As heavy rain hits the mountains on the Burma-Thai border, the areas under the control of Burma’s Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) are gradually becoming isolated. Four months have passed since the Burma’s democracy was overthrown in the coup on 1 February, and the future looks uncertain.
Nearly 1,000 citizens were killed in the bloody suppression, and thousands of young people flocked to the EAO camps to take up arms. The National Unity Government organised the People Defense Force PDF and declared an armed struggle. The world’s longest-governing military dictatorship, which has ruled with an iron fist for 60 years, is getting tougher and stronger day by day, and there is no sign of it easing its control.
Here, we see the troubled modern history of Burma repeating itself. It was around this time 33 years ago that students who led a democratic uprising in 1988 were killed and chased by the military junta, forcing them to flee to ethnic lands bordering Thailand, China and India.
In November 1988 the students raised the flag of the All Burmese Students’ Democratic Front ABSDF at the Komoora base of the Karen National Liberation Army KNLA. Since then, the student army has fighting against military dictatorship alongside the Ethnic Armed Organizations under the banner of Democratic Alliance of Burma.
Those students dedicated their youth to the fight to restore democracy, and suffered along a remote mountainous border that no one paid any attention to. More than 1,000 students died on the frontlines.
“Our generation is the last. Enough is enough. We will not let up our struggle and sacrifices in these mountains and jungles, we will pass on the fight to a new younger generation,” said Than Khe, the chairman of the ABSDF.
After 33 years, a younger generation of militant students are fighting alongside their elders as in 2021 Burmese politics repeats history.
“The revolution is my destiny. I have no regrets,” added Than Khe, who was chased by an arrest order 33 years ago and fled to these unfamiliar borderlands. He is a graduate of Mandalay Medical University, to which only the best students from Burma used to be admitted. He left a comfortable life, promising career and a prosperous life in Burmese society.
There are many like Than Khe. Each student threw away his guaranteed future and jumped into the democratic revolutionary front. Many disappeared without a trace. They are warriors who have abandoned their families and lives to figt for freedom and against oppression.
“The struggle against dictatorship brings honour to our families,” said Than Khe, who himself comes from a family of famous Burmese freedom fighters.
His father Soe Win Maung, was one of the main dissidents who led the movement to overthrow the Ne Win dictatorship in 1962 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison at the end of the 1988 democratic uprising.
His brother Than Dok was a famous student leader who led the demonstration during the 8888 bloody uprising in 1988 and now working as chairman of the Burmese Organisation of Trade Unions in Exile.
His mother Mya Tan, who gave up her husband and two sons to the revolution, has been a godmother to Mandalay activists along the border. It is a family of warriors in modern history of Burma who lived on honour.
Than Khe said: “As long as the military dictator is alive, I will never go back. We fight to the end.”
Yet, 33 long years have passed and the dark clouds once more shroud Burma after a brief democratic interlude. Even the faint light of hope has now disappeared. But here in the jungles of the thai-Burma border, the light of freedom still flickers.
Than Khe said he cannot abandon the struggle, and is ready to pass on the gun to a new generation.