Students boycott parliament briefing

Students boycott parliament briefing

Education activist groups have boycotted a parliamentary briefing session, citing ill treatment of National Education Law protestors in Pegu Division.

Members of the Committee for Democracy Education Movement (CDEM) walked out of the briefing session on Thursday, while the All Burma Federation of Students Unions (ABFSU) had previously announced its nonattendance to the event in reaction to the barricading of student protestors in Letpadan, where a stand-off continues.

Zayar Lwin, a CDEM representative, after walking out the upper house in Naypyidaw, told DVB: “We came to introduce ourselves at the upper house because we respect the parliament’s decision to brief us on the bill. But we walked out to express our disappointment with the ongoing situation in Letpadan.”

A total of 20 student representatives from the ABFSU, CDEM and Network for National Education Reform (NNER) had been invited to attend a bill briefing in the parliament’s upper house on Thursday, 5 March. The government announced the series of briefings – for student groups, political parties and other groups – last week. An amendment bill is currently being discussed in parliament, and was drawn up following negotiations between officials and education activists.

Police lines at the ongoing student sit-in it Letpadan (Photo: DVB)
Police lines at the ongoing student sit-in it Letpadan (Photo: DVB)

Phyo Phyo Aung, general secretary of the ABFSU, told DVB: “Our eight representatives will no longer be attending the briefing, as we also represent the protest column that is being blocked in Letpadan. We will only attend the briefing when the eight conditions suggested by the protesters have been met.”

Some activists believe that the plan to present briefs about the bill in the upper house is an irregular procedure for parliament, and could be designed to buy the government more time.

Before the CDEM walk out, Banyar Aung Moe, member of the upper house’s Bill Committee said: “It should not really matter that all 20 representatives can’t be present – the numbers are not important as long as those in attendance genuinely represent the groups. On the other hand, the more participants present, the more brainstorming they can do, leading to a more interactive debate. So I do wish all of them would come.”

In Irrawaddy Division, a group of students has announced a sit-in in the regional capital of Bassein [also written Pathein] in solidarity with the protesters currently embroiled in a standoff with the police in Letpadan, with leaders of the group calling on the government to avoid the use violence in resolving the situation.

Police officials met with the Bassein protesters last night and warned them that they could face legal action under Chapter 354 [often mistakenly referred to as Article 18, under which those convicted are sentenced] of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, for staging a protest without official permission.

Meanwhile, members of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), including Dr Thein Llwin and Kyaw Thu, met with authorities and protestors in Pegu Division’s Letpadan on Wednesday as the stalemate between students and police continues.

A report in state-run Global New Light of Myanmar says that the representatives of the NNER, who have been central to negotiations on the National Education Law, spoke with the regional Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Thet Tun and student leaders, who are “defying orders” to halt the demonstration.

Barbed wire and blockades remained at an intersection of Kyundaw Road in Letpadan on Thursday morning, where protestors’ route has been blocked for three days. Residents from Letpadan and nearby Tharawaddy have flocked to the protest site to show solidarity with the students, but have been unable to negotiate past the security lines.

Those monks and students who began staging a rotating hunger strike have vowed to continue with the symbolic protest.

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Protestors on 2 March attempted to resume demonstrations against the National Education Law after an eleven-day suspension, citing a lack of progress in parliament on accepting the amendment bill. Officials and activists drew up the proposed changes in negotiations last month after nationwide student protests.

Police blocked students, who had been staying at Aungmyay Beikman monastery during the hiatus, from continuing with a march to Rangoon. Negotiations between the protestors and Col. Thet Tun collapsed, and the activists began a sit-in.

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