Testimony of Witness, Sayama Aye Mar Swe – Let Yet Kone School Attack

October 12th, 2022  •  Author:   Let Yet Kone School Attack  •  15 minute read
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***Note: The English translation below was done by a staff member of Progressive Voice to provide non-Burmese speakers about the teacher’s testimony as closely as possible.

Hi everyone! I am a teacher and a witness (of the Let Yet Kone attack). My name is Daw Aye Mar Swe. Our school is a merger of primary school and middle school. We always start teaching middle school students – from Grade 4 to Grade 8 – at 12 noon. We start teaching the rest of the students at 1 pm.

On that day, almost all the students were in the school as the time was about 1 pm. I think it was 12:50. Ko Aung Saw Htwe who always helped us address computer issues was in the school. He came to me and said, “Ama (older sister), there is an aerial mission!”. I looked up to the sky as soon as he said. I also heard the sound of aircraft. The aircraft (helicopter) was directed to the north, then turned back to our school. As Ko Aung Saw Htwe told me that there would be an aerial mission, I shouted at the teachers in the primary school building, “Teachers, aerial mission!” The teachers told all playing kids to enter the rooms. Some kids were playing inside the room while some were outside.

Then the kids playing near the pagodas/Buddha images at the eastern side of the school compound ran towards the primary school building. I stopped and called them to stay near me. Then, we entered the room. The aircraft used to fly over our school. So, I did not expect them to attack us deliberately and mercilessly because we did nothing to them. We only have the kids (students). They started firing artillery shell at the school after we entered the room.

The teacher next to me said, “Ama (older sister), they started shooting,” and I was like, “Really?” I forced the kids to stay under the bed. As our hall is old, we have many giant beds in the school, and I told the kids to hide under the big beds. The teacher and I stayed behind when most children had already hidden under the beds. Then, the teacher was shot in his thigh. He said, “Ama, I am shot!” When he lifted the sarong to see, blood was pumped. So I said, “Sir, you must go under the bed. Leave the responsibility to take care of the kids to me.”

I thrusted all the kids under the bed. When I was thrusting the children, another teacher from the bed behind me yelled, “Ama, Phoe Thar Lay is shot too.” Phoe Thar Lay is Zin Ko Oo, who passed away in Ye-U hospital. “Is he severely injured?” I asked. “Yes, he is,” he replied. I said to the kid, “Son, this is not too much. Please bandage the wound to prevent a massive hemorrhage. Otherwise, it will bleed too much.” I also shouted, “This is not too much. Don’t scare the kid”, to soothe his fear.

They (the junta soldiers) consecutively fired guns and artillery shells for an hour. During firing, the air-cooling fan beside us was hit and exploded. When I looked around the room, a fume of smoke overwhelmed the room. I also looked at the primary school building to know its situation, as even our two-story school building is damaged that much, and the primary school building is smaller. My three children were in the primary school building too. I am a mother of three children. I did not know what to do as I worried about my children and other students. Students under the bed were crying too much. They said, “We all are going to die.” I tried to calm them, “You all will be okay. Please prayer.”

Meanwhile, the air-cooling fan beside me was hit and broken. As I realized that we were not safe there as smoke overwhelmed the room too much and the kids were crying, I told the kids, “We will move to the big bed at the east. 10 students follow me. You will bend. Don’t stand up!” Then we crawled toward under the bed in the east. Sooner, a girl beside me was hit with pieces of artillery fire on her nape. She had her long hair tied. Her long hair was disintegrated. When I looked, I saw a hole in her nape. She shuddered and asked me in tears, “Sayama (teacher), am I about to die? Please take a look at my nape.” It was bleeding too much. I said “Daughter, it is okay. It is just a minor wound. Don’t think anything at the moment. Only God/Lord Buddha can save us. Pray now.”

I told everyone to stay alert and pray. I also swore in my mind, “We couldn’t do anything to hurt them. There are only children here. I wished for the termination of the aircraft based on my truth oath”. I was still praying. Meanwhile, a young teacher was running to us, holding a child. I asked, “Why are you running? Where are you fleeing from?”. She said, “Sister, I was just hit in my head.” When I looked at her head, she had blood on her entire face. I told her to hide under the bed. The kid following her had a disorder. So, I was worried about the kid too much. The kid’s body was trembling. I told her, “Daughter, do not panic. This is not scary. If you pray, this will be gone”.

