A story never before told in full hit the stands in May and immediately pierced the hearts of many readers. This book is a detailed account of a man’s journey to save his brother from the unimaginable horrors of a remote camp run by a student army in exile.
After 1988, many students crossed the border to join the newly formed All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. One branch, known as the ABSDF (NB or Northern Burma), was based in Myanmar, just yards from the Chinese border. As is usual with any organisation hurriedly made up of friends and strangers, there were discords and jostling for position.
What set it apart from the usual “office” politics was that more than 100 of the 300 student soldiers of the ABSDF (NB) were accused of being ranking members of Military Intelligence. They were tortured until they confessed or died from their wounds, or executed if no confession was obtained. The “interrogations” took months and the tortures ranged from being nailed to a cross with 5-inch spikes, having hands cut off and having jagged rods shoved into body openings to the day-to-day: beatings, electric shocks and kicks with steel-tipped boots.
The accusers were motivated not by power for its own sake but what comes with it: access to unlimited amounts of funding that were rolling in from all over the world. Their obvious enjoyment at carrying out the cruel torture suggests it helped to assuage their jealousies and inferiority complexes.
Most of the earliest members of the ABSDF (NB) were young men from rural areas and they initially took up the leadership positions. Later, college students arrived and many were the founders or members of student organisations involved in the uprising of 1988. They had more political and administrative experience and international support began flowing in.
The original leaders, who were of rough character and low capabilities, came under heavy criticism from the rank and file and a more democratic approach to leadership was taken. Htun Aung Kyaw, a college student from Mandalay, was a popular choice for the chairman position in the ABSDF (NB). The previous leaders were set aside, and quietly made note of those who were most critical of them. However, in a gesture designed to save face, the new leadership brought some of them back into high-ranking positions, including Thangyaung as chief of staff and Myo Win as his deputy.
In 1991, when a young student was caught running away from the camp, they had their chance: he was tortured and accused of being an MI agent. His accusers suggested names of people who he should also accuse as being spies. By September the boy was dead but they had the list of names they wanted and the purge began. The most envied had the hardest time of it; the torture was not about obtaining the truth, it was about getting the confessions to the alleged crime. Ronald Aung Naing, who had been friends with many of the now-accused since his Mandalay days, remained loyal to Thangyaung and Myo Win.