YANGON – An atrocity committed 20 years ago by an armed opposition student group continues to haunt Myanmar, a bloody purge that could have far-reaching consequences for segments of
After hiding their pain and anguish for two decades, the survivors and family members of victims are now demanding that those responsible should be brought to justice. Some of the alleged murderers are living in Thailand, supported by international non-government organizations. But if justice is finally served, would it stop there and how long would the military allow for backward-looking investigations into its many past abuses?
Myanmar authorities have kept conspicuously silent on the issue, knowing full well that, as one Myanmar source put it, “if the
students after 20 years haven’t forgotten and forgiven those who killed their own comrades, what about justice for all those thousands of people who were killed by the military’s bullets in 1988 or were tortured and had to spend most of their youth in dark prison cells?”
In early 1992, underground rebels from the anti-government All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) situated near the Chinese border in northern Kachin State accused almost a third of their comrades, or 107 out of a total of 350-400 in the “student army”, of being spies for the military government and its intelligence service.
According to the accounts of survivors, 36 were executed or died from torture they sustained during interrogations. The purge unleashed on other young people who had for several years fought for democracy in remote jungle areas was by all accounts extraordinarily brutal.
Htun Aung Kyaw, the chairman of the northern ABSDF and a well-known former student activist from Mandalay, was beheaded after being tortured with a hot iron, according to the accounts. He had earlier been forced to drink the blood still dripping from the head of a decapitated comrade. Aung Phone, another of those who had been accused and apprehended, had had tied to his foot a landmine, which was detonated and blew off his leg. The following day, he was beheaded.
A young woman activist was gang raped and had sharpened bamboo poles thrust into her vagina, ostensibly to look for poison that was going to be used to kill the leaders of the student army, before she was killed. She was also forced to perform fellatio on the body of her murdered boyfriend. The woman was a student at Rangoon Arts and Science University before joining the armed resistance after the September 1988 massacre of pro-democracy protesters in the then capital.
The witchhunt began in late 1991 when Chinese police in Yingjiang across the border from the ABSDF camp arrested 10 young Myanmar men armed with pistols and grenades. They were sent back to the camp and madness erupted among the young activists.
A videotape later released by the ABSDF shows the accused being brought to “justice”. In the video, a row of uniformed young men are seated at a wooden table, looking more like mediaeval inquisitors than the pro-democracy activists they then purported to be.
One of the accused after another admitted to their “crimes” in the videotape. Their statements were in some ways as meticulous in detail as the “confessions” extracted by torture in the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia. At night, all the prisoners were kept in a bamboo hut, shackled together without blankets on an earthen floor.
“As our lives were in their hands, we had to bend according to their whims,” says Htein Lin, one of the survivors and now a well-known artist in Yangon. Nang Aung Thwe Kyi, another survivor, says that she had a gun pointed at her head while being asked a question she did not understand: “What did they order you to do?”
Then an idealistic student activist in her 20s, she was accused of being a “second lieutenant” working for the government’s military intelligence. She now lives in exile in Sydney and continues to support the struggle for democracy in Myanmar.
The families of those accused eventually went to the camp. Some survivors, including Nang Aung Thwe Kyi, were released; others, like Htein Lin, managed to escape just to be caught by government forces and sent to prison for many years.
At the time, the killings garnered little attention from the outside world. Yindee Lertcharoenchok, a Thai reporter for the daily The Nation who visited the camp in the north, wrote about it in her Bangkok-based newspaper. This correspondent highlighted the murders in the July 16, 1992, issue of the now defunct Hong Kong-based weekly Far Eastern Economic Review.
Many international organizations that directly and indirectly funded the anti-government student group were silent on the incident. This despite the fact that the ABSDF’s central office on the Thai border had issued a statement on March 1, 1992, justifying the executions on the grounds that those arrested were “government spies” who had “attempted to assassinate” ABSDF leaders.
The ABSDF’s then overall chairman, Naing Aung, visited the camp in the north after the arrests and reportedly did not condemn the executions. He also referred to the victims as “spies” in a statement issued by him at the time. When he returned to Myanmar on a short visit on August 31 this year, angry survivors met him at the airport in Yangon with placards that referred to him as a “killer”.
Ronald Aung Naing, the secretary general of the ABSDF’s northern bureau at the time of the killings, confessed to having a role in the events in a chapter of Thailand-based author Phil Thornton’s book Restless Souls: Rebels, Refugees, Medics and Misfits on the Thai-Burma Border.
Today, Naing Aung heads the Thai-border based Forum for Democracy in Burma, while Ronald Aung Naing is a media trainer in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Several of those accused of the killings now receive financial support from international advocacy organizations – a situation that is now being highlighted and challenged by survivors of the killings who live in Myanmar and in exile.
Naing Aung said in written response to Asia Times Online questions that he “regrets” the human rights violations, which he says happened without ABSDF headquarters “decision and knowledge”. He said he was not aware of the killings until they were reported in The Nation newspaper and that his headquarters had “no physical and constitutional power to take inquiry and follow up action on what [was] really happening”.