As the teacher had blood on her face, I told a kid under the bed to take a handkerchief from the bed and give it to the teacher. I also told the teacher to put it on her head to reduce bleeding. She did it then. They still kept shooting. Big smoke was around the kids. They never failed to shoot, even for a second.

Following an hour of shooting, the soldiers with the bamboo baskets on their backs entered the building, firing guns and yelling out. They shouted that we must come out, adding that if they found us, they would kill us. Then, they arrived at the room we were hiding. They turned to the east and fired guns at Buddha images. They told us to keep our heads down while coming out. I told the children, “Sons. Don’t fear; we should go out otherwise, we will be shot”.

I went out, and the children followed me. We moved in a column. We arrived first because we came out from the two-story middle school hall. When I took a look at the primary school hall, I saw some kids walking on one leg as another leg was scattered. Some kids had their eyes bleeding. Some kids had blood on their whole bodies. As a mother, I was looking for my three children first. I found my elder daughter and younger son. My daughter had blood on her whole body. I asked her, “Which part of your body was damaged?”. She answered, “I was not damaged, mommy. My friend’s younger sister died and had a hole in her stomach. My friend had her limbs amputated by of the gunshots. Then, I was so worried about my second son. I didn’t find him. A kid behind me told me, “Teacher, your son is behind us.” Then I tried to call my son without making them (soldiers) notice. When my son saw me, he mentioned “Maung Phone, Maung Phone” and cried. I said, “My son. Please tell me what happened. You have me now. Don’t be scared. Please tell me.” Maung Phone Tayza is my nephew. My son said, “Maung Phone is in the blood pool. He called me to help him. When I was trying to go to him, a teacher stopped me and said I couldn’t go help him. My younger cousin is in the blood pool. He was writhing in agony.” I replied to him, “Your cousin will be fine.”

At that moment, Maung Phone’s mother entered amid the soldiers’ gunshots. The soldiers told the aircraft to stop firing on their Walkie Talkie as they were on the ground. Then the aircraft disappeared. The soldiers asked Maung Phone’s mother, “Hey woman, why are you coming? Do you want me to shoot you to death?”. She said, “I want to find my son here. My son’s here. He is just 7. Let me find him.” They said, “No. You can’t search him. Sit here. Do you want to die? Come here” They brought her near to us. They also told her to hold her head down.

Meanwhile, other soldiers were storming and searching in the village. They also detained villagers and brought them into our school. They brought many villagers. They told them to head down too. They also tied the Buddhist monks from our monastery. They said, “You guys are fake monks,” and asked them to recite Buddhist scriptures. The monks could recite as there were no fake monks inside our monastery. Then they said, “Okay, you guys are real monks.” They beat them. They also beat the people. They asked, “Does your village have a leader? We will kill you all unless you tell.” A drunkard they beat said, “Yes, we have a leader.”

Yes, we do have a leader in our village. But that leader is not a member of PDF. The regime troops always came to our village to burn property, loot property, kill people if found, kill and eat the livestock – they killed the rest of all livestock after eating enough. They even murder people. They torch homes. So, if their columns are advancing to our village and there is a possibility they will come to us, we all flee. No one is left. If the leader says they might not come to our village, we don’t flee. Our leader is such that person.

The drunkard said about it. He also said Ko Aung Saw Htwe who provided technical support to us, was our leader. Then, the soldiers beat Ko Aung Saw Htwe. He had to take off and give his ring to them as they ordered. There is another volunteer teacher. The volunteer teacher just passed the matriculation exam. The soldier also beat him and said, “You are a teacher. You are a PDF, right? How dare you?”. They brought the teacher near to us. A soldier put a knife to his throat and said, “Look! Children are in trouble because you guys are teaching. The children will still be in trouble if you guys keep teaching. Do you still want to teach?” The teacher answered, “No, I don’t.” Then they said, “I will kill you if you teach.” Then they beat the teacher. They also beat another person they had arrested in the village. So, a total of three people were beaten there. They also beat a person who talked to them too. They asked, “Where is the village clinic? Show me.” They took the three people to navigate them where the clinic was.

At that time, I kept my head up and requested, “My kids have injuries, Sir. Please take a look.” They said, “Come out, children who got injured.” Then I realized there were many, many children who got injured. I just took a risk to request them as I saw only a kid with much blood next to me. Some kids have their legs shattered. But the kids dared not cry because they were worried that the soldiers beat them when they cried. They endured their injuries. They dared not show their injuries. They said, “I have these injuries, but I am afraid to show. They would arrest us.”

