Controversial former ABSDF leader shot dead in Sagaing Region 

A former leader of the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) who was allegedly involved in the torture and murder of suspected regime spies nearly three decades ago has been killed in an apparent assassination.

Than Chaung, who was serving as deputy commander-in-chief of the Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA) at the time of his death, was shot three times at close range on Thursday and died the next morning, according to a spokesperson for the group.

The shooting occurred at one of the group’s camps in Sagaing Region, said SNA spokesperson Col Hsur Sai Tun, who dismissed speculation that the assailant was a soldier under Than Chaung’s command. 

“The gunman was someone who had recently joined us. He hadn’t even become a private. We can’t say much about him yet, as we still need to investigate his background,” he told Myanmar Now.

He added that the gunman was now dead. The motive behind the attack was unknown.

Than Chaung, who was also known as Sao Khun Kyaw or Myint Soe, was in charge of military affairs at the Kachin-based northern branch of the ABSDF in the years after it was formed in the wake of the 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The 56-year-old former student leader was infamous for his alleged involvement in the torture and extrajudicial killings of suspected regime spies at the ABSDF’s Pajau camp in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township between August 1991 and May 1992. 

The camp was the base of the ABSDF (North), with a force of more than 300 troops in territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Of a total of 106 people who were accused of acting as spies for the military junta at the time, 35 were executed or tortured to death. Survivors of the massacre later identified Than Chaung as one of the leaders mainly responsible for what happened at the Pajau camp.

In 1994, Than Chaung and his followers joined the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) after the KIA signed a ceasefire with the military government and members of the student army were forced to leave the Kachin territory.

In 1998, he resigned from the SSPP/SSA to join the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA). He was a commanding officer of the RCSS’s Brigade 241.

He was arrested by the military junta in 2006 while serving in the RCSS and sentenced to 68 years in prison on 11 different charges. In April 2018, he was released from the Tharyarwaddy Prison after receiving a presidential pardon under the National League for Democracy government.

After his release, he became deputy commander-in-chief of the SNA.

His death on Thursday came a day before the current regime began publishing a series about the killings in Pajau in The Mirror, a state-run Burmese-language newspaper.

The series, titled “Pajau Hell Camp, or the History of Those Murdered without Anyone Knowing While Going Underground in the Jungle for a Belief,” appears at a time when a growing number of youth protesters are turning to armed resistance against the junta that seized power on February 1.

Nan Aung Htwe Kyi, one of the survivors of the Pajau camp massacre, said that the regime is exploiting Than Chaung’s death and memories of the notorious episode to propagate the idea that “armed revolution” is a recipe for disaster.

She also urged young people who are now taking up arms to fight the junta to avoid “discord” within their own ranks.

“Should there be any different views, do not solve them with guns. Who is our common enemy? It is the coup regime. Even if there are different views, fight the common enemy,” she said. 

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