Aung Naing had admitted to the executions and killings of young ABSDF students in the book, “All Wars Are Dirty” by PHIL THORNTON

Aung Naing had admitted to the executions and killings

of young ABSDF students  in the book,

 “All Wars Are Dirty” by PHIL THORNTON

He had given lame excuses of not knowing or understanding the Human Rights and democracy. He also wrongly claimed that the killings were not politically motivated and nobody gained any political advantage.  

The worst part was that he never mentioned the tortures and the actual number of executions was much more than he admitted.

He claimed and blamed the KIO, Amnesty International and the ICRC with the following statement, “before we made it we approached, through the KIO, Amnesty International and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross]. We needed help; we wanted to hand the prisoners over to them. They said they couldn’t do anything, as they could not reach us on the Burma-China border.”

We need to investigate whether AI and ICRC actually got the news and refused to accept the student rebel prisoners. If they really get the message but acted irresponsibly they should be condemned because it is not very difficult to reach the ABSDF Camp through Burma, as many parents and relatives had really done that after informing the Burmese government and the Foreign Embassies like USA, British and Japan. We knew that the remaining students were released by the help of KIO/KIA without the knowledge of Aung Naing and new ABSDF leaders.

Aung Naing, we need a War Crime Tribunal but not merely an investigation like South Africa’s Truth Commission. Sorry, we could see your cunning wits of wishing to be free or off the hook even before you were caught.

To be fair to you, we wish to know why some of your partners in crime who were caught by Myanmar Military were not tried with the war crimes. May be they don’t wish to open their secret MI files but even if few of them were actually spies you have no right to torture hundreds and killed about fifty of them.

Just because MI’s “Myet Khin Thit” put a propaganda wedge by claiming that their spies had successfully infiltrated the ABSDF, your group led by ‘Shanis’ staged a coup, arrested, tortured and killed the fellow student rebels. If you had a sound and reasonable mind, you should understand or see through that propaganda warfare. No government nor any enemy would just easily declare that their spies had successfully infiltrated the opposing enemy and risks the exposures of their valued informants.

Excerpts from the “All Wars Are Dirty” by PHIL THORNTON

(Page 161, 162 and 163)

When I ran the journalism-training workshops on the border, I worked with either a Burmese or Karen translator, depending on the group. One of these translators was Aung Naing, the former Burmese student leader I had interviewed about NGOs. He was now a journalist, politically aware and with a sharp sense of humour. I particularly enjoyed working with him, and he had a very interesting history I was curious to find out more about.

Aung Naing had the face of a choirboy, and he dressed like the doctor he should have become: neat blue shirt tucked into charcoal trousers. His English was excellent. He laughed easily as he joked around the edges of the tragedy that was his life. He was a former chairman of the All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front [ABSDF) for northern Burma, and had played a central role in one of the biggest scandals to hit at the heart of the Burmese student army.

On February 12,1992, student soldiers executed fifteen of their comrades accused of spying for the regime. I wanted to interview Aung Naing about it, as he was one of the leaders who ordered the executions. It was a tough place to put him in, although he was surprised that no one had ever interviewed him about the incident before. He agreed, and we met in Mae Hong Son—where his group’s classes were held—at the house of a Burmese doctor, where I was staying. Aung Naing judged it would be a long night as I placed my notebook and tape recorder on the table. He responded by getting a bottle of whiskey and a cooler of ice. He drank heavily as we talked. I let the tape recorder capture his testimony.

“In 1988 I was studying medicine in Mandalay. I was a student leader during the pro-democracy demonstrations. The regime accused me of illegal political activities, so in 19891 left Mandalay to join the northern ABSDF in the Kachin State, close to the Chinese “It was tough, most of us were city kids with no experience of living in the jungle. We built and lived in basic bamboo huts. The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) supplied us with food, but it was difficult to survive, and many died. The Kachin didn’t completely trust us, as we were Burmans. They gave us a region to make money from jade mining and tax. It was 8,000 feet high, rocky, and difficult to grow rice or crops. We depended on supplies “In the rainy season the Burmese army attacked our positions, destroying our stores. We went without rice and salt for ten days. We became weak and those who got malaria died. I lost many friends, some only eighteen years old. Each of us got fifty kyat a month to live on. We existed by trapping and eating monkeys, rats, and porcupines . . . anything.

