The son of a soldier serving with Myanmar Army Infantry Battalion 256, was banished from the base in Pakokku Township, Magway Division, apparently because of his involvement in the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU).
Thet Maung Maung, who had grown up on the base, said that before he was ordered to leave, battalion officers had called his mother and told her to warn him to cut his ties to the student movement.
“My mother told me on the phone when I was at university. She said the battalion officers had told her to sign a piece of paper, but she did not know for what reason,” Thet Maung Maung told a press conference held in Yangon on Thursday.
“Then, I came back to the battalion base and asked them why they had told my mother to sign the paper,” he said. “They asked me whether I was involved with the ABFSU and I told them I was a secretary for the group in Pakokku.”
The army then ordered him to immediately leave the base. That was on Feb. 13 and Thet Maung Maung said he was now staying at a monastery as he had no other place to go that would enable him to continue his studies at Pakokku University.
“I did not violate the battalion rules. I did not plan to do anything against the army,” he said.
The student held the press conference along with some fellow members of the ABFSU. He said he wanted to give his side of the story after the Ministry of Defense issued a statement on March 13 claiming the Tatmadaw had the agreement of Thet Maung Maung’s parents to kick him off the base. Thet Maung Maung said he tried to discuss the issue with the officers, but they demanded he sign a promise to end his involvement with the ABFSU.
The statement from the Ministry of Defense said the Tatmadaw needed to have solidarity within its ranks as it was an armed group. The army has issued a standing order that all persons who stay with battalions have to show respect to the army, and they cannot communicate with any political parties, nor participate in any political movement or group discussions against the army or the government. All persons have to abide by these rules. If not, they can’t stay with the battalion, the ministry said.
The statement also claimed that the Tatmadaw had the agreement of Thet Maung Maung’s parents to order him off the base, because he had violated the battalion’s rules.
Thet Maung Maung told the press conference that he was born into a military family and had grown up in the army. He said he would have face many difficulties as a result of being kicked off the base, but he would not return.
“The ABFSU is not a political party or an armed group opposed to the army. It is a group for students to work for a better education system,” he said.
His parents had urged him to leave the ABFSU, but he made the decision to stay, he said.
It is rare to see a person from an army family challenge the military in this way. Thet Maung Maung said he was within his rights to join the ABFSU based on the constitution. He said his constitutional right to associate with a group like the ABSFU had been violated.
Speaking at the same press conference, Aung Khine Lin, chairman of the ABFSU in Pakokku said: “The need for discipline within the Tatmadaw should not be above the constitutional rights of citizens. Every citizen can make their own decision. Discipline in the army should not be above the rights of citizens.”
He said the case was evidence the Tatmadaw did not respect the constitution. “They just do whatever they want. They like to say this constitution is great, but they do not even follow it.”
Zay Yar Lwin, another member of the ABFSU, called the incident a clear case of rights abuse. “There are many other children who are from army families and their rights may have been violated but we do not hear about it,” he said. “We can now prove it if we look at the Ko Thet Maung Maung case.”