Members of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front have backed ethnic calls for the government to engage in political dialogue, following a historic visit that ended last week.
The visit comes as soldiers from the ABSDF, a student army formed in 1988 to overthrow the government, fight on the frontlines against Tatmadaw troops in Kachin State.
“Everyone has a duty to get genuine peace and [of all stakeholders] the government has the most duty. All of these conflicts have occurred because of a lack of equality. But we don’t want to solve problems using weapons anymore. We want to solve them at the [negotiating] table through peaceful means,” ABSDF president U Than Khe said at a press conference at Yangon’s Myanmar Peace Centre on January 3.
“But a ceasefire agreement is not enough to get genuine peace. We need to have a political dialogue that can result in an acceptable resolution for all ethnic minorities,” he said.
Nine ABSDF members officially visited Myanmar for the first time from December 18 to January 3. During the two-week stay, they met Minister for the President’s Office U Aung Min, and members of the 88 Generation, Democratic Party for a New Society, student organisations and ethnic groups to discuss the current political situation.
They also met family members and ex-ABSDF members.
U Than Khe said the ABSDF was willing to work with all groups to create genuine peace and national reconciliation, which he describes as the most important aims of Myanmar’s political transition.
Under the new government, the ABSDF has met the government peace negotiating team led by U Aung Min three times and discussed the importance of holding a comprehensive political dialogue and ensuring the constitution guarantees democracy, human rights, equality and the right to self-determination.
But U Than Khe said it was hard to forget the repression and brutal tactics of the military regime.
“We have struggled for many years to get equality and self-determination. During this period, thousands of our members have lost their lives and some have been jailed. We will never forget these bitter experiences and we have asked U Aung Min to free our members who are in prison. There are still 21 members in prison,” he said.
Ma Lay Lone, another member of the ABSDF delegation, said the group’s members would continue to support other ethnic armed groups until they had reached an agreement to ensure equal rights and greater autonomy.
She confirmed the ABSDF is yet to reach a ceasefire agreement with the government.
“Sure, our members are still in the battleground in Kachin State. We don’t need to say exactly the numbers of our forces. On the other hand, we stay here to negotiate with the government. This shows that holding arms is not our first priority and we’re very interested in cooperating with the government to meet our goals,” she said.
U Than Khe agreed that the ABSDF intended to give up its weapons and participate in the peaceful political struggle when the time is right.
“All of us need to cooperate with each other to meet our goals quickly,” U Than Khe said.