Monday, November 7, 2011

‘Red Spider’ tries to save Suu Kyi

Monday, 07 November 2011 17:11 Tun Tun

New Delhi (Mizzima News) – The plan was bold and hush-hush; Code named “Red spider,” the aim of the never-executed operation in 1991 was to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest at her lakeside home in Rangoon and spirit her off to set up an alternative government.

A few members of the militant All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) and some leaders of armed ethnic forces had planned the clandestine operation to free Suu Kyi, the head of a small undergroud group told Mizzima.

Such a parallel government, they hoped, would draw a significant number of soldiers to defect from the Burmese army. Their hope was to tip the balance of power away from the military junta. The plan cost them their freedom when was exposed and they were all arrested.

Min Han, the chairman of “Red Spider Operation,” was in command of the Rangoon-district guerilla force. He recalled the bold plan to Mizzima:

“Our trusted leader was in their hands as a hostage, and we had to operate the movement under this situation. If aunty [Suu Kyi] agreed to our idea, we would form an interim government in the liberated area with her leadership. We would stand as an official government force behind her.”

But the plan collapsed before it could be launched. Min Han was arrested for the operation and sentenced to death in 1991. He was released from prison under the president's amnesty on October 12 this year. Now he wants to live in peace, and return to writing as a journalist and to publish literature.

He claimed Saw Bo Mya, late chairman of Karen National Union (KNU) and Branseng, late chairman of Kachin Independence Army (KIA), were involved in the clandestine plot.
Around that time, Suu Kyi had been under house arrest since July 20, 1989, under the authority of the State Emergency Act.

At the time, nobody knew whether Suu Kyi would agree to the idea or not. The underground group also had a plan to “sabotage” Insein Prison and businesses relating to the junta in an effort to force the government to hold a press conference.

They believed that after the sabotage, Suu Kyi might somehow be allowed to deliver a concealed response to their actions, giving the green light to undertake more such activities.
“The main problem (for us) was whether aunty (Suu Kyi) would agree to our actions or not. Nobody could know what she was thinking. Our idea was to provoke a message from her through our operation’s plan,” Min Han said.

“We planned to take our time. Aunty may not say a word, but if she gave a signal we might assume 'yes', and we would plan other operations,” he said.
Min Han and Bo Toe Lin, aka Thiha, left Manerplaw, the stronghold of the KNU, for Rangoon for the sabotage operation. They were trained in explosives, and they knew how to use disposable launchers, claymore bombs and other weapons.

Although Min Han was charged to lead the operation, he was actually a member of a Burmese literature circle, and he edited “Gita Padaetha” (Music variety) magazine, published by the Music Council. His father owned a publishing house called Ya-Mon-Nar as well. After he married, he had left high school and earned his livelihood in the literary field.

A childhood friend, Thet Oo recalled: “He was an active guy, but sometimes he was aggressive. He wore thick glasses, but physically he was very stout.” When Min Han was in prison, he used to try to correct injustice and work for prisoners' rights, he said. “He fought against the prison authority and he called for the release of the remaining prisoners,” Thet Oo said.

After the military coup in 1988, the junta held the first multi-party elections in 1990 and the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory of seats. Later, the junta refused to transfer state power to the elected representatives and said these MPs were elected only as a constituent assembly, for drafting a constitution. Many party leaders were arrested later and some elected MPs had attempted to form an interim government by their own.

“If she followed us, the political landscape would change,” recalled Min Han.
The operation was disclosed prior to any actual action and 15 people including Min Han were arrested on January 16, 1991, and charged with high treason. Five rebels including Min Han were sentenced to death while another 10 members were sentenced to life imprisonment. However, the authority pardoned the death sentences to life imprisonment in 1994. All have been released in the amnesty.

When someone exposed the operation, security forces raided Min Han’s home in Tamwe Township, Rangoon.

“There were no explosive at my home,” he recalled. “They found only people. But they thought we might have arms. They raided my house while I was having lunch. The security officer pointed a gun at my head and arrested me.”

“We heard a message from aunty when we arrived in prison. What she supposedly said was that she heard the news that some students were trying to free her. She said she was not in trouble. If it was true, we would definitely have cancelled our operation.”

Min Han’s plan was not the only time activists on the outside hatched plans to free Suu Kyi from house arrest. The next incident involved an American, John William Yettaw, 54, who sneaked into her high security compound on May 3, 2009, crossing Inya Lake by swimming with the aid of a 5-liter water bottle. He spent three days at her home, and he was arrested as he attempted to leave.

