Wed, Mar 11, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar police beat students in education protest

Reuters, LETPADAN, Myanmar and GENEVA, Switzerland

Police hit a student protester during violence in Letpadan, Myanmar, yesterday as police broke up a march by about 200 students who had been locked in a standoff with security forces for more than a week.

Photo: Reuters

Police in Myanmar beat students with batons and detained some of them as they broke up a group of about 200 protesters who had been locked in a standoff with security forces for more than a week, an eyewitness said.

The students were protesting an education bill they say stifles academic independence, and a group of them set out on foot from the central city of Mandalay more than a month ago in a symbolic protest. They made it as far as Letpadan, a town about 140km north of Yangon, where police blockaded them behind vehicles and barriers made of wood and barbed wire.

Although the police initially said they would allow the students to continue their march yesterday, the agreement fell apart. Riot police moved into the protest site and used batons to beat students, monks who had joined the protest and journalists, the witness said.

Police chased the students and monks into a Buddhist monastery where they had taken refuge, the witness said, adding that police used batons to smash the windows of a car belonging to a student and an ambulance where some protesters had taken shelter.

Five students were arrested in Letpadan on Friday last week. The students were later freed.

The Delegation of the EU said in a statement that it “deeply regrets the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.”

The EU, which has been training local police in community policing and crowd management for about a year, added: “Change ... does not happen overnight, it needs a mind shift, and recent events confirm the necessity of more and continued reform, not less.”

The education bill is being debated in parliament in the capital, Naypydaw. Students say the bill limits academic independence by stifling student unions and putting decisionmaking power in the hands of the Ministry of Education rather than universities.

In related developments, a report by a UN investigator released on Monday said that Myanmar is sliding toward conflict as the government backtracks on pledges to protect human rights and “fear, distrust and hostility” spread.

UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee saw “no improvement” for displaced Rohingya Muslims since her previous visit in July last year to investigate allegations of mistreatment of them by the Buddhist majority in Rakhine state.

She said she saw “a growing atmosphere of fear, distrust and hostility” during her latest visit in January, when she was publicly denounced as a “whore” and a “bitch” by a prominent Buddhist monk.

Lee saw “abysmal” conditions at a camp where displaced Muslims were being held “for their own security,” Rakhine’s chief minister told her.

“Many people told the special rapporteur that they had two options: to stay and die or to leave by boat,” Lee’s report to the UN Human Rights Council said.

Human rights violations in Rakhine were causing a “domino effect” in the region as people were smuggled or trafficked out to Thailand or Malaysia.

The mostly stateless minority was likely to be the main loser from a new law initiated by the Rakhine National Party that restricts political party membership to full and naturalized citizens, she said.

Moreover, Myanmar’s Constitutional Tribunal had stripped voting rights in an upcoming constitutional referendum from all temporary registration card holders.

Lee said this was a backward step for reform and called for “all habitual residents of Myanmar” to be able to vote in the election and referendum.

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