Leaving Prison, Ex-Child Soldier Calls for Peace in Myanmar’s Shan State

By Htet Khaung Lin 6 September 2019

YANGON—On his release from prison on Friday morning, former child soldier Ko Aung Ko Htwe called for an end to the fighting in northern Shan State.

Ko Aung Ko Htwe, who served in northern Shan State as a child soldier for the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, said the groups were fighting not for their political beliefs but out of self-interest.

“Why are clashes taking place today? For the interests of military leaders, not for the people and not for ethnic groups. While the children of military leaders are studying in foreign countries, soldiers are dying tragically,” Ko Aung Ko Htwe told the media outside Insein Prison in Yangon.

Clashes have intensified in Shan State since Aug. 15, when three of the four rebel groups that comprise the Northern Alliance launched attacks on a military academy in Mandalay Region’s Pyin Oo Lwin and on police stations in Shan State’s Naung Cho.

His elder sister, Ma Theingi, questioned the fairness of the judicial system for imprisoning her brother under incitement charges after he told the media about his life as a child soldier.

“The media asked and he told them about what happened to him. He didn’t make it up. But he was charged for incitement. He only talked about his experiences with the military, but not about the government. But he was charged under the law that applies to the government,” she said.

Ko Aung Ko Htwe was charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which can be used to prosecute anyone who makes, publishes or circulates information that may cause “fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the State or against the public tranquility”.

The Tatmadaw said Ko Aung Ko Htwe was allowed to continue his education at a government high school. But another sister, Ma Nay Zar, said he was forced to work on a farm.

In 2005, aged 14, Ko Aung Ko Htwe was abducted at Yangon’s central railway station and forced into military service, according to his family. He completed military training in Sagaing Region’s Monywa and was assigned to a unit in Shan State’s Laukkai.

After two years he escaped with two other soldiers. While making their getaway, however, the owner of a motorbike they were attempting to steal was strangled to death. Ko Aung Ko Htwe denied responsibility for the owner’s death.

All three were charged with murder, convicted and sentenced to death. In 2013, however, Ko Aung Ko Htwe had his sentence commuted to life in prison. He was released in July 2017, after 10 years in jail.

He was rearrested later that year after the military charged him with incitement for telling Radio Free Asia that he had been abused by the authorities during his first trial.

Ko Aung Ko Htwe was given a two-year prison sentence for the incitement charge plus six months for contempt of the court as he boycotted the trial.

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