Wednesday, November 2, 2011

‘Our people must bridge the gap’

Wednesday, 02 November 2011 18:07 Tun Tun

(Interview) – November 1 was the 23rd anniversary of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front [ABSDF]. The group says it will continue its armed revolution. ABSDF was formed on November 1, 1988, with the objective to fight against the former military regime in an armed revolution. A total of 1,024 ABSDF soldiers died in fighting during the past 23 years, according to the ABSDF. Mizzima correspondent Tun Tun talks with ABSDF chairman Than Khe about his ABSDF experience, its current political posture, his opinions on the new government and Parliament, and the group’s future plans.

Question: Can you about the formation of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front?

ABSDF chairman Than Khe Photo: U.S Campaign for Burma

Answer: The ABSDF was formed in 1988. At that time, we had three options: we could join the legal political organizations or the underground, or we could choose an armed revolution. Various ethnic people from all social strata including students and monks who wanted to carry out an armed revolution arrived in the ethnic areas. Young students of different nationalities arrived in the areas controlled by the ethnic armed groups. Then we formed basic units. Students arrived in areas in Kachin State, Shan State, Karen State, Karenni State and Mon State and the Pa-O and Palaung areas. Some students arrived in areas of western Burma, along the Indo-Burmese border. Then the representatives from basic units in different areas met. The ethnic leaders organized a meeting in the Wankha area to form the ABSDF.

Student representatives attended the meeting and formed the All Burma Students' Democratic Front on November 1, 1988. The representatives of the basic units elected members of the Central Committee. Then the Central Committee elected members of a Central Leading Committee.

Q: To what extent have you accomplished your objectives?

A: First, I believe that we bridged the gap between [fighting against] lack of Democracy and [fighting against] lack of national equality in Burma. Before 1988, the pro-democracy movement and the movement for national equality were separate from each other. After 1988’s pro-democracy movement, because of the efforts of politicians and students who arrived in ethnic areas, the two forces [pro-democracy activists and ethnic activists] established a mutual understanding. We believed that we must cooperate and work together. So now we have formed an ABSDF branch again in Kachin State. Moreover, we have cooperated with Karenni leaders in their areas, KNU leaders in Karen State and leaders in the Mon areas as much as we can.

Q: During the past 23 years, what were some of the biggest challenges to your organization?

A: The struggle of the ABSDF has been in two parts. The first was the political survival of our group. We needed to stay in touch with Burmese politics. There was political trickery by the former military junta. It affected us from 1992 until 2010. The junta agreed to a cease-fire with ethnic armed groups in areas where our units were based. During that period, some of our activities stopped in those areas. But the cease-fire did not bring a political solution. After 2010, cease-fires were broken because the political solution was not resolved, so our group could again cooperate with ethnic groups in fighting against the government. The second thing was that we encountered difficulty finding support and food. Because we are an armed revolutionary group, we are always in a tight corner. As soon as we arrived in ethnic areas, we received support from organizations. And we had tactical land. At that time, all [ethnic armed groups] were fighting against the junta. We received food and social support from our people and some foreign countries. At that time, we could solve problems to a certain extent. But, we could not find a solution for the survival of the whole movement. Later, the organizations that backed us stopped providing help so we encountered more difficulties. Now it has been more than 10 years. From that time until now, we did not get any help from other countries. We are surviving with the help of [former] ABSDF members currently living in foreign countries, and Burmese patriots living in foreign countries.

Q: Now, a civilian government has assumed power in Burma. What is your opinion on Burma’s current political situation?

A: We think that Thein Sein’s government is just a result of the “Road Map” to democracy. Since Burma achieved Independence in 1948, it’s been 63 years. During the 63 years, there were some periods in which the country was ruled under constitutions and some periods in which the country was ruled without a constitution.

For instance, Burma had a parliamentary democracy era with the 1947 Constitution. But the country had a lack of stability at that time. Then Burma had a socialist era under the 1974 Constitution and a lack of stability in that era too. Then in the era of the State Law and Order Restoration Council / State Peace and Development Council [the former junta], the country was ruled without a constitution. Now, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] rules the country with the 2008 Constitution.

We can draw lessons from those periods. If a constitution cannot guarantee to fulfill people’s rights and the country’s basic political needs, the country cannot be stable. In my opinion, the 2008 Constitution was not drafted in accord with people’s rights. It is just for the army’s sake, not for the people’s sake. So if a constitution does not guarantee the welfare of the people, democracy or national equality, it cannot bring stability to the state.

Q: Which process might best be used to establish democracy in Burma?

A: Dialogue and national reconciliation are the best answers. Hold a political dialogue and seek national reconciliation. The government’s meetings with national leader Aung San Suu Kyi should be transparent and equal. The processes should be all-inclusive to solve problems.

But I don’t think the current meetings have reached that level. First, the country must achieve stability within the state. The first step should be the release of all political prisoners including 88-generation student leaders. Another thing is that the government needs to stop fighting in military offensives across the country. Those are things the government should do as the first step.

Then the meetings with leader Suu Kyi should be more transparent and the government should create situations in which conflicts with ethnic people can becdiscussed frankly.

Q: What are the future plans of the ABSDF?

 A: Our conference agreed that our armed revolution needs to cooperate with public uprisings to achieve our objectives. We need to hold to this policy. We say this because political changes have not been made in Burma. Burma’s politics are not stable. We do not live under equal laws that all people obey. So we are likely to explode. All of us can be prisoners at any time in this country under these circumstances. We will prepare things in accordance with our strategy in which armed revolution and public uprising are combined.

Q: Others believe the best road to progress is a political dialogue. To what extent is an armed revolution important?

A: The ABSDF does not reject the idea of holding a dialogue. We always welcome dialogue. We always urge authorities to hold transparent and equal [fair] dialogues. But, in a situation in which a fair dialogue is impossible, we need to prepare to fight in every way, I think. We are cooperating with the groups that are fighting for national equality. If the government opens a transparent and equal dialogue, the problems can be solved. Peace can be achieved. On the other hand, the government still holds on to the 2008 Constitution and tries to put everything in the framework of that Constitution. Public uprisings can occur at any time and armed revolution will continue to exist. That’s why we have prepared for it.

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