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hrwatch press release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE              December 4, 1996

For Further Information:
Sidney Jones, New York             (212) 971 8400 ex.290
Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington      (202) 371-6592 ex. 113
Zunetta Liddell, London            (44) 171 713 1995 

                     Human RightsWatch on New Repression in Burma
Human Rights Watch/Asia condemns the use of excessive force and
the arrest of students in Burma on the night of December 2,
1996 following demonstrations in the streets of Rangoon and
calls for the immediate release of those still remaining in
detention. The demonstrations and subsequent crackdown are a
chilling reminder of the 1988 demonstrations that led to
military intervention in which some 2,000 were killed, and
Human Rights Watch/Asia urges the international community to
speak up.  Members of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations or ASEAN, which Burma is trying hard to join, should
indicate immediately that membership will be out of the
question if the situation continues to deteriorate. The United
States should consider failure to release the students or any
further use of violence by the military to be "large scale
repression," the trigger for sanctions as set forth in the
Cohen-Feinstein Amendment to the 1997 Operations Appropriations
bill signed into law September 30 1996. The European Union
should declare the immediate suspension of trade privileges if
the crackdown continues.  All governments concerned about human
rights in Burma should use their influence with the ruling
State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to press for
access to the country by the United Nations Special Rapporteur
to Burma, Judge Rajsoomer Lallah.

Some 1,500 to 2,000 students from Rangoon's Institute of
Technology (RIT) took to the streets late on Monday, marching
from the RIT campus in Insein township to the main Rangoon
University site, three miles away.  As the crowds grew, the
slogans and chants of the students became increasingly
political, and in the early hours of the morning the infamous
Lone Htein riot police, who had played a major role in the
bloody quelling of popular uprisings in 1988, charged the
crowd, forcing up to 700 students into police vans. Eye-
witnesses told Human Rights Watch/Asia that the Lone Htein,
backed up by army troops, had used excessive force against
those arrested. The students were then taken to a former race
course track at Kyaikkasan.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Correspondants Club of Burma (FCCB),
whose members are all Burmese nationals working for foreign
newspapers and wire services, issued a written protest at the
detention and beating of one of their members, U Myo Thant, a
photographer for Yomiuri Shimbun. U Myo Thant, aged thirty-
nine, was repeatedly beaten around the head and upper body at
the Shwedagon Pagaoda at 4 am on Tuesday morning (December 3)
by Lone Htein riot police.  He was then forced into a police
van and taken to the Kyaikkasan race track.  After finally
convincing the authorities that he had an official journalist's
pass and had had permission to enter the Shwedagon area, at the
time already cordoned-off by the Lone Htein, he was released.
He is currently still in Insein General Hospital, suffering
from head injuries. This is believed to be the first time that
the FCCB has ever made an official complaint to the

Initial reports on Tuesday December 3 stated that 300 students
were detained at Kyaikkasan, and the SLORC in their monthly
press briefing to journalists said that all had been released
by midday Tuesday.  However, the following morning a military
intelligence official in Rangoon was quoted as saying that the
authorities had released 609 people arrested on Monday
night/Tuesday morning.  The 609 were said to have included 487
students, mainly from the RIT, and 122 non-students who had
taken part in the demonstration. Given the difficulty of
getting accurate information from Rangoon, and the uncertainty
surrounding the fate of others arrested in incidents in
September and May, Human Rights Watch/Asia nevertheless remains
concerned that many people may still be detained. 

The students seem to have had a number of demands, most of
which stemmed from an incident on October 20, 1996 when three
students were badly beaten by police following a row at a
restaurant in Insein. They called for the establishment of a
student committee to represent students to the authorities,
although later in the night this was reported to have become a
demand for a fully independent student union, and for talks to
be held with senior members of the SLORC. The students also
said they were angry at the distribution of leaflets on the RIT
campus signed by "Students Who Desire to Pursue Their Education
Peacefully."  The statement said that those students who had
participated in the October incident were "troublemakers" and
called on all students to play no part in political activities. 

Shortly after the crackdown, police re-erected the barricades
blocking off access the home of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,
effectively putting her and twenty-five members of her party,
the National League for Democracy, under house arrest.  The NLD
members had gathered at Daw Suu's house to prepare for a press
conference that she was planning. At the same time, five
members of the NLD's youth wing who had visited Daw Suu in the
morning were arrested as they left.  In press interviews over
the telephone on Tuesday, Daw Suu denied any connection between
the NLD and the students' demonstration, although she also
stated that the NLD supported their actions and their demands
for political change and an end to an unjust government.  On
Wednesday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi confirmed that she was still
confined to her house, though other NLD members had been
permitted to leave for a meeting at the NLD headquarters in
downtown Rangoon.  While the government denied that she was
under house arrest, Daw Suu told Human Rights Watch/Asia that
she was being illegally confined, and the fact that she was
under a form of detention had been confirmed to her by the
military intelligence officers who guard her house.   

Human Rights Watch/Asia is extremely concerned for the safety
of those still in detention. The torture of suspected political
activists during interrogation is the norm in Burma, and for
those sentenced to jail terms, conditions are appalling. Over
the past year, three prisoners of conscience are known to have
died in detention, including most recently U Aung Soe, who was
arrested along with comedian Par Par Lay and twelve others in
January 1996. U Aung Soe died in early November in a prison
labor camp in Myitkyina, Kachin state, where he was forced to
work breaking rocks to build a new international airport. 

Many observers see a parallel between these demonstrations --
partly because of their size -- and those of March 1988 which
led to the nationwide uprising in August and the bloody
crackdown in September that brought the SLORC to power. With
the upcoming National Day in Burma on December 5, which marks
the first student uprising against colonial occupation in 1920,
it is essential that the international community continue to
monitor the situation closely and make clear to the SLORC that
any further crackdowns against peaceful demonstrations will not
be tolerated. 

Human Rights Watch/Asia
Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to
monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human
rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the
signatories of the Helsinki accords. Kenneth Roth is the executive
director; Cynthia Brown is the program director.  Robert L. Bernstein is
the chair of the board and Adrian W. DeWind is vice chair.  Its Asia
division was established in 1985 to monitor and promote the observance of
internationally recognized human rights in Asia.  Sidney Jones is the
executive director; Mike Jendrzejczyk is the Washington director;  Andrew
J. Nathan is chair of the advisory committee and Orville Schell is vice