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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
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 
the administration.
"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 
political office.
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.
Reuter reports:
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, 
disrupting traffic.
"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