CHIANG MAI — The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), an armed group that signed a national-level ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government a few months ago, says that it has taken a vehicle-import permit from the government for its future works.
“Funding is needed to implement our political programs in the future. That’s why we accepted the government’s offer,” Myo Win, the ABSDF’s vice-chairman, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday.
“We didn’t take it for the welfare of individual members or the organization as a whole,” he stressed. “With this funding, we will only implement political programs that support the current reform process.”
On Nov. 23, an ABSDF delegation led by Myo Win visited the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai to meet and discuss political issues with representatives from 11 political parties based inside Burma.
Last month, an official letter sent to Than Khe, the ABSDF’s chairman, by President’s Office Minister Aung Min, the government’s chief negotiator, spread on Facebook and other social media stating that the administration would provide the ABSDF with 60 vehicles to be used for the organization.
In fact, however, the government only provided the group with tax-free import licenses for 20 vehicles for its leaders, while allowing rank-and-file members to import another 40 at a tax rate of 60 percent.
Another letter signed by Than Khe authorizing Sonny, the ABSDF’s general secretary, to take care of the matter also appeared online the same month.
Previously, former ABSDF members living abroad donated money from their earnings to support fellow members of the group living along Burma’s border areas. Lately, however, such assistance has reportedly been cut.
Many ethnic armed groups have been offered vehicle import permits following their peace talks with government delegations since the administration led by President Thein Sein took office in March 2011.
Dr Sui Khar, the general secretary of the Chin National Front (CNF), told The Irrawaddy that the permits were a “gift of peace” given to ethnic armed groups after a preliminary ceasefire agreement was reached at the 66th Union Day ceremony held in the capital Naypyidaw in February of this year.
Like many others, the CNF was provided with a permit to import 60 cars, he said.
The Karen National Union (KNU), one of the largest ethnic armed groups, was reportedly offered 120 vehicles, while the Kachin Independence Organization, another large group that has been fighting the government army since a ceasefire broke down in June 2011, refused to accept any.
According to a businessman involved in the car trade in Rangoon and some other cities, some armed organizations have raised funds by selling the import permits.
“Depending on the types of vehicle they [armed groups] import, they can earn tens of millions of kyat for one car,” said the businessman, who asked not to be named.