September 27, 2007. Suspicious Burmese had predicted violence on this date, whose digits in the Gregorian calendar add up repeatedly to the astrologically powerful number 9: the 27th day of the 9th month in 2007.
The astrologist got this one right.
It was the day Japanese journalist Kenji Negai was murdered a soldier in cold blood. It was the day Burma's junta was irreparably disgraced before they eyes of the entire civilized world.
(Two posts, here and here, summarize what the outside world was learning about this day as it unfolded.)
Protest leader U Pan Cher (more about him here) helped to lead protesters on 27 September, as he had on previous days. At a safe house in Thailand, he shared his firsthand perspective on that ominous and decisive day.*
U PAN CHER: On the 27th, when we got together for the protest, we planned for three columns this time. U Pan Cher then describes the paths of the three columns; he was in the third. Others columns came out organized by others. All together that day there were about 8-9 columns in Rangoon.
JOTMAN: Were you involved in the planning of the three columns?
U PAN CHER: The students organized these. This day the students are the majority. We listened to their plan and said, "that's sounds good, we would support it." On the 27th, there were fewer monks involved in the protests. Because on the 26th there had been heavy raids on the monasteries. There was great brutality. When the monastery doors remained closed they rammed the doors with their trucks. And in some places, guns were fired. I guess about 3-5,000 monks were arrested on the 26th -- and lots of them injured.
The first column to get shot at was the first one. When they reached the State High School #3 of Tamwe. Some two students were killed when they were hit by cars being driven into them.
The parents and students inside Tamwe State High School #3 shouted: "The military orders given by General Aung San are not to kill the people." So they got angry and shot into the school also. So secondary school students got shot and died. . . . A lot of students' parents got injured.
Some other information we got was not exact. Because we were in the protest, and we shared information among ourselves, people to people. So we heard this from others.
JOTMAN: And you were to meet at Sule? All three columns?
U PAN CHER: The meeting point is Sule. As soon as they heard about the shooting of the Tamwe column -- at the time they were at Gabare Pagoda Road -- they dispersed the column and rushed to Sule. All the people rushed there to regroup, by whatever car they found, they asked the drivers to take them to Sule Pagoda.
JOTMAN: You are referring here to the column that got shot at?
U PAN CHER: The first column was the one shot at State High School #3. The other two columns safely arrived at Sule Pagoda. Their target was the biggest column, which was column #1. So the other columns got by.
U pan cher begins to draw a map of the Sule Pagoda area. It would help him explain to me the terrible events that followed:
* Note: This post is Part II (see Part I) of my exclusive interview with U Pan Cher, a leader of the 2007 protests in Rangoon.
Photos: by Jotman.