Murderer or freedom fighter?

UNRESOLVED: Than Gyoung is accused of killing 39 students between 1991 and 1992, some of them executed and others tortured to death.


    Jul 31, 2013

    Murderer or freedom fighter?

    WHEN Myanmar President Thein Sein released 73 political prisoners last week, questions began to emerge about the eventual fate of a member of the militant All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) who remained behind bars.

    The releases were evidence that the President intended to keep the promise that he made during a recent visit to Britain, where he declared that there would be no more prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.

    But what if the prisoners had engaged in acts of killing, perhaps even torture and murder like ABSDF member Than Gyoung, who is also known as Myint Soe or Sao Khun Kyaw?

    He is accused of killing 39 fellow students between 1991 and 1992, some of them executed after being accused of spying for the military, and others tortured to death while being interrogated.

    These alleged crimes raise difficult questions about the actions committed by militant student groups in the struggle against military rule.

    "All those arrested for political beliefs are accepted as political prisoners. But...those who committed crimes must face punishment according to the law. We can't mix them up," said Mr Kyaw Htwe, a leader of the opposition National League for Democracy.

    Thirty-nine out of 73 prisoners released recently belonged to the ABSDF, a group led by students who fled their homes to take up arms against the military dictatorship, after the brutal and bloody crackdown on a 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

    Many joined forces with various armed ethnic groups who were fighting for regional autonomy.

    Than Gyoung, who remains in Thayawady prison, went underground after the 1988 protests and later emerged as the leader of a military faction of the ABSDF North.

    His unit was first based in Kachin State, where it is claimed that he was responsible for the murder of dozens of students who were accused of being "enemy spies" between 1989 and 1992, according to ABSDF members who escaped.

    Ms San San Aye, whose father U Sein was tortured to death, said: "(Than Gyoung) can't be regarded as a political prisoner...It happened 20 years ago, but we are still suffering from this incident."

    She filed a case with police last year, asking them to investigate her father's killing.

    Than Gyoung was arrested in 2006. He was sentenced on 11 charges, including treason. He has since been serving a life sentence. But no action has been brought against him for the murders of fellow ABSDF students.

    His case may be one of many difficult - yet necessary - debates to emerge about Myanmar's past, as the country undergoes a fragile transition from military rule.