“I was shocked to see people blown up and dead bodies. I had no battle experience, but I did fight. In 1990 we fought for forty days. I took command after our chief-of-staff was injured. We got weapons from the KIO and what we took from dead enemy soldiers.

“At this time I was elected general secretary. I was in charge of our underground network. We used it to recruit students inside Burma. We began to notice we were able to go back and forth through enemy lines without problems, but we found we had recruited  students who had family connections with Military Intelligence. Our numbers quickly grew to more than 800. We suspected our network had been infiltrated by MI. Reports from the front line indicated we were losing battles in suspicious circumstances. Our soldiers noticed knife marks had been cut in trees that could have led Burmese soldiers to our positions.

“We started to watch some people. We arrested four or five and, after interrogation, we had a small list. The list included members of our central committee. We found out the National Intelligence Bureau had trained some of these as spies, and others were just used as informers. I think some were motivated by ultra-nationalistic visions of a Burman master race.

“It was very difficult for us to know what to do. I panicked. We knew nothing about human rights, or, more to the point, we didn’t understand. We asked the KIO to help us to interrogate. By now we had a list of eighty spies. We made videotapes in case no one believed us. We chained the spies and locked them in the barracks.

A Northern ABSDF central committee decided fifteen spies would be given the death penalty. We were at war, in armed struggle with the Burmese regime. Our constitution and law said we could give spies the death penalty. Many of our comrades had been killed because of these spies. Some members called for the death penalty for the entire eighty. We debated, argued, and finally agreed to fifteen. The sentences were determined by what the spies had done and how important they were to the [Burmese] military.”

Aung Naing was distressed by his memories and having to replay the events leading up to the executions. I upset him further when I asked him how the death sentences were carried out.

“Some of them were shot and some were beheaded. They were shot at close range by pistol by our officers. We thought the guns caused more suffering, so we thought if we switched to machetes it would be less. But they were not cleanly beheaded, even though the spinal cords were severed. I watched . . . it was done in front of all ABSDF soldiers.

“We would have liked to free all of them—but if we had, it would have sent a message that we welcomed spies. It was a hard decision to make, and before we made it we approached, through the KIO, Amnesty International and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross]. We needed help; we wanted to hand the prisoners


over to them. They said they couldn’t do anything, as they could not reach us on the Burma-China border. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But we felt we had no choice. It was not uncommon for armed opposition groups in Burma to execute spies. The Burmese army just killed anyone they caught on the spot without a trial.”

Aung Naing left the room to throw up. He came back and swallowed hard before he continued. “When life is peaceful, it’s easy to draw moral lines, but in war it’s different. In the jungle the only way to conduct politics is with armed struggle. It was said that the killings were politically motivated, but nobody gained any political advantage. We had no internal splits, none of us gained anything. Before the executions we ate fish paste, and after the executions we ate fish paste. It could have been eighty instead of fifteen. It is understandable the families are upset. We asked the parents to come and talk with us.

The people who betrayed us were our friends. My friend, Htun Aung Kyaw [ABSDF chairman at the time], was executed. He was like my older brother. We were very close. He didn’t admit he was involved, but evidence showed that he was.

“The fighting was hard. War is a different reality. We were isolated and had no connection with human rights groups. We had no opportunity to learn about democracy or human rights. If we had, it may have been different. I believed I needed to take responsibility and resolve the problem. There should be an investigation like South Africa’s Truth Commission. People need to know what really happened. The problem will be to get MI to hand over their files.

We thought we were emulating our hero Aung San by going to the jungle to fight to free our country. We didn’t even know Burma was freed because of the Second World War.

“I was 24. I thought I was old enough, but after this experience I knew I was too young to be a leader. I’m glad I’m out of politics.”

During lunch with Aung Naing in Mae Hong Son a few days after the interview, I pointed my spoon at a pungent dish in a wok. Aung Naing laughed and said that it was monkey intestine.

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