A scholarship Naing Aung received to study at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government was withdrawn in 2002 by the elite US-based institution after survivors of the massacre protested. In 2008, Ronald Aung Naing was hired as a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Burmese language service but later lost the position for the same reason.
Survivors and family members of the fallen who met this correspondent this month in Yangon were eager to tell their stories and argue their case. Several retrospective articles have recently been published in the Myanmar media about the atrocity.
Maung Maung, alias Shwe Karaweik, a brother of survivor Smar Nyi Nyi, has written and published a local-language book entitled My experience of a modern-day tale of 90,000 hinthas, a gripping account of the purge. Until now, as one of the survivors said, they and their family members did not want to go public to avoid having their accounts being used as propaganda by the military against the entire pro-democracy movement.
On the other hand, the survivors have received little support or sympathy from the opposition, a silence that if it endures could discredit the pro-democracy movement. The government’s reluctance to hear their grievances, however, reflects a broader sensitive issue: how to deal with atrocities and human rights abuses committed by the military against the pro-democracy movement and ethnic minority groups?
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations have documented in detail the Myanmar’s military’s use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrations, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and rape.
“The ABSDF case should also serve as an example to other perpetrators of violence, from government forces to insurgent groups,” said David Mathieson, senior researcher for Myanmar at Human Rights Watch. “This case could spark a broader public debate on addressing issues of past abuses and what mechanism is best suited to end decades of impunity and abuses.”
The first die has been cast by the survivors of the ABSDF killings. Yet it remains to be seen if any judicial institution in Myanmar or elsewhere is willing to take up their case. “Ignoring past violations serves to exculpate the abusers, deny the victims and their families the truth, and potentially embolden a new generation of men with guns to perpetrate violence against civilians with impunity,” says Mathieson. “Myanmar’s defense services have rarely if ever faced adequate legal investigation, nor have ethnic armed groups.”
I was arrested in Shwe Dinga teashop. We held a strike at around noon. We gave speeches. It was raining. We finished giving speech at around 3:30 and we entered the teashop at around 4. We were arrested there.
We were taken to the Papaetan police station then to Insein. I was released after 14 days.
So things changed. Even though I was young, they know me and I cannot participate in activities freely. So I changed my place with Cho Gyi. He was planning to go to liberated area and I am supposed to attend school while participating in the activities. But we changed places.
When we first got to the border, we did not think about taking arms and no one thought about forming ABSDF. What I want is just bringing justice and freeing my friends from prisons. I cried when I get out of the prison. My friends were still held in there.
It was worsen that I get to the prison. I formerly just dislike because my friends were imprisoned. I stayed with different peopled while imprisoned. When I was released, I felt lonely. Some of my friends were in prison and the others were away from me.
Some accused me that I was released because I signed not to involve in activities. Some even thought I am informer. I want to tell something. There was an intelligent officer San Kque. He was assigned for Sangchaung Township. He occasionally came to me and told whoever took control of the country will be our government and they are always with us. He always talked like that.
It is rude to tell him not to come to me. What I did not notice is that he paid for the charges for us in teashop. I knew that only after the waiter told me. The intelligent officer paid it. That is what happened before I was arrested.
I rarely stay at home during the time just before my arrest. In fact, most of the student activists did not stay at home. We usually stay in offices or friends’ houses. I stayed at Dr. Cho Tu’s house. I slept there. The spooks even came there. It was not just me. All of us were dogged.
What happened is a spook told me that that one of us is going to be arrested. So I have to inform my friends since I did not know that guy. Soon, that guy was arrested and it happened that I had warned that. They began to think I am a spook. They were spying on us and we had fallen in their trap.
Sometimes, they even donated us. We did not take most of the time. We also publish poem books. The officials always bought the books. We knew that but we needed that money to publish leave-lefts.
After I was released, I heard that Nyein Nyein Zinn was released just because her parents approached some higher ranked officials. So we were doubted. That events make me hate any one dressed in military or police uniforms. That anger led me choose the path of taking arms.
I initially hoped to go to southern part but I reached northern. There were 2 motivates for me to take arms: to revolt against the oppressive regime and to recuse my friends. The later is a childish dream. I literally wanted to recuse my friends.
To be continued.
The first time we regroup after the coup is the funeral of Khin Kyi, wife of Gen. Aung San. It was 1989. Before that there are various small parties. I joined the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and I got a member card. I participated in their movements. I think it was second week of January that we met for the funeral. The next time is 13 March funeral of Phone Maw.
After that some divisions began to form in the federation. There are two unions for high school students and also divided among Yangon district and Yangon division. After all, the federation was divided into ABFSU and AMFSU. What I want to be happened is as Ko Paw (Min Ko Naing) said to go back to our schools and lobby the other students. So I went back to school with the duty of township representative of high school unions. I met Cho Gyi there. The first problem we faced is to or not to attend school.
At the same time, many political parties are discussing about whether to participate in the upcoming election. We support not to attend school unless our demands are met. We demanded to release our friends. You know we cannot attend school if our friends are in prisons. We also asked for peaceful learning for us students. So we decided not to attend school.
