The dismissal of 56 students for demonstrating in support of increased education spending has sparked a threat of protests at campuses throughout the country and contributed to rising tensions with the government.

By HTUN KHAING | FRONTIER

STUDENT ACTIVISTS have condemned a crackdown on protesters at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University amid rising dismay over what they say is the failure of the National League for Democracy to honour election promises on education reform.

The criticism follows the dismissal of at least 56 students from the university on the evening of January 24 after three days of protests on the campus in support of an increase in the education budget.

The demonstrations, which followed a two-day seminar on the issue at the university’s Union Hall organised by the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, took place despite three failed attempts by officials to negotiate with the students. Journalists were banned from entering the campus on the night of January 24 when the students were dismissed, a decision the Ministry of Education said in a February 1 statement was due to violations of discipline. It said the students would be re-admitted if they pledged not to protest again, an offer they have rejected.

Student unions throughout the country were outraged by the dismissals.

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“It is the very ugly action of a government that came to office shouting democratic slogans,” said Ma Shwe Yi Soe Lin, secretary of the ABFSU, known by its Myanmar acronym as Ba Ka Tha. “Education reform was one of their election promises but they have not achieved anything,” she said of the NLD government, urging it to allow the students to resume classes.

Earlier student protests were held in 2014 and 2015 against the National Education Law. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)

Earlier student protests were held in 2014 and 2015 against the National Education Law. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)

“This is an official statement that prevents students from involvement in politics and demanding their rights, and students who do not abide by it will have action taken against them,” said Ko Kyaw Thiha Ye Kyaw, a third year law student at Yadanabon University who participated in the protests.

“The action of Ministry of Education has instigated enmity between the students and the government,” Kyaw Thiha Ye Kyaw added.

It was unacceptable for a democratic government to dismiss students for exercising their right to demonstrate, the representative committee of the University Teachers’ Association said in a statement on January 26. 

It quoted State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as having said that it was reasonable for students to demonstrate because it was the nature of young people.

ABFSU general secretary Ko Kaung Htet Kyaw said there was disappointment that “the NLD government has stood behind those who dismissed the students”, despite having said that students could be active in politics.

Students involved in the protests say it is not clear if the dismissal order originated from the NLD government, the Ministry of Education or university authorities.

Earlier student protests were held in 2014 and 2015 against the National Education Law. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)

Earlier student protests were held in 2014 and 2015 against the National Education Law. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)

They include Ko Min Htet Myat who said the dismissed students would never return to classes if that meant signing a pledge not to participate in protests.

“If [they] continue to go to school after signing the pledge, in the eyes of the people [they] are admitting they are morally wrong,” said Min Htet Myat, a student at Meiktila University who joined the Yadanabon protest.

Members of the Yadanabon University Student Union have given the government until February 15 to re-admit the students and warn that a failure to meet the deadline could mean action at universities throughout the country.

“We are waiting for a response from the government,” said Kyaw Thiha Ye Kyaw.

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — The Pyithu Hluttaw has voted down a motion calling on increased security and protection for “ethnic people” in northern Rakhine, in an implicit endorsement of the government’s response to last year’s violence in the state.

The motion, proposed in early February by lawmakers from the Arakan National Party, was recorded in proceedings rather than endorsed, as military MPs joined forces with National League for Democracy members to vote it down on Tuesday.

During discussion, ANP lawmakers criticised the government’s Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD) for failing to accommodate “national ethnics” suffering from shortages of food and medicine in the state’s north.

U Hla Tun Kyaw (ANP, Maungdaw), said the UEHRD was spending billions of kyats “helping people coming illegally from another country” — a reference to the repatriation program for nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees to flee the area for Bangladesh since last August — without addressing the crisis facing “local national ethnics”, in reference to the ethnic communities officially recognised by the government.  

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Other ANP members said they were concerned UEHRD would move ahead with the repatriation program without taking into account the security of non-Muslim locals.  

“Local national ethnics were worriedly watching the plans of UEHRD and feared that terrorists might settle near them,” said U Pe Than (ANP, Myebon).

“Local national ethnics should receive a transparent explanation and authorities should collaborate with local national ethnics, drawing on their ideas for the problems that might come,” he added. “However skillful a climber is, he won’t climb up without a local guide.”

Lawmakers from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the former governing party, supported the motion. U Sai Kyaw Moe (USDP, Mongpan) said the government should take into account what he alleged was a concerted movement to carve an “independent Muslim state” out of territory in northern Rakhine.

Members of the NLD countered that the government had acted transparently by releasing information on Rakhine State through the UEHRD’s website and over social media, noting that schools had reopened in areas hit by last year’s militant attacks and subsequent security crackdown, and that plans to increase electrification of the area were being fast-tracked.

“That the government is carrying out Rakhine affairs politically, internationally and performing all rounds for development of the state is simply not deniable,” said Daw Ni Ni May Myint. (NLD, Taungup)

Tatmadaw MPs said the Union and Rakhine State governments were working quickly to implement their plans for the area, but added the government should do more to communicate with “national ethnics” in northern Rakhine.

While the trust between the two communities were decreasing over many years, due to political instigations and rumors, doubts and hostility became severe, pointed out the Tatmadaw. “Living together in accord with the law between the two different communities can only support the perpetuation of sovereignty and territory and can also develop the interest of local ethnic people” said Lt. Col Khin Maung Than.

“Because it’s a union cause, the government should give priority to the interest of local ethnics and politicians should collaborate without exploiting any situation for their own advantage,” said military MP Lt. Col Khin Maung Than.

Dr Win Myat Aye, the Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement and UEHRD vice chair, discussed plans for the construction of “national race” villages for officially recognised ethnic communities displaced by last years violence.

