On This Day

The Day Myanmar’s Students in Exile Organized to Battle the Military Regime

By Wei Yan Aung 1 November 2020

Yangon—On this day in 1988, student activists in exile formed the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) at the Wang Ka Camp of the Karen National Union on the Myanmar-Thai border in order to fight against the country’s military regime. The founding of the ABSDF came one month and 14 days after the military staged a coup.

Thousands of students left for border areas near Thailand, China and India in response to the military coup. As part of a propaganda effort, the military regime repeatedly aired a movie entitled “Parpima,” depicting tragic ends for exiles, on state-owned Myanma Radio and Television.

Ignoring the propaganda, the ABSDF, which was the first students’ army not only in Myanmar but also in the world, took up armed struggle against the dictatorial military regime. Its members endured harsh conditions while living in the forests and surviving on little food. The first chairman was Tun Aung Kyaw, and his successors Moe Thee Zun and Dr. Naing Aung are also famous student leaders.

The ABSDF, which had more than a thousand members including over 200 female soldiers, did not have its own territory but fought alongside ethnic rebels in northern, western and southern border areas of the country. More than 700 members lost their lives in the fighting.

On Oct. 15, 2015, the ABSDF signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the U Thein Sein government.

U Than Khe now leads the 32-year-old organization, which still operates in Karen State, Three Pagoda Pass in Mon State and in northern and western Myanmar.

The brutal killing of 15 members over allegations of spying for the military regime at Parjaung camp in northern Kachin State in 1992 left a dark stain on the image of the ABSDF.

The first chairman of the group, Tun Aung Kyaw, in his book on the establishment of the ABSDF and his personal experiences, wrote that students were still holding a conference to discuss the idea of founding the ABSDF on Nov. 1. However, after his successors, who were not at the conference, took the ABSDF leadership, they designated the founding day as Nov. 1, which he called a distortion of history.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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