New Book Tells Story of ABSDF Massacre Survivor

By San Yamin Aung 23 February 2015

RANGOON — Twenty-three years after more than a dozen members of a well-known student militia were massacred in northern Burma, a survivor of the incident has published a book recounting his experience.

The book was written by artist Htein Lin, who was a member of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) and one of the survivors of the Kachin State killings, which were carried out by some of the organization’s own members. The ABSDF was an anti-regime student army that formed after the country’s 1988 failed pro-democracy uprising to wage a campaign of armed resistance against the ruling junta of the time.

“The one definite answer as to why I wrote this book is my promise to Ko Htun Aung Kyaw [to expose the truth] and I feel like it’s my duty,” Htein Lin told the audience at a launch for the book, “ABSDF: The Northern Student Affair,” on Saturday.

In the jungles of Kachin State on Feb. 12, 1992, 15 members of the ABSDF were killed after they were accused of being spies for the military regime of the time, with some of the men tortured to death while undergoing interrogation.

Htun Aung Kyaw, the chairman of the northern ABSDF until he was accused of spying, was among those executed.

Prior to the Feb. 12 massacre, about 70 other ABSDF members were detained on similar espionage allegations in mid-1991. As many as two dozen other ABSDF members are thought to have died in the purge.

About 50 detained ABSDF members managed to escape in mid-1992, the author Htein Lin among them.

“I want readers to know how humans respond in difficult situations and while their lives are in danger,” Htein Lin said, adding that it was not easy to recount the incident.

At least three books about the massacre have previously been published.

“In my book, I was more interested to present my own experiences and how I have reflected on those instead of about the facts [relating to the incident],” Htein Lin told The Irrawaddy.

The book includes stories of the victims and descriptions of the torture, executions, deaths while in detention and the mass escape of dozens of ABSDF members suspected of espionage.

“I expect the readers will know how I felt,” he said.

Six ABSDF members who were among the party that escaped, including Htein Lin, presented performance art inspired by an excerpt from the book at its launch on Saturday.

Htein Lin said he had waited more than 20 years to tell his story because the country was not capable of meting out justice over the last two decades. Justice, the artist said, would include expulsion of individuals responsible for the killings from the ABSDF, and a clearing of the names of those accused of spying for the junta.

A daughter of U Sein, who died in ABSDF custody, opened an inquiry into her father’s death with a Rangoon court in 2012, but the case was closed four months later due to lack of evidence. In May 2013, Htun Aung Kyaw’s family also opened a case.

The ABSDF formed a truth commission to investigate the killings in 2012, and a report of its findings is expected to be released next month.

“Others haven’t open cases because the judicial process in the country is still weak,” Htein Lin said.