All Burma Students’ Democratic Front Talks Peace in Rangoon

By Nyein Nyein 20 December 2012

An outlawed student armed group is meeting with government ministers, politicians and activists in Rangoon to discuss their role in peace processes between the Burma Army and ethnic rebels, a leader of the group said on Thursday.

Nine representatives from the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), which rose to prominence fighting for democracy against the former military regime, traveled to the country’s biggest city from southeastern Karen State on Tuesday for a two-week visit which will also include stops in Naypyidaw and their hometowns.

Kyaw Ko, a leading member of the ABSDF, said on Thursday that the group hoped to obtain advice from politicians and activists, share their experiences from staying in restive ethnic areas, and discuss their role in the government peace process.

“Their recommendations on what we should do is valuable advice for us,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The ABSDF, which formed in November 1988 after student activists fled to border areas to fight against the military regime, began communicating with peace teams from President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in January this year.

Members of the group are based in areas on both sides of the borders with Thailand, India and China. After two decades fighting against Burma’s former military dictators, they said their trip was the result of a meeting in November with the government’s chief peace negotiator, Aung Min, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The delegation in Rangoon met on Thursday with Tin Oo, a patron of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, along with ethnic Shan, Arakan and Mon leaders from the United Nationalities Alliance, which includes representatives from five ethnic political parties.

“It’s good if they take part in the current reform process because they have some experience” with political activism, said Hkun Htun Oo, leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.

The ABSDF also held a meeting with prominent activists from the pro-democracy 88 Generation Students Group, including Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Htay Kywe and Pyone Cho, on Wednesday.

“The ABSDF is not a separate group [from the 88 Generation Students Group],” Htay Kywe, who was imprisoned repeatedly under the former military regime for his activism, said after the meeting. “They [ABSDF] works in exile and inside the country, and they’re also part of the 88 generation.”

The nine-member delegation plans to meet with government ministers in Naypyidaw on Monday, and then they will reconnect with their family members for the first time in two decades.

They will also hold a press conference on Jan. 3, 2013, the day before concluding their first tour to their homelands.

Since Thein Sein took office in March last year, the government has signed ceasefire agreements with more than 10 ethnic rebel groups, although reports of clashes have continued in many areas.

In Burma’s northern Kachin State, a conflict between ethnic rebels and government troops is escalating after a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June last year. More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the conflict since then.