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Fighting "a Bad King"(Interview/ Min Ko Naing)

    
By Dominic Faulder
    Asiaweek article (October 28, 1989)
"........ I'll never die. Physically I might be dead, but many more Min Ko Naing would appear to take my place. As you know, Min Ko Naing can only conquer a bad king. If the ruler is good, we carry him on our shoulders..........."

As Burma's leading student activist, the man who calls himself Min Ko Naing has become an almost legendary figure. The name itself, a nom de guerre meaning "conqueror of kings" displays an audacity in keeping with the massive street demonstrations that nearly brought down the Rangoon government. Even at the height of unrest, Min Ko Naing had lain low. After last month's military takeover, rumors flew that he had fled to Bangkok. But he has remained in Rangoon, staying underground. A former Rangoon University zoology student, Min Ko Naing has been organizing dissident cells since 1984. He now heads the All Burma Federation of Students' Unions (ABFSU), formed in August. The federation, he says, has issued 30,000 membership cards out of some 40,000 applications nationwide.

A fortnight ago, the ABFSU decided on a two-pronged strategy of resistance in which 70% of the leadership would work towards achieving democracy through political channels, while the remainder would continue underground activity. As one student leader saw it, "if all 100 % join the political party, there will be no one left to organize the people." Min Ko Naing says he fully supports the legal struggle, but he continues to take careful precautions against arrest by the military. When Asiaweek's Dominic Faulder met him at a secret rendezvous in a Rangoon suburb recently, the student leader concealed his face and surroundings before being photographed. With him were key lieutenants who also go by pseudonyms - Moe Hean ("Thunder"), Moe The Zun ("Heavy Rains") and Ye Naing Aung ("Valiant Victory"). They deferred to Min Ko Naing as he answered questions forcefully and succinctly. Excerpts from the talk:
What is your strategy now?

We have given up armed struggle. We would like to avoid armed confrontation - that is our desire. We want to pressure the army into forming an interim government . . . We thought about it (armed struggle), but that would be the last resort. Many lives have been lost already. We want that to stop.

What have you been doing since August?

We tried to keep demonstrations within the law. To the people, we were already half the government. We maintained law and order successfully. With the help of the monks, we assumed civil administrative responsibilities at the ward and township levels. We also managed to supply food, especially rice. The people began to depend on us, and that really frightened the government.

Are you in touch with Burma's ethnic insurgents?

(Student leader) Maung Maung Kyaw has been given the responsibility of contacting the ( rebel) Karens. We have to go two ways. If we can't have demonstrations here, the alternative is to attack the government.

Some suggest you are a communist.

(Laughs) I am a student who believes that the country should have democratic ideals. Let me point out that this government labels anybody it is afraid of as communist. None of us are communist.

How do you view dissident leaders Aung Gyi, Tin U and Aung San Suu Kyi?

I support all three leaders. It's not an easy thing to say because as individuals they all came out (in protest against the regime). I have no special preference for any one of them. We would like them all to confront the government. We don't place much hope in U Nu (an ex-premier who heads the opposition League for Democracy and Peace); he's on his own but we have not neglected him. We want to join forces; only then can we have a party. Since the government announced a multi-party system (on Sept.10), some 20 parties have popped up. Every leader has different ideas. This we regret very much.

What will your strategy be for the proposed multi-party elections?

We think the elections will not take place or will be very dirty. We have little faith in them.

The government broke the weeks-long general strike on Oct.3. What has been your involvement in it?

We have maintained secret links with the workers. Yes, they have gone back to work, but only to collect their salaries to buy food with, so they can come back stronger and continue the fight. They're not really working but using all their ingenuity to give the government a hard time. Passive resistance is one of the methods we're using in our struggle. We can't yet say exactly when the government will feel the crunch.

What do you seed as the main obstacle to democracy?

The military and the man who commands it. That person is U Ne Win. If I met Ne Win and I was in a patient mood, I would just ask him to leave the country. If I was in a bad mood, I might do something to him. I'll always be with the people. I'll never die. Physically I might be dead, but many more Min Ko Naing would appear to take my place. As you know, Min Ko Naing can only conquer a bad king. If the ruler is good, we carry him on our shoulders.

-----------------   ASIAWEEK October 28, 1989   -----------------