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A Burmese student army that rose to prominence following the 1988 uprising has been removed from a list of organisations deemed terrorists by the US government in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) had been classed as a terrorist organisation despite the US having granted asylum to some of its members in the 1990s. Its former chairman, Htun Aung Kyaw, resides in the US, while other senior members were granted scholarships at prominent American universities.
Htun Aung Kyaw told DVB that some members, unaware they were being classed as terrorists, had asylum bids turned down, while others who already had green cards were denied citizenship.
He said the group’s name was removed from the list after former ABSDF members in the US petitioned the government.
“About 60 or 70 [former ABSDF members] signed the petition [in December] and we sent it to Human Rights First, an organisation based in Washington who had been providing us with assistance.
A meeting was held on 20 December between HRF and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the group was removed from the list. Htun Aung Kyaw said that an official announcement will be made shortly by the DHS.
“This will give a moral support for our ABSDF comrades who are currently [fighting] as they are no longer seen by the world as terrorists but as freedom fighters making an effort to bring democracy to Burma.”
He added that the petition was pushed as testament to the many ABSDF members residing in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border whose asylum requests were left pending following 9/11. “Now they will once again be given opportunities to come here to the US.”
The ABSDF has recently been engaged in fighting in eastern Karen state after joining forces with a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which has been battling the Burmese army.
At its peak the student army had some 10,000 troops. It has been linked with the Karen struggle ever since its formation in the late 1980s, when thousands of students fled to the jungle and were sheltered by the Karen National Union (KNU) and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
The US has nerarly 50 groups on its list of foreign terrorist organisations, the vast majority of which are based in the Middle East. Only six hail from Asia.