Student army to join Karen fighting

A Burmese student army that rose to prominence following the 1988 uprising is preparing to fight alongside Karen troops in the volatile eastern state.

The decision was confirmed today by a senior official in the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) who asked to remain anonymous. The group, which at its peak had more than 10,000 troops, will join sides with a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) as fighting against Burmese forces continues close to the Thai border.

A delegation from the ABSDF met with DKBA commander Na Kham Mwe shortly after 8 November, the official said, when the group took key government positions in Karen state’s Myawaddy. “We are ready to cooperate with Na Kham Mwe’s group which is fighting the [Burmese army],” he added.

Than Khe, chairperson of the ABSDF, said that the group, whose numbers have now significantly diminished since the mid-1990s, approved with Na Kham Mwe’s decision to defect from the pro-junta DKBA faction which has now become a government-backed Border Guard Force (BFG).

“We can support this motive because the timing is very good,” he told DVB. “At the same time the objective is also very meaningful: it shows the people that we do not accept the 2010 elections. We show our solidarity and support to him and those men who were fighting in Myawaddy.”

The ABSDF has been linked with the Karen struggle ever since its formation in the late 1980s, when thousands of students fled to the jungle and were sheltered by the Karen National Union (KNU) and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

When the DKBA split from the KNLA in the mid-1990s and allied itself with the junta, the ABSDF was “caught in the middle”, according to its former foreign affairs spokesperson, Aung Naing Oo.

As a result of the new dominance of the pro-junta faction, and due to splits within the ABSDF, its fighting capabilities diminished. But the breakaway faction of the DKBA has given added hope that an inter-ethnic and organisational alliance is possible.

“This is part of the national reconciliation process,” said Than Khe. “Without working practically we cannot get the understanding needed for reconciliation.”

The junta’s quest to transform all 17 ceasefire groups into border militias has stumbled: few have accepted the demands, and tensions are now high in the border regions where the Kachin Independence Army and the United Wa State Army are preparing for possible attacks.

“We can co-operate with any groups who have the basic principle of restoring democracy and the federal union to Burma and freeing the people from dictatorship,” added Than Khe.

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