He said the project would be completed by the end of the year, along with electrification plans for Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships.

“The whole Rakhine State will receive unprecedented development,” he said. “We are performing for everyone, for the benefit of the whole state and for the whole union.”

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — The verification of refugees stranded in the “zero line” buffer zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh will be carried out by the two countries with no other involvement, a senior official in Nay Pyi Taw said on February 21.

“It has been made clear at the United Nations that Myanmar would not accept international intervention in this matter,” U Myint Thu, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Frontier.

He said leaders of the refugees in the border buffer zone had been told that the process to verify their eligibility for repatriation would involve officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

About 6,500 refugees, including those who fled after the military clearance operation in northern Rakhine State last August following attacks by Islamic militants, are living in the buffer zone.

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Myint Thu said the refugees had been told that those who were verified would be helped by Myanmar “to go back where they belong and the Bangladesh authorities have promised to help in the process”.

He said “nobody” could say when the verification process would finish.

Myint Thu denied an AFP report that the Tatmadaw was building trenches along the border and that it was being patrolled by soldiers.

“In accordance with [a bilateral] agreement, the border police of both countries are patrolling the border and no Tatmadaw troops are on duty there,” he said.

Government spokesperson U Zaw Htay said it was believed that some of the militants who took part in the coordinated attacks on security posts in northern Rakhine last August were hiding among the refugees in the buffer zone.

“We have the intelligence. We will make a list and verify if any of them are among the 1,300 terrorists we have announced,” Zaw Htay told a media briefing in the capital on February 21.

He said the buffer zone refugees were being used to add international pressure on Myanmar.

Zaw Htay said the refugees had been able to stay in the no man’s land zone because they were receiving food and medicine from “some groups and organisations”.

Myanmar is reported to have told Bangladesh to prevent NGOs from providing aid to the refugees.

Officials from the two countries had visited the buffer zone for talks with the refugees on February 20, Reuters reported.

“We visited the Rohingya with the Myanmar delegation and requested them to go back to their homes. They said … they are willing to return to their land, but for that they need to ensure safety and security,” Bangladeshi Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner, Mr Mohammad Abul Kalam, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

A leader of the refugees in the buffer zone told Reuters that during the visit they had reiterated their demands, which include having UN peacekeeping forces deployed in Rakhine and for aid agencies and the media to be given free access to the state.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has expressed concern that the refugees may be forced back to Myanmar without due consideration for their safety.

By AFP

YANGON — Two people were killed and 22 wounded when a bomb exploded Wednesday at a bank in Lashio, officials said, amid continuing violence despite a fraught peace process.

Two female staffers at a branch of Yoma Bank were killed, a security officer on the scene told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Some nearby buildings were destroyed as well. The explosion was quite heavy. Security is still working to clear the area,” the officer said.

The commander-in-chief’s office said late Wednesday that 22 people had been injured.

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Pictures showed shattered windows at the bank, damaged cars on the street and rescue services arriving. Soldiers were deployed at the scene.

A branch of an adjoining bank was damaged by the explosion.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Government spokesman U Zaw Htay wrote on his Facebook page that two “innocent women” died in the bombing, while Yoma Bank issued a statement of condolence.

“Yoma Bank is deeply sorry for this loss. We have to stand together united as ‘One Bank’ under this sorrowful situation,” it said.

Some two dozen conflicts are festering around Myanmar’s borderlands, where ethnic armed groups have for decades fought the state for more autonomy.

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — The verification of refugees stranded in the “zero line” buffer zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh will be carried out by the two countries with no other involvement, a senior official in Nay Pyi Taw said on February 21.

“It has been made clear at the United Nations that Myanmar would not accept international intervention in this matter,” U Myint Thu, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Frontier.

He said leaders of the refugees in the border buffer zone had been told that the process to verify their eligibility for repatriation would involve officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

About 6,500 refugees, including those who fled after the military clearance operation in northern Rakhine State last August following attacks by Islamic militants, are living in the buffer zone.

Myint Thu said the refugees had been told that those who were verified would be helped by Myanmar “to go back where they belong and the Bangladesh authorities have promised to help in the process”.

He said “nobody” could say when the verification process would finish.

Myint Thu denied an AFP report that the Tatmadaw was building trenches along the border and that it was being patrolled by soldiers.

“In accordance with [a bilateral] agreement, the border police of both countries are patrolling the border and no Tatmadaw troops are on duty there,” he said.

Government spokesperson U Zaw Htay said it was believed that some of the militants who took part in the coordinated attacks on security posts in northern Rakhine last August were hiding among the refugees in the buffer zone.

“We have the intelligence. We will make a list and verify if any of them are among the 1,300 terrorists we have announced,” Zaw Htay told a media briefing in the capital on February 21.

He said the buffer zone refugees were being used to add international pressure on Myanmar.

Zaw Htay said the refugees had been able to stay in the no man’s land zone because they were receiving food and medicine from “some groups and organisations”.

Myanmar is reported to have told Bangladesh to prevent NGOs from providing aid to the refugees.

Officials from the two countries had visited the buffer zone for talks with the refugees on February 20, Reuters reported.

“We visited the Rohingya with the Myanmar delegation and requested them to go back to their homes. They said … they are willing to return to their land, but for that they need to ensure safety and security,” Bangladeshi Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner, Mr Mohammad Abul Kalam, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

A leader of the refugees in the buffer zone told Reuters that during the visit they had reiterated their demands, which include having UN peacekeeping forces deployed in Rakhine and for aid agencies and the media to be given free access to the state.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has expressed concern that the refugees may be forced back to Myanmar without due consideration for their safety.