|Former KIA commando Laphai Zau Seng Photo: Bo Bo / Mizzima|
Question: How is your health?
Answer: Because of God’s blessing on me, I’m in good health.
Q: Why were you arrested?
A: I was arrested for shooting Commander L. Kun Hpang dead. In 1984, the then-government formed Northern Commando and its air force attacked Pa Jau, Nahpaw, Ja Pu and Gan Dau Yang. At that time, the government army launched a full-scale offensive against our headquarters. Moreover, the Northern Command committed robbery in villages. In our areas, they did whatever they liked – that’s why we attacked them.
At that time, Major General Zau Mai, then-chairman of the KIA, formed a Special Urban Guerilla team. In 1985, we carried out a raid on the Northern Command. A three-star officer was killed. About five officers were hit by weapons. The commander of Northern Command L. Kun Hpang and Vice Commander Kyaw Than were among the dead. I cannot remember other officers’ names.
Q: The commander of Northern Command L. Kun Hpang was a Kachin.
A: We shot him because he was a government officer, not because he is a fellow Kachin. I met with his son Htoi Wa in the Mandalay Prison. He [Htoi Wa] understood me. We don’t hold grudges against each other. At that time, the Commander Kun Hpang was a military officer of the Burma Socialist Programme Party. [We attacked them] not because we treated Barman and Kachin differently. We just fought against the people who fought against us in our area.
Q: How many people from your side attacked?
A: Four of us. For our side, it was just a military operation. But for their side, they see it as an assassination. We made the raid. While the Commander and his colleagues were going from a golf course to their headquarters, we shot the three cars carrying them on the way. The front car carried escorts; the middle car carried the commander and the last car carried the vice commander.
We were arrested while we were finding our friends. At that time, I was 22. I worked and prepared to sit the 10th grade exam as an external student.
Q: Which sections of the Penal Code were you charged under?
A: I was charged under sections 17(1), 17 (2), 19 (f), 302 (1/34) and got the death sentence plus 24-year sentence. Then, by section 4/89, my sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. I had to spend 26 years and 10 months in prison. Oct. 16 is the day that will be exactly 27 years after I was sentenced.
Q: Do you think your act was wrong?
A: I don’t think I commit wrongdoing. In our [Kachin] state, [armed conflicts] always occur. [Conflicts] occur at the present time. They are the affairs of the [Kachin] state. The reason why the civil war broke out is that after General Aung San and [leaders of ethnic minorities] signed an agreement in 1947, after [Burma] gained Independence, we did not have the right to discuss the rights we have lost. That’s why we chose armed revolution. If we got the right to speak out, we would not take up arms. When one loses freedom of expression, he will take up arms. So I don’t think that I committed wrongdoing. Yes, it happened, so I admit that I shot him.
Q: You spent more than 26 years in prison. How did you feel when you were released?
A: Nothing special. Because if we were given remissions based on ordinary prisoners’ rights, we would have been released from prison about 10 years ago. We have been released now because of politicians.
Q: What do you plan to do now?
A: Presently, I am involved in trying to stop the civil war and establish peace. That’s why I came to Rangoon. And I came here to ask for suggestions from my friends living here regarding the war refugees in our [Kachin] State. And I would like to talk about the suffering in our area in this new era when we have the right to express ourselves. That is my main objective. We really want peace.
Q: Will you work again in the KIA?
A: I have no idea right now.
Q: What was your duty in the KIA in the past?
A: As a member of a special commando group, we attacked the enemy in the towns where they were based.
Q: What towns?
A: The government Battalion No. 37 in Myitkyina was the first one.
Q: Who else was arrested at that time?
A: Only me. But, some of my classmates and friends were charged in the same case.
Q: Have they been released?
A: They were sentenced under section 17 (1). They were released about 2 years and ten months after they were sentenced.
Q: How many prisons did you stay in?
A: Myitkyina Prison, Mandalay Prison, where the trial was held, and Myinchan Prison
Q: How was prison life in Myinchan Prison?
A: We encountered a very difficult situations between 1990 and 2000. At that time, we were tortured by the authorities in various ways. When the army continued taking power and refused to transfer political power to the NLD [National League for Democracy], we experienced a difficult situation in the prison. We have many things to make known. Such as, all the prisoners of our prison ward were tortured on special days such as Christmas Day, New Year Day, Martyrs Day and Independence Day.
Q: Did authorities allow [your family] to meet with you in prison?
A: Yes, once per year.