The All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and its leader Min Ko Naing, a prisoner of conscience, have been awarded the Student Peace Prize for 2001. The Student Peace Prize Committee, based in Trondheim, Norway, announced its decision on Jan 25.
In a statement released shortly after the announcement of this year's winner, the committee commended the ABFSU and Min Ko Naing for their "courageous, enduring and non-violent struggle against one of the worlds most brutal regimes."
"The award supports the student movement as a whole," said Bo Kyi, a former executive committee member of the ABFSU who was also a personal aide of Min Ko Naing. "Min Ko Naing sacrificed himself for the students. I think he will hear this news in prison and it will lift his spirits."
Arrested on March 24, 1989 for his leading role in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, Min Ko Naing is presently being held at Sittwe prison, more than 1,000 km northwest of Rangoon. He is one of an estimated 1,700 political prisoners currently being held in Burmese prisons.
The ABFSU, originally founded as a student organization advocating independence from Britain, has played a leading role in modern Burmese political history. Banned after military rule was imposed in 1962, the ABFSU reemerged in 1988 under the leadership of Paw Oo Tun, a charismatic third-year student at Rangoon University who later became known as Min Ko Naing, or "Conqueror of Kings".
The recipient of the Student Peace Prize is selected by a committee of student representatives, researchers, and other peace and human rights experts. Awarded biannually, the prize highlights the contributions of students in the struggle for peace, democracy and human rights and is intended to inspire idealism among students. The prize, which includes an award of 50,000 Norwegian Kroner (more than US$5,500), will be presented during the International Student Festival in Trondheim on March 8.
In 1999, the recipient of the first Student Peace Prize was East Timorese student leader Antero Benedito da Silva, who was recognized for his campaign to achieve an independent and democratic East Timor.
In 1999, Min Ko Naing was named co-winner of the John Humphrey Freedom Award, together with Dr. Cynthia Maung, an activist physician who has served refugees along the Thai-Burma border for more than a decade.
From Irrawaddy Magazine