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Biography of Min Ko Naing

Introduction: The name “Min Ko Naing”, meaning Conqueror of Kings, is one of the main public figureheads in Burma’s struggle for democracy and human rights, and a former chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). Originally, the name was associated with a tight group of a few main student leaders who all used the same pseudonym on leaflets that were distributed during the mass upraising in 1988. But, quickly, Min Ko Naing became the name of one of these student leaders, a 3rd year university student at the Rangoon Arts and Science University (RASU), Paw Oo Tun. Min Ko Naing became one of most prominent student leaders in Burma’s country-wide pro-democracy uprising in 1988, because he managed to go beyond fighting merely for issues concerned with students, to become a proponent of the fight for human rights for the people of Burma as well. More than any other student leader at the time, Min Ko Naing managed to calm down the crowds in tense situations, to organise people for mass activities. His willingness to sacrifice himself in the struggle was, and still is, a vital moral boost for the students.

In March 1989, Min Ko Naing was arrested and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for his role in the pro democracy movement. Since then, he has been in solitary confinement in Burma’s most notorious prison, Insein Jail in Rangoon. He has become one of Burma’s longest serving political prisoner and a legend for the Burmese struggle. Although he is reported to be in very bad health, his fighting spirit is still strong.

Burmese students in exile as well as inside Burma have been fighting for years for his release as a part of their struggle to restore democracy and human rights in their home country. In March, 1999, they will be campaigning again to highlight the 10 years that Min Ko Naing will have spent in prison. Min Ko Naing remains a main symbol of Burmese students’ struggle against the country’s military dictators in 1988.


Paw Oo Tun was born in October 1962 in Rangoon as the third of five children of U Tun Lwin and Daw Hla Kyi. Paw Oo Tun grew up in a family interested in arts and politics, and he inherited both of these interests. His father experienced Burma’s long struggle to get independence from British colonial rule and the 20 years of parliamentary democracy under U Nu as well as the military coup staged by Gen. Ne Win in 1962 and the following years of one-party rule by the BSPP. The family kept themselves apart from the BSPP as a sign of defiance against military rule. His family lived in South Okkalapa in Rangoon where they were running a small store.

Paw Oo Tun’s father was a painter and a musician, who played the violin and the harp. He used to teach arts and painting to all those who were interested, and would sell his own paintings at home.

Since Paw Oo Tun was very young, he used to have a lot of friend around him. He would sometimes disappoint his father, who thought his son spent too much time with his friends, and too little for his studies. Later, Paw Oo Tun’s home became a well-known gathering place among his friends and colleagues. Paw Oo Tun was a student at the Thingangyun BEHS 2 (Basic Education High School) from first level to 10th standard (the year of the matriculation exam in Burma). After passing his matriculation in 1984-85, he joined the Botataung Regional College in Rangoon, where he took a major in zoology. He then went to the RASU/ main campus (Rangoon Arts and Science University), where he was a 3rd year student in 1988, the year he became Min Ko Naing and led the students in the countrywide pro-democracy movement that ended 26 years of military-backed one party rule by the BSPP (Burma Socialist Programme Party).

His friends and colleagues describe Paw Oo Tun (a) Min Ko Naing as the most charismatic of the student leaders to emerge in Burma during 1988, with a significant sense of humor. They describe him as naturally kind and generous, flexible and broad-minded. Among his friends, he was known as the “Kala” (“the Indian”, usually a derogatory term in Burma) because of his brown, wavy hair, his slight moustache and his beard.

Min Ko Naing inherited a noticeable artistic talent from his father, and he was a member of the arts organisation at RASU. He loved reading and writing poems, and translated several novels. His most famous poem is called “Thitsa” (Faith). Some of his poems were published by different magazines. Min Ko Naing was also very found of painting and used to draw humorist pictures. One year, for Thingyan (the Burmese New Year water festival, an occasion that traditionally has been used to criticise and make fun of the rulers), he wrote the jokes of a satire group called “Saik Pasat Nat Myet Si” (Goat Mouth and Nat Eyes) for a satire contest in Rangoon, and won one of the prices. He would also involve in the performance himself, particularly in the comedies. Usually, his satire stories were highly political, and consisted of political jokes against the ruling BSPP authorities.

Min Ko Naing combined an acute perception of what was wrong in his society with a deep sense of attachment to it. He rarely went to the cinema, and he never dressed in trousers, always using the traditional Burmese longyi.

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