It’s a Jungle Out There
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, December 02, 2022
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It’s a Jungle Out There


By Kyaw Zwa Moe, Naw Seng, and Ko Thet JUNE, 2002 - VOLUME 10 NO.5


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Most could not be reached for comment. One prisoner who was not so lucky, however, was Maung Maung Kywe. He was first actively involved in the Basic Education Student Union (BESU), which was established in 1988, before later receiving military training with the ABSDF in Kachin State. Initially, Maung Maung Kywe joined the democracy movement to fight against the military regime, said his friend and former BESU colleague, Nay Lin, but was later executed with 14 others for being spies. But some believe that the internal purges actually claimed many more lives. Moreover, some have come out recently admitting that suspects were tortured in detention. A senior ABSDF member, who was an eyewitness to the event, said that besides the 15 who were executed about five to 10 people died due to torture during the interrogation, including U Sein. U Maung Maung Tate, who was a former political prisoner with U Sein in the 1970s, and is now the chairman of the ABSDF’s three-man central judiciary committee, said, "U Sein had very strong political beliefs in prison, so it is difficult for me to believe that he was a spy." Aung Naing said that U Sein died in detention from poor health, not torture. He did admit, however, that beatings and electric shocks were applied during the interrogation, but could not confirm how many died in detention. Labya Laseng, a member of the central committee of the ABSDF in 1992, said that three detainees committed suicide during the interrogations. Others have said that some detainees who later escaped—including women—were tortured and now suffer severe mental illnesses as a result. ABSDF leaders in Kachin State explained that they approached international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to accept the detainees, but these organizations could not take any responsibility, although Amnesty International issued a request to stop the executions. Aung Naing, who has close ties with the former chairman, told The Irrawaddy that Dr Naing Aung had nothing to do with the executions: "The capital punishment was ordered by the central committee of the northern ABSDF though we informed the ABSDF central headquarters," explained Aung Naing. "We had our own authority and the capital punishment was decided by eight members of the central committee of northern ABSDF, including Kyaw Kyaw, Than Chaung, Myo Win, Sein Aye, Aung Gyi, Nay Tun, Labya Laseng and myself." At the time of the executions in 1992, the ABSDF was already divided into two rival groups: one headed by Moe Thee Zun and the other by Dr Naing Aung. Aung Naing Oo, who served as spokesman of the foreign affairs department of the Moe Thee Zun group said, "We officially stated that we had no connection whatsoever with that incident and also denounced the atrocities." A few years later, more atrocities in the jungle would follow. In one instance in 1997, Myo Win, a senior ABSDF member, ordered the execution of Soe Win on charges of "leaking information". But Myo Win failed to inform the central committee, thus stirring up more discontent within the organization. Aung Naing Oo, who studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School a few years ago, said that he had had enough and resigned from the ABSDF in 1999. In a 1999 interview with The Irrawaddy, Dr Naing Aung said that "even though we have the death penalty, we try to avoid it as much as we can since we have been blamed by international organizations about our executions with the spies." When asked if he was comfortable with the decisions to execute former members, he said: "As the head of the organization, sometimes I’m not only worried, I’m afraid. Because in some situations [where] you have to take responsibility, you don’t really see what happened, and you have to rely on [others’] reports." Nevertheless, many dissidents still believe that the ABSDF’s ugly past will continue to haunt their former leaders. Some warn that Dr Naing Aung’s suspended admission to Harvard could be just the beginning of wider repercussions that will reach others in the dissident community who committed acts of injustice. Whether Harvard will continue its regular scholarship program with Burmese students is uncertain. Aung Naing blamed the ABSDF’s judicial quandary on Burma’s pervasive militarism and weak education system: "Although we talked about democracy and human rights, we didn’t thoroughly realize what democracy and human rights meant. Our education system did not prepare us to understand those concepts." For those who have fled Burma in opposition to the killing and persecution perpetrated by the military regime, some have been subjected to similar inhumanities on occasion within their own dissident groups during their 14-year struggle for democracy.


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