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NYT: After Burmese Protests, Capita

Subject: NYT: After Burmese Protests, Capital Is Tense

>From New York Times,  Monday, December 9, 1996

A military junta struggles to control student protests: by Seth Mydans

Bangkok, Thailand, Dec. 8
The streets of Yangon were quiet but tense today as hundreds of policemen 
blocked off parts of the Burmese capital to prevent demonstrations by angry 

The move came after a week that saw the largest student demonstrations since 
the army killed hundreds of people in crushing a peaceful pro-demonstrations 
have brought a new threat of instability to the military Government, which is 
struggling to neutralize the democracy movement of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The police, using truncheons and fire hoses, broke up the protests, arresting 
hundreds of student who had staged sit-ins, thrown rocks and marched through 
the streets carrying banners reading, "We want freedom" and "Give us human 

The police also erected roadblocks to insure that the students would not 
approach the house of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, and they confined her to her 
house, temporarily reinstating the house arrest that ended after six years in 

Since September, the authorities have prevented her from making her from making 
her regular weekend addresses to thousands of supporters, the country's only 
forum for speech.

Col. Kyaw Win, deputy director of military intelligence, told reporters last 
week that those meetings would no longer be allowed.  He said she would be free 
to meet with supporters inside her compound, but she has said that is not  

On Thursday, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi said that she had no links with the students 
but that they appeared to share her anger at the military junta that has ruled 
the country since the crackdown in 1988.

"What I understand is that they were demonstrating against police brutality and 
injustice," she told reporters.  "We're against police brutality and injustice 
too, so I could say that we are all on the same side."

Colonel Kyaw Win said he believed that "political infiltration" had been 
involved in the student demonstrations and that "there may be a threat to 
political stability."

The unrest comes at a difficult moment for the Government.  It is eager to be 
accepted next year as a full member of the Association for Southeast Asian 
Nations, the region's political and economic grouping.

Membership would bring some measure of international respectability to a 
government that is widely condemned in the West for its human-rights violations 
and for canceling the results of an election in 1990 that was won by Mrs. Aung 
San Suu Kyi's party.

At a conference in Indonesia a week ago, leaders of the association, known as 
Asean met with Gen. Than Shwe, head of the junta, but left unclear whether they 
were ready to embrace his Government.

In ambiguous statement, they said Myanmar would be accepted as a full member 
simultaneously with Laos and Cambodia, which are also waiting to be elevated 
from the status of observers.

Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore have expressed concerns over the 
situation in Myanmar, formerly called Burma.  But other nations led by 
Malaysia, are eager to induct all three countries by next July, when Asean will 
mark its 30th anniversary.

The grouping insists that one of its tenets is "noninterference" in one 
another's internal affairs.  In addition, some members are offended by the 
insistence of the United States and other nations on the importance of human 

After the meeting, Myanmar's Foreign Minister, Ohn Gyaw, said no one had talked 
to him about human rights.

"There was no suggesting or advice that 'If you want to join Asean, you should 
do this or that.'" he said.

While cracking down on the pro-democracy movement, the junta has also attempted 
to open up the country in a demonstration of normalcy, inviting reporters to 
monthly briefings and opening its door to tourists with the start of "Visit 
Myanmar year" last month.

Campus unrest is particularly worrisome to the junta because it was student 
demonstrations in 1988 that led to the collapse of the 30-year authoritarian 
regime of Ne Win and set off the democratic uprising that sent the country into 

The current campus turmoil carries remarkable parallels to the 1988.  In both 
cases, it was set off by a violent confrontation at a tea house and escalated 
as students grew angry over their treatment by authorities.

The incident this time came in October, when three students were severely 
beaten by the police after a dispute with a tea-house owner.  Determined not to 
let the incident escalate, the Government arrested two police officers and 
sentenced them to two-year prison terms.

But the students were not mollifited.  In their first demonstration last week 
on Monday, a group of up to 1,000 presented officials with a list of demands 
including a complete accounting of the tea-house incident, release of students 
arrested in a protest that followed it and an investigation into the 
distribution on campus of leaflets telling them to calm down and concentrate on 
their studies.

In addition, they called for the creation of an independent student union, a 
highly symbolic demand.  The student union was abolished and its historic 
building was destroyed in 1962, shortly after Mr. Ne Win came to power in a 

The demands were rejected on the spot, and later in the night, several hundred 
students marched from the glowing, golden stupa of the giant Shwedagon Pagoda 
through the streets of the city, chanting their demands.  Before the 
authorities dispersed them, they marched past the smaller Sule Pagoda, where on 
Aug. 8, 1988, tanks and soldiers opened fire on student demonstrators.

PICTURED:  Trucks carrying Burmese troops patrolled a street yesterday in 
Yangon, the capital.  The Government had many major streets near campuses 
blocked by soldiers and riot police officers to prevent student protest.