Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Sheds Light on ABSDF Student Army’s Massacre

Front Cover of Maung Maung's Book.
A STORY never before told in full hit the stands in May and immediately pierced the hearts of many readers. This book is a detailed account of a man’s journey to save his brother from the unimaginable horrors of a remote camp run by a student army in exile.

After 1988, many students crossed the border to join the newly formed All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. One branch, known as the ABSDF (NB or Northern Burma), was based in Myanmar, just yards from the Chinese border. As is usual with any organisation hurriedly made up of friends and strangers, there were discords and jostling for position.
What set it apart from the usual “office” politics was that more than 100 of the 300 student soldiers of the ABSDF (NB) were accused of being ranking members of Military Intelligence. They were tortured until they confessed or died from their wounds, or executed if no confession was obtained. The “interrogations” took months and the tortures ranged from being nailed to a cross with 5-inch spikes, having hands cut off and having jagged rods shoved into body openings to the day-to-day: beatings, electric shocks and kicks with steel-tipped boots.
The accusers were motivated not by power for its own sake but what comes with it: access to unlimited amounts of funding that were rolling in from all over the world. Their obvious enjoyment at carrying out the cruel torture suggests it helped to assuage their jealousies and inferiority complexes.
Most of the earliest members of the ABSDF (NB) were young men from rural areas and they initially took up the leadership positions. Later, college students arrived and many were the founders or members of student organisations involved in the uprising of 1988. They had more political and administrative experience and international support began flowing in.
ABSDF's Student Prisoners.
The original leaders, who were of rough character and low capabilities, came under heavy criticism from the rank and file and a more democratic approach to leadership was taken. Htun Aung Kyaw, a college student from Mandalay, was a popular choice for the chairman position in the ABSDF (NB). The previous leaders were set aside, and quietly made note of those who were most critical of them. However, in a gesture designed to save face, the new leadership brought some of them back into high-ranking positions, including Thangyaung as chief of staff and Myo Win as his deputy.
In 1991, when a young student was caught running away from the camp, they had their chance: he was tortured and accused of being an MI agent. His accusers suggested names of people who he should also accuse as being spies. By September the boy was dead but they had the list of names they wanted and the purge began. The most envied had the hardest time of it; the torture was not about obtaining the truth, it was about getting the confessions to the alleged crime. Ronald Aung Naing, who had been friends with many of the now-accused since his Mandalay days, remained loyal to Thangyaung and Myo Win.
In early January 1992, Maung Maung, a businessman living in Mandalay, heard from an escapee that his brother, Nyi Nyi, had been arrested and accused of being an MI agent. Following directions given by this ex-ABSDF soldier, he travelled to the camp in mid January.
ABSDF (North) Killing Filed in Pajau Camp.
His account of February 12, 1992 – Union Day – is harrowing. He was left at camp with some guards while the rest went off to celebrate Union Day and describes the strange behaviour of the soldiers as they returned in the evening, with one carrying back a blood-stained sword. He only much later discovered that on that day 15 prisoners, including Htun Aung Kyaw, had been shot, hacked with hoes, or beheaded. These murders were just the tip of the iceberg: the torture was worse.
This book is a heartfelt outpouring about Maung Maung’s first trip to the camp and a second visit in April that he undertook together with five mothers and one father of six other prisoners, one of them a girl.
They could not bring back their children but two months later 55 prisoners, who were out on a work detail, escaped. Before he left in April, Maung Maung met two of them by chance and found out that they believed any ABSDF escapee would be killed as soon as they crossed into Myanmar.
He assured them it was not true and that the only reason he could come to the camp was because a returnee had given him directions and contact information. The boys were understandably glad to receive this news.
He also met Takahito Uezono, a Japanese freelance journalist who was visiting the camp. While he had been ordered not to take photos, he managed to get off some shots of the chained prisoners at work. Realising he was in danger, he jumped on the bus with Maung Maung’s group as they were leaving and safely reached Ruili on the Myanmar-China border. However, it is thought that his hotel room was later broken in to and all his rolls of film destroyed.
Maung Maung is not a professional writer and there is little doubt about the sincerity of his words. Many accounts by others who were among the accused and tortured can be found on the internet in both Burmese and English, including interviews with artist and activist Htein Lin, who now lives in London and was one of the prisoners in the ABSDF (NB) camp.
At present, Thangyaung is serving a life sentence in Tharyarwaddy Prison after his four death sentences – none believed to be related to the massacres he oversaw at the ABSDF (NB) camp – were commuted in a recent amnesty. Ronald Aung Naing is a journalism trainer in Chiang Mai, while Myo Win was killed under mysterious circumstances some time around 1992 but not by his cronies in the ABSDF.

Related Posts at Following Links:
Lord of The Flies: ABSDF Student Army Went Brutally Wild
Is ABSDF One of MIS General Khin Nyunt's Strategic Creations?
Rambo Maung Maung Khin's Fighting Peacock (1)