One hundred and twenty-seven people were arrested in the police crackdown on students in Letpadan on Tuesday, the Burmese government has reported.
A report in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on 11 March says that 52 male and 13 female students, along with 62 other civilians, were detained in the fracas while 16 police were wounded when protestors turned “the sit-in protest into violence” as they tried to break free from a police barricade. No mention was made of whether protestors will face charges or not.
Before the scenes of violence broke out on Tuesday, news of a breakthrough that would allow students to complete their march to Rangoon had been circulated. In an interview with DVB, Thiha Win Tin, a central committee member with the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, or ABFSU, described how the negotiations broke down.
Swan Arr Shin members had posed as local residents and acted as agent provocateurs, Thiha Win Tin said. “Some ‘community members’ were shouting on the loudspeaker, warning us that they had shown patience up to this point, and other provocative things. However, the ‘real’ locals at the scene said those ‘community members’ are bogus, and in fact they were Swan Arr Shin members.”
The Border and Security Affairs minister called us for another meeting and proposed news conditions, such as for us to not carry banners, wear armbands or headbands, or to raise flags when we travel to Rangoon; also that the vehicles in the convoy must keep a minimum spacing between one another. The negotiations failed and at 11:45am, protestors started pushing through the police line. At first, the police did not react, but they later resorted to using violence.”
In images caught on video by DVB, chaos can be seen unfolding as several police officers escort detained activists towards police vans, attempting to shield them from blows from other officers. In one scene, three policemen carry a protestor by his arms and legs. Detained students can be seen waving and gesturing from a police truck as they are taken away, as other students cheer on in support.
Wednesday’s Global New Light of Myanmar also carried a report describing two “official” rallies held in Rangoon. Participants reportedly expressed their concerns over the “negative effects of the ongoing student protests,” and called for “rule of law” and “peace and stability”. These events that took place in Okkan and Taukkyi were contrasted with the “unofficial” protest – meaning, held without official sanctioning – that took place at Hledan Junction.
An investigation committee, tasked with assessing whether security forces “acted properly” when they violently dispersed a Rangoon protest on 5 March – an action which drew international criticism – has been formed on President Thein Sein’s orders. State media reports that the commission will be chaired by Brig-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun, and is to report its findings by 31 March.
Meanwhile, small solidarity protests were held at Yadanabon University campus in Mandalay and Karenni State’s Loikaw on Wednesday morning and Tuesday evening respectively, to denounce the police brutality against students in Letpadan. The university campus was reportedly shut down as around a dozen protestors entered, while the Loikaw demonstrators encountered a police barricade near the town’s Naungya Lake.
“We are denouncing the violent crackdown on the students protest in Letpadan yesterday. All campus gates were shut after we entered the premises,” said Aung San Oo, speaking to DVB from Yadanabon.