ABSDF Visits Burma to Investigate Its Killings of ‘Spies’ in 1990s

By Myat Su Mon 30 May 2013

RANGOON—The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) said it is carrying out an internal investigation into what happened in the organization 20 years ago, when 35 of its members were killed on accusations of being spies for Burma’s military government.

Kyaw Kyaw Lin, the coordinator of the ABSDF’s Truth and Justice Commission, said the team was meeting with family members of the victims and ABSDF members who managed to escape after being accused of spying for the government.

“We have interviewed six members so far,” said Kyaw Kyaw Lin. “As for families, we have already visited Ma Nge’s mother.” Nan Aung Htwe Kyi, also known as Ma Nge, was an ABSDF member who managed to escape after being arrested and interrogated by the group.

“What had happened in their camp in Kachin State has had a lot of mental impact on them, so repeatedly speaking about it really hurts them,” Kyaw Kyaw Lin said, referring to some of the interrogation and killings that were carried out in Kachin State, where the ABSDF’s Northern Region was based.

The ABSDF was founded in November 1988 as an armed rebel group by students and youths who left their homes for Burma’s border areas, following the military regime’s brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising in September that same year.

Thirty-five ABSDF members died in custody in 1991-92, some of them executed as “enemy spies” and others tortured to death while undergoing  interrogation. In February 1992, 15 members were killed in the jungles on Kachin State under shadowy circumstances, and another 80 members were detained on similar charges in the early 1990s.

Questions have long surrounded the allegations against the victims and some have suggested that the killings were motivated by internal power struggles within the organization.

Among those killed in Kachin State in 1992 was Htun Aung Kyaw, the chairman of ABSDF’s Northern Region. During the 1988 democracy movement, he was a prominent student leader in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, and vice-chairman of the All Burma Federation of Students Union.

On May 17, Htun Aung Kyaw’s family opened a criminal case at No. 8 Police Station in Mandalay Division in order start a police investigation into his killing and to take legal action against the perpetrators.

In January 2012, the ABSDF formed the Truth and Justice Commission to investigate the killings, in particular in its Northern Region. The group is currently engaged in peace negotiations with the government and Naypyidaw has allowed members of the group, who still remain in exile, to visit Burma for three weeks to carry out its investigation.

The ABSDF commission will travel to Mon State and Rangoon and Mandalay divisions to interview families of the victims and former members who escaped interrogation.

Kyaw Kyaw Lin said the commission would discuss the background of the accused ABSDF members, the supposed evidence for the accusations made against them, and the health and psychological impacts that the members and their families have suffered as a result of the events.

Former ABSDF members currently resettled in foreign countries will also be contacted, while ABSDF documents being kept in an archive center in the Netherlands might also be studied for more information.

Kyaw Kyaw Lin said the group also planned to consult the victims and their families about how the ABSDF can address some of the impacts they suffered. The group has already issued a public apology for the events of the early 1990s.

“One thing I’d like to add is that this report is not the end of the story. The ABSDF’s northern region case has yet to be finished after the publication of the report. It will be just the beginning of the truth and justice we like to focus on,” he said.