There are also some who want to attend school. They think about protesting within the school so we did a choice that best suite both: launching a demonstration similar to 88 uprising. Some strikes began to form. It began in March. I remember the day, March 27, 89. We form small groups and protest across the city. I was arrested on June 29.
To be continued.
BURMESEPART 1-2 http://myitmakhamediagroup.com/other_detail.php?newid=153
BURMESE PART 3-4 http://myitmakhamediagroup.com/other_detail.php?newid=158
BURMESE PART 5-6 http://myitmakhamediagroup.com/other_detail.php?newid=160
Kyeysintaung copper-mine project site seen in October. (Photo-Wai Yan Phyo Oo/EMG)
The environmental impact assessments and environmental management plans of a controversial mining project in Myanmar will be completed by March next year, a report released on October 23 said.
About US$1.12 million will be spent each year to manage the environmental damage caused by the Monywa copper mine, a joint-venture by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and China’s Myammar-Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd.
Villagers have been protesting against the project as it will cause environmental destruction and forced relocation.
Latpantaungtaung copper-mine project site. (Photo-Wai Yan Phyo Oo/EMG)
The UMEHL said extractive companies are responsible for any harmful effects on the environment, adding there were no guarantees that mining would not have negative impact in surrounding areas.
“For example, trees and mountains will be removed. So, we can’t leave them as they are after the project. We need to grow trees and fill up the mines,” it said.
The copper mining project will start in 2013. Land preparations are now underway. Reports said residents were paid 520,000 kyats (US$610) per acre for 4,800 acres.
An official from the President’s Office has clarified about the arrival of two military aircraft from Turkey at Yangon International Airport on October 25.
Director Zaw Htay (Hmuu Zaw) said on his Facebook page that they were C130 planes carrying only humanitarian aid for the victims in Rakhine state, western Myanmar.
They carried only foodstuff and household things, which will be transported to Sittwe by a Myanma Airways chartered flight. The aid will be sent to both Rakhine and Bengali victims through the regional government, he said.
Zaw Htay also urged people not to be worried about the news, and assured that the aid will be sent only after being inspected at the airport.
The two military aircraft arrived in Yangon on October 25 with 14 crew members on board, including an official of the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The Foreign Ministry reportedly directed the airport immigration division to issue visas on arrival to the crews.
The reason behind the arrival of the Turkish-flagged planes was initially unclear and it triggered public concern.
“As directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we issued visas on arrival to them on October 25. But we don’t know why they have come here,” said an airport official who did not want to be named.
Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) joined forces to fight against the government. According to a spokesperson from TNLA, the government’s Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 501 and Infantry Battalion (IB) 144 fought on Saturday morning at 9am near the Se Nay village, between Nan Hkan and Kut Khai districts in Northern Shan State. Recently, the three ethnic armed groups made a commitment to work together in solidarity against the Burmese military. “The military has been following us while our troops [KIA, TNLA, SSPP/SSA] are off traveling the country to organize. They attacked us; this battle lasted over five hours. A villager from the Mine Wi Hospital said that three government soldiers died and eight were injured,” informed Mai Phone Kyaw.
The government military has been tailing ethnic arms groups since they began a campaign to eradicate narcotic drugs in Nan Hkan and Kut Khai districts. Nan Hkan, Kut Khai, Mong Tong and Mong Sang districts have more than ten government military battalions patrolling the areas and the military base is located in Mong Sang, Mong Tong and Nan Hkan (Mine Wi). On October 23rd a commander from Northern Division Military Headquarters came to direct orders in Mong Tong, this led to a battle between government troops and the people’s militia in Pan Shay with the KIA/TNLA/SSPP troops in the area of Thapangon-Shaukpangon village on October 25th. After this battle the government’s military operation increased.
In the Northern part of Pan Shay the government is growing opium plans, additionally Pan Shay is also where Shwe Natural Gas Pipeline is located, which creates a pathway through the central area. Because of the most recent battle the government troops have extended their occupied area all the way to the Shwe Natural Gas Pipeline pathway. This led to the ethnic armed groups increasing their troop numbers.
There are four TNLA battalions in Kut Khai and Nan Hkan areas: 112 Kut Khai, 256 Nan Shan, 367 Mong Tong and 478 Nan Hkan. These TNLA battalions, as well as KIA’s Brigade (4), cooperate with SSPP/SSA’s Nan Magwin battalions in the areas of Kut Khai, Nan Shan, Mong Tong and Nan Hkan.
KIA, TNLA and SSPP/SSA are members of the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFU). Even though SSPP/SSA signed a ceasefire agreement the government is still trying to force SSPP/SSA to withdraw their troops and threatening them with attack if SSPP/SSA does not comply.
Lieutenant Senior General Min Aung HLaing, the government’s Commander-in-Chief Defense Services, visited the Goldern Triangle area of Kengtung in the Eastern District of Shan State last September 6th and met with the chairman of United Wa State Party (UWSP). According to UWSP, Min Aung Hlaing urged the UWSP to not cooperate with the SSPP/SSA and KIA alliance army.
The ethnic arms groups have little faith in the governments promise to keep true to the ceasefire agreements. Five ethnic groups within UNFC have not signed a ceasefire agreement but they have built alliances with ethnic groups that have, and continue to work together.