NCA Signatory Groups Express Anger over ABSDF Sentence

The decision to imprison two senior members of the ABSDF for unlawful association will hurt the peace process, they say.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Signatories to Burma’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) have spoken out forcefully against a court decision to sentence two senior members of the All-Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) to two years in prison for unlawful association.

A court in Kachin State’s Mohnyin Township handed down the sentences against Aung Swe Oo, the vice chairman of the ABSDF’s Northern Burma branch, and Maung Oo, also of the ABSDF-NB, on Thursday, provoking charges that the move violated the terms of the NCA.

The two men were arrested late last year on suspicion of violating Section 17(1) of Burma’s Unlawful Associations Act, a colonial-era law that has been used against government critics and ethnic civilians suspected of involvement with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs).

The charges stemmed from the fact that Aung Swe Oo and Maung Oo had been residing in an area controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a non-signatory group.

ABSDF chairman Than Khe rejected the charges, however, saying that they were unfair and showed that the government wasn’t following the terms of the NCA.

“I would like to say that they are not acting in accordance with the agreement,” Than Khe told NMG, noting that the government is responsible for ensuring that members of NCA signatory groups are able to travel freely.

Khun Myint Tun, the vice-chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), another NCA signatory group, also took issue with the decision to charge the pair.

“I can say that they did not break Article 17(1) or Article 17(2), because the government already knew about the deployment of ABSDF personnel in ethnic areas when they signed the agreement with them,” he said.

“This should never have happened,” said Padoh Saw Thamein Tun, who is a central executive committee member of the Karen National Union, which has also signed the NCA.

“It is true that they were living in KIA-controlled territory, but in principle, they should not have been charged,” he said, speaking to NMG.

A common point of criticism was the fact that the men were carrying government-issued documents from various security departments when they were arrested while travelling to Mohnyin to attend the funeral of a former comrade.

This is not the first time that a senior member of the ABSDF has been charged under the Unlawful Associations Act since the group signed the NCA in October 2015.

In December 2017, ABSDF central committee member Min Htay was arrested at Sein Lon checkpoint on the Bhamo-Loije road while travelling to the ABSDF headquarters in Laiza. He was charged under the Unlawful Associations Act and released after more than eight months of court hearings.

Khun Myint Tun, the PNLO vice chairman, said such actions on the part of the Burmese authorities could undermine the peace process.

“Non-NCA signatories are watching how the agreement is being implemented, and what they are seeing right now is only going to make them more wary of signing,” he said.

Aung Swe Oo himself signed the NCA as a member of ABSDF.