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Myanmar students becoming 'restive'
Subject: Myanmar students becoming 'restive' (The Hindu, 4/12/96.)
Myanmar students becoming 'restive'
>From V. jayanth
SINGAPORE, Dec. 3.
Trouble is brewing in Yangon as the student community
appears to be heading for a confrontation with the military
In what is described as a major demonstration of growing
student unrest and their determination to take the State Law
and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) head on, an estimated
5,000 students marched through the main streets and headed for
the city centre today.
This followed a sit-in protest by the students yesterday against
the treatment of their colleagues by the security forces and the
SLORC's handling of the protest.
Sources said over 300 students had been detained and the
approach to the National League for Democracy leader, Ms.
Aung San Suu Kyi's residence on University Avenue, was
blocked off early in the day. They considered the demonstration
as a significant step in the manifestation of protest and
disaffection among various sections over the alleged oppression
by the junta.
In October, a minor tussle ensued between three students and
the police when the former were picked up from a canteen.
Their friends staged a protest rally condemning the arrest and
alleged that the three were illtreated by the police. The
authorities described it as a 'drunken brawl' among the students
and said they were detained to protect peace.
But in a significant development later, the authorities took a
Deputy Chairman of the NLD, Mr. Kyi Maung, because some
students had met him. The SLORC suspected that the NLD and
the students were trying to team up in a repeat of the 1 988
upsurge for democracy. The Opposition leader was released
after questioning for three days and loud protests from the U.S.
and the EU.
Myanmar watchers bereave that the unwillingness of the junta
to open a dialogue with the pro-democracy movement is
apparently testing the patience of the people, especially the
youth. The recent statements of the leaders have given the
impression that there is no way they can reach a compromise
with Ms. Suu Kyi. They want to press ahead with the new
constitution to provide a definite role for the armed forces in
"We think the atmosphere is heating up and the students are
gradually testing the waters and their own strength before they
can mount a more sustained campaign', academics at the
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies say. Students and the youth
played a major role in the political upheaval in 1988.
After attending the first informal summit of Asean leaders, the
Myanmar delegation said in Jakarta there was no scope for
dialogue with 'an individual' because the only platform was the
National Convention that was drafting the constitution.
Besides maintaining ii tirade against Ms. Suu Kyi, her Western
'allies' and the pro-democracy movement, the State media in
Myanmar makes it a point to refer to the Nobel laureate only as
'Mrs. Michael Aris' -- wife of a British academic. She is
portrayed as a 'foreigner' and analysts interpret this to be part of
a plan to disqualify her from contesting elections or holding
In a compromise move, the Asean last week decided to take in
Myanmar. Laos and Cambodia simultaneously, without setting a
date. The junta described it as a positive step and vowed to
equip the country to join Asean possibly even in 1997, when the
regional grouping celebrates its 30th anniversary. But analysts
thought the Asean was hedging in deference to the concerns of
the West over the political and human rights situation in that
For the SLORC, joining the Asean in the present status would
provide not only a regional identity and protection, but also a
standing for the military rulers in the domestic and international
arena. But the West and human rights groups would like to see
some advances towards the restoration of democracy before it
is absorbed into Asean. That could be the last hold that the
democratic world would have on the military regime to see
reason, open a dialogue and usher in democracy within a time
In the evening, the sources said the march by the students had
given a jolt to the city. But when the 300 students were released
later in the day, some calm was restored. There were no
untoward incidents after that, though a cloud of suspense hung
in the air for the whole day.
The demonstration had moved on Monday night from the
Yangon Institute of Technology to a busy road intersection
where the crowd fell to about- 1,000. The protesters sang the
national anthem and carried banners saying, "we don't want
unfair government" and continued the demonstration there,
"This is not political. We simply want to make known our
demand for justice and human rights," a student told Reuters on
Another student leader said earlier the protesters were not
linked to any political party and they had no intention of
politicising the protest.
The students are also annoyed by leaflets distributed on their
campuses by people claiming to be students urging their
classmates to improve their behaviour and not to get involved in
activities that could disrupt their studies.
Student leaders earlier turned down government offers to
negotiate with senior Education Ministry officials. "We
demanded to talk to someone with real authority like Secretary
One," one said, referring to Mr. Khin Nyunt of the ruling
The United States and other western countries have accused the
SLORC of widespread human rights abuses and criticised its
crackdown on the pro-democracy movement led by Ms. Suu