnic cleansing of the Burmese junta perpetrated ever since upon their own people. The women hope that if their missing husbands and sons were alive today they would have taken up guns against the repressive, inhuman and racist Burmese military junta to clinch freedom.#