He was arrested along with his passport, a black backpack, a plier tool, a Cannon camera, two US hundred dollar bills and 93 one thousand kyat notes.

Yettaw handed over two hooded garments similar to gowns worn by Muslim women and a pair of sunglasses, the then Police Chief Pol. Gen. Khin Yi said at a government press conference on June 25, 2009. Yettaw may have planned to give those items to Suu Kyi as a disguise, if she agreed to try to escape.

Pol. Gen. Khin Yi accused some organizations and individuals of conspiring jointly with Yettaw, who seemed to lack personal funds. Yettaw defended himself at the trial, saying he was sent on his mission by God and Suu Kyi’s life was in danger from terrorist groups.
For the uninvited intrusion, Suu Kyi’s house arrest was extended three more years. Subsequently, her sentence was halved by Snr- Gen. Than Shwe's order.

At the time of the ABSDF “Red Spider Operation,” it was also accused of an assassination plot against the powerful intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt.

A report in the Irrawaddy magazine on “The Would-Be Assassin who Couldn't kill” alleged the ABSDF had plotted an assassination attempt, called “Operation Eagle,” against the top brass of the junta in early 1990 and again in 1991.

However, Min Han said that his operation was only to liberate Suu Kyi, rather than kill the junta's generals.

“We had drafted a statement which mentioned five points including that we would attack Insein prison and businesses with relations with the government, and we would save Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The plot against Gen. Khin Nyunt was not included in our report. They didn't ask about that during our interrogation,” Min Han said.

Moe Thee Zun, a former 88-student movement leader and chairman of the ABSDF during that period, told Mizzima: “I took responsibility for the ABSDF during that time. To my knowledge, I hadn’t heard of any operation like targeting Gen. Khin Nyunt. Actually, I don’t think it was really happening.”

According to reports, the ABSDF did not have a policy of assassination because it believed the military generals would simply replace anyone who was assassinated.

Others say, however, an assassination was actually planned by lower-rank commanders of the ABSDF and some ethnic leaders.

Min Han said he met with Moe Thee Zun once during a two- month period for planning the Suu Kyi operation, and he had never discussed other operations.

In the early 1990s, the Burmese exile opposition including the ABSDF and the ethnic alliance group, the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB) had discussed the possibility of forming a parallel government in exile.

The DAB was formed as an umbrella alliance front after the ABSDF was founded on November 1, 1988.

“Especially Moe Thee Zun and other leaders had discussed the idea of an alliance front, mainly at the meetings of the DAB. At DAB, the KNU and some ethnic leaders had considered forming a parallel government in the jungle. They even prepared a constitution (for the government) and stamps,” Aung Thu Nyein, who served as a ABSDF company commander in Manerplaw, told Mizzima.

Some elected MPs including Dr. Sein Win, who were disgruntled at the failure of the junta to honor the 1990 election result, had also held a secret meeting in Mandalay on October 1, 1990, attempting to form a parallel government. Later, the NCGUB was founded in Manerplaw, the jungle headquarters of the KNU and the DAB, on December 18, 1990.

“At that time, some elected MPs including Dr. Sein Win fled from the city had arrived at Manerplaw, they (the ethnic leaders) allowed them to form a parallel government,” said Aung Thu Nyein, who also worked as a political commissar in Three Pagodas Pass, referring to the formation of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). 
The “Red Spider” guerillas believed that change in the country could only happen by forming a parallel government led by Suu Kyi. They thought if there were head-on confrontation between Suu Kyi and the military junta, the pro-democracy forces within the army would change their loyalty and they planned the operation with that objective.

Min Han said: “If we had an alternative government, (the armed forces) may think, ‘we will not be loyal anymore to this junta, we can change sides to a parallel government.’ We believed there were pro-democracy members in the armed forces and they could join with us. We were serious about that idea.” He said he was not aware of the formation of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

Nowadays, Min Han said he would not consider a similar militant operation. Released from prison, he said he spent 20 years in prison and is now retired from the ABSDF.

No one should take similar militant actions at this time to release the remaining prisoners, he said.

At the same time, he said if the government starts arresting people who are working politically, he would not blame people who take up an armed policy against the government.

“Such activities could happen in some situations. For instance, if those 88-activists who were just released were re-arrested for their political activities, I won't blame those who take militant actions.”

Min Han’s dream is to return to writing and publishing. You may see his journal sooner or later.

“I want to publish a journal of free political ideas,” he said. “I chose the struggle because we had no press freedom. I keep that value high. I want to stand as a journalist, a publisher and a writer. That is my dream and my future.”

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