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Student Armed Force (SAF)


The Student Armed Force (SAF) is a Burmese militia group formed in the wake of the 2021 Burmese coup d’etat. The group is primarily composed of student activists who have taken up arms against the Tatmadaw (Burmese for military) junta. With deep ties to the Arakan Army, it has mounted a guerilla warfare campaign in the Dry Zone of Burma (in Northwest Myanmar) since its founding in April of 2021 (Frontier Myanmar).


Students have long played a part in anti-authoritarian resistance in Burma. The 8888 uprising in 1988 which saw mass protests force democratic concessions from the Tatmadaw was both started and spearheaded by student unions in Yangon, where the Student Armed Force originates from (Fortify Rights 35-36). By 2021, with the exception of the many ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) present in the countryside, students were perhaps the most politically organized segment of the Burmese population, consequently, most anti-Tatmadaw protests immediately following the coup on the 1st of February were disproportionately made up of young people. The first death of what would become the Burmese Spring Revolution was of a 20-year-old student named Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing who was shot by security forces in the capital of Naypyidaw on the 9th of February (Fortify Rights 46-47). A little more than a month after her death, 92 people had reportedly died at the hands of the Tatmadaw during protests (Fortify Rights 53-54).

The Student Armed Force originated from the University Students’ Union, a Yangon-based student union that was a part of the larger All Burma Federation of Student Unions (Hlaing). When the Tatmadaw launched their coup in 2021, the University Students’ Union followed their fellow students throughout the country in protesting the coup. Yangon was a particular hotspot for clashes with the Tatmadaw, where police and military forces worked with snipers to suppress protests (Fortify Rights 46). There are numerous reports of snipers targeting student protestors, including students acting as protest medics (Fortify Rights 54). Some student protesters in the streets of Yangon eventually resorted to using airguns in volley fire tactics against Tatmadaw forces (Lone). By April it became apparent that protests in the streets could not dislodge the Tatmadaw from power; leaders in the University Students’ Union turned to the Arakan Army EAO for assistance in forming the Student Armed Force (Hlaing).

Objectives and Ideology

The primary goal of the Student Armed Force is the complete removal of the Tatmadaw from the reins of power. As a dispatch from the “Steering Committee”, the committee in charge of the group's strategic planning, put it: “The vision of the Student Armed Forces is to promote peace and stability in the public, and to be a good force for all oppressed people who are trying to build a new nation and create their own destiny. The objectives are to protect the public, to encourage and support the construction of a new nation, to achieve success in military activities, and to fight in alliance with all oppressed people who are trying to create their own destiny” (မဇ္ဈိမ)

Military and political abilities

The SAF is principally an infantry force and has received exhaustive training and supplies from the Arakan Army as well as technical assistance (“AA မှ ကျောင်းသားလက်ရုံးတပ်တော်ကို အထူးတိုက်ခိုက်ရေးသင်တန်းပေး”). Most images of group members show them equipped with Chinese Kalashnikov pattern rifles.

Approach to Resistance

While originating from a student union engaged in peaceful protests, the SAF was founded to be a militant group. Today they remain active in the Dry Zone of Burma, still conducting a violent guerilla war against Tatmadaw forces (Frontier Myanmar). Most engagements between Tatmadaw and SAF forces consist of close-range ambushes on vehicle columns and foot patrols; the most recent example of which being an attack on a Tatmadaw vehicle column in the Sagaing Region in October of 2023 which after a 20-minute firefight produced enough casualties to force the column to retreat.

International Relations and Alliances

The SAF’s most critical ally has thus far been the Arakan Army EAO, as they have provided the SAF with massive amounts of military assistance in mounting their guerrilla campaign (Hlaing). Besides the Arakan Army, they take inspiration from the All Burma Students' Democratic Front and seek to follow their example of a popular student army fighting together against the Tatmadaw (မဇ္ဈိမ). The SAF is part of a larger popular front of armed groups, protesters, and some non-violent student unions. Though they hail from ideologically diverse backgrounds, students in Burma have come to be a critical part and leading force in the resistance against the Tatmadaw.

Works Cited (MLA-style)

“ကျောင်းသားလက်ရုံးတပ်တော်.” Tachileik News Agency, Accessed 9 April 2024.

မဇ္ဈိမ. “ကျောင်းသားလက်ရုံးတပ်တော် ထူထောင်ရေးကာလ ဦးဆောင်ကော်မတီမှ ဖြေကြားချက်.” Mizzima Daily, Accessed 4 April 2024.

“AA မှ ကျောင်းသားလက်ရုံးတပ်တော်ကို အထူးတိုက်ခိုက်ရေးသင်တန်းပေး.” Narinjara News, Accessed 4 April 2024.

Fortify Rights. “Nowhere is Safe.” Fortify Rights, March 2022, Accessed 4 April 2024.

Frontier Myanmar. “Students of war: Myanmar's potent but fractured student movement takes up arms.” Frontier Myanmar, 10 March 2023, Accessed 4 April 2024.

Hlaing, Kyaw Hsan. “Understanding the Arakan Army • Stimson Center.” Stimson Center, 21 April 2023, Accessed 4 April 2024.

Lone, Wa. Twitter, Accessed 4 April 2024.


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