I checked their wounds. If the wounds were minor, I told them not to show. Some children did not show their wounds as they were afraid. I also requested them to let me heal those kids. They let me do it, saying, “Okay. Stand up”. When I was allowed to stand, I started running to Maung Phone. I prioritized him as he was my nephew. I saw his hands disintegrate. When I looked at his torso, I saw his reproductive organ was absolutely removed. His thigh was smashed. His feet were bruised. He was groaning in his mother’s arm. He repeated, “Mommy, I hurt too much. Please kill me.” His mother said, “My son, please hang on to stay with me.” He kept saying, “Kill me. I am in agony.”

Then, I remembered Phone Thar Lay aka Zin Ko Oo was under the bed. I requested, “Sir, another patient is under the bed. Please take the kid.” They shouted, “Stand. Come out!” I said, “The kid cannot stand and come out. Please hold him up.” The soldiers pulled him out. But they pulled him like an animal. They put him on the bed. Blood was on his whole face. I was busy running to Maung Phone and Phoe Thar Lay.

There was another teacher who was the older sister of Phoe Thar Lay. So, I said, “His sister is here. Please let her take care of him.” I dare not mention she was a teacher because they were like, “Where are they? We will kill” whenever they heard “Teacher.” My kids were clever. They used to call me “Teacher.” They called me “Aunty Aye Mar” then. I request to allow me to go inside to call more patients. Then I told Zin Ko Oo’s sister to come and take care of her brother. However, I recklessly called her “Teacher” once. A soldier heard it. He said, “Where is the teacher?” I said, “No, it was a slip of the tongue. I was trying to call you “Saya (Sir).”

Then, we took care of Zin Ko Oo. He got unconscious sometimes, but his eyes were full of tears. I encouraged him, “You are okay. You have me, Aunty Aye Mar. Don’t be afraid. We are healing you,” But his eyes kept shedding tears. Meanwhile, Maung Phoe had to wear an oxygen mask. We had oxygen cylinders and oxygen masks as we had stored oxygen cylinders in the school during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Maung Phone passed away in his mother’s arms. The soldiers also said that someone who could drive could come out if we wanted all children alive. Then, our volunteer teacher came out. Another student’s parent they arrested from the village admitted he could drive. They were terrified. But they admitted they could drive to save the children.

The soldiers said, “You have to drive.” The soldiers instructed them to park their cars backward opposite the primary school hall. While parking, we turned west. The soldiers said, “Turn your face to the east if you don’t want to die.” While the driver was parking the cars. Then, I realized they would put our children. I just took a glance while taking care of my children. They put our children into the rice bags. It is not like wrapping dead bodies. It is like packing all material in a bag. They put the bag in the car. They also took the patients in another car.

As Maung Phone died, his mother asked for her son’s dead body. She even worshiped to get her son’s body. I also requested. “Sir, Maung Phone is dead. Please give us his body.” His mother also said, “Let me bury my son’s body with my hands.” They said, “We have orders from seniors.” They also said that they would give when they arrived Ye-U. They said they couldn’t resist the orders. They told us to go to the Dhamma hall. It was around 5 pm. They told the hostages to carry the baskets. Then they took them as human shields. They took severely injured children. Some children were just 7 or 9. Kids at these ages are not supposed to stay away from their parents. The kids had to follow them without any care from their parents. They already had injuries. And no one knows if they would kill the children with their arms. It was said that they took them to Ye-U.

They shot Ko Aung Saw Htwe, who was called the leader in his head somewhere on the route. The soldiers entering from the east shot every villager in the head whenever they saw them. Those who were killed include Ma Yu. She was a cowgirl. She had two children. She was shot in the head. They cruelly fired guns at everyone. They don’t care whether you are a child or an adult. I can’t imagine what kind of mind they have. They also shot each other as soon as they entered our school. They shot each other as they thought PDFs were coming. A long moment later, they said, “No. No. We are the same. We are shooting the wrong people. Cease fire.” There is no PDF and no KIA in our village. We are just farmers. We organize a voluntary school for children’s sustainable education. No one recognizes our school. Why did they shoot the school that cruelly? How did their think about firing guns at a school? I have no idea. I can’t think. That is our story.

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