Scenes of Indiscriminate Violence in Letpadan as Police Attack Ambulance Workers, Students, Reporter

Police attack a student as other officers look on during Tuesday afternoon’s crackdown on protesters in Letpadan. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Police attack a student as other officers look on during Tuesday afternoon’s crackdown on protesters in Letpadan. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON / LETPADAN, Pegu Division — A sense of jubilation on Tuesday morning gradually gave way to fear and anger by the afternoon, as police violently dispersed a weeklong student protest based in a Letpadan monastery.

Students and Buddhist monks in Letpadan were indiscriminately kicked and struck with batons by police after the monastery protest site was stormed. During the violence, police attacked medical workers carting injured protesters into ambulances.

“They beat us inside the ambulance from the back door,” said Zar Zar Tun of the Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS), which was dispensing medical aid to those caught in the affray. “Our staff shouted at them to stop. My leg was injured during the beating.”

Kyaw Thu, the FFSS chairman, said that groups of injured protesters had been transported to hospital for treatment in two ambulances provided by the organization. Zar Zar Tun told The Irrawaddy that six men and two women were sent to hospital in the first ambulance, including one patient suffering from a severe head injury.

The Irrawaddy has been unable to confirm the exact number of injured, believed to number at least 100 based on eyewitness reports. According to the Ministry of Information, 127 people were arrested in the crackdown, including 107 men and 20 women. The Press Council has stated that journalists are among those arrested.

Students initiated a hunger strike after being blocked from leaving Letpadan on Mar. 3, and on Monday attempted to bring the deadlock to an end by announcing a deadline of 10am the following day for authorities to allow their passage to Rangoon. Intending to continue a march against the National Education Law, which began in Mandalay on Jan. 20, demonstrators were told minutes before the deadline expired that they would be allowed to continue.

Soon, it became apparent that security forces intended to continue frustrating the students’ journey to Rangoon. According to Dr Thein Lwin, a member of the National Network for Education Reform, protesters were told they would only be allowed to leave the monastery in groups of five at a time, and would be prevented from traveling from Rangoon as one group. A conflict also arose over police attempts to prohibit the hoisting of flags emblazoned with the flying peacock, a longstanding national emblem of democracy and latterly a symbol of student calls for education reforms.

“Students could not accept this,” he said. “They agreed to turn themselves in and asked to be arrested.”

Shortly before midday, with the protesters still blockaded in the monastery, students and monks attempted to dismantle barbed-wire barricades and push through the police column, without success. After a second attempt to break the blockade an hour later, police loudspeakers announced the protest was unlawful, and began an assault on those inside the monastery.

A photographer from The Irrawaddy characterized what followed on the ground as “a complete breakdown of police discipline”. The security forces, which greatly outnumbered the demonstrators, broke into two mobs. One group attempted to exercise restraint and the other indiscriminately attacking those trying to escape the violence.

As students fled the scene, police stormed through the monastery’s buildings and nearby homes, dragging out protesters for arrest. Students found in the monastery were restrained with rope as police waited for trucks to carry them away.

Students who attempted to turn themselves in peacefully were beaten by police, according to Thein Lwin.

Reporters fled the scene as it became apparent that they were also unsafe from police attacks. Min Min, a supporter of the protest who came to Letpadan to document the confrontation, told The Irrawaddy that Union Daily reporter Maung Maung Myo had been beaten by police, and two other foreign journalists were harassed.

The mood among Letpadan locals, who had been largely supportive of the protesters, soon became rancorous as the crackdown continued.

At about 3pm, police with riot shields formed a column across the main street and began moving towards a crowd of local residents gathered nearby, resulting in an exchange of insults and projectiles.

The Ministry of Information released a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying that the police efforts to end the protest were in accordance with the law.

“Myanmar police forces blocked and controlled [the crowd] in accordance with the law,” the ministry said. “Protest groups moved and destroyed barriers, started to penetrate the blockade set up by police forces and threw stones at police members. Police had to clear the crowd in accordance with the law.”

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Myanmar Press Council issued a statement condemning the arrest of reporters covering the incident.

“Journalists neither supported, nor condemned, nor participated in the protest,” the statement read. “They reported what they saw. The Press Council sees the attack on the media and arrest of journalists as an act of police ignorance over the constitutional right of citizens and journalists… We seriously condemned the police force’s action and demand their immediate release.”

Lawi Weng, Sai Zaw and Steve Tickner contributed reporting from Letpadan. Kyaw Hsu Mon, Kyaw Phyo Tha, Yen Snaing and Sean Gleeson contributed reporting from Rangoon. Zarni Mann contributed reporting from Mandalay.

13 Responses to Scenes of Indiscriminate Violence in Letpadan as Police Attack Ambulance Workers, Students, Reporter

  1. I’m really worrying about President U Thein Sein Government’s handling on peaceful student’s demonstration. I have no doubt Home Affair Minister Gen Ko Ko won’t be hesitate for using force on innocent students who are asking for to change nation Education law.
    Government needs to think about whether using excessive force on peaceful demonstration by group of students was necessary thing to do or not. I believe nothing will happen if Government allows them to pass anywhere they wanted to go. Government’s unnecessary using excessive force on group of children was absurd and disgusting.
    Government must stop right now. President U Thein Sein and Gen Ko Ko will be accountable for that.
    To Ethnic minority armed groups, they should aware of what’s happening now and how Government has sorting out group of School children’s demand for small changing in education law.
    All Ethnic minorities’ peoples will face same fate as those innocent School children were facing now when they demand freedom and right for their land from Burmese Government. I do not have confident over our Ethnic minorities’ right will be fully granted and comply by Military even after forthcoming general Election because Burmese Army will be still rooting in Ethnic minorities’ land.
    All Ethnic minority groups must stick together and need to fight Burmese Army from all corners until the Burmese Army withdraw from land of Ethnic minorities’ peoples.

  2. These are no more police. Hired hands of hard core crimnals. Short term outlook? Long term outlook? Just take care of these police in the very heart land of Myanmar.

  3. The “new democracy” of Burma is seen here in the sight of the world.

  4. Tluang Salai ,California

    You don’t need to be Buddhist / Christian /Hindu to stand up for BURMA
    you just Need to be a HUMAN

  5. Where is Derek Mitchell and others EU Ambassadors? What are they doing? Just watching these Junta destroying peaceful students and stay quiet. You guys don’t get it yet….It’s the same junta that destroyed, killed students, monks, innocent people back since 1988. This is the same government who cracked down all those democracy movements. They just changed names from time to time, just wearing civilian clothes on top of military uniforms.
    Is President Obama blindfolded or still pretending that the country is still on right track to democracy? Please wake up and face the truth. Don’t get fooled by these military thugs and cronies…

  6. Discipline flourishing democracy’s rule of law in action.

    Why are you perpetuating the ignorant misrepresentation of the fighting peacock emblem’s origins? You know very well it has been the ABFSU flag since the 1936 university students’ strike blatantly usurped by the NLD; the students, their union banned, protested at the time .

  7. Thein Sein quasi-military regime is declaring war on the people of Burma. In the 2015, later this year, we will see the end of the military rule through people voice or blood-bath in the every city of Burma with eventual prosecution of military generals for crime against humanity. The people got full of evidences to prove the genocide by the military regime. The game will be over soon. We salute hundreds of thousands of martyrs for the sake of freedom in Burma. They all will go to heaven. The military leaders will go to AWISI.

  8. Beginning to show the true colors of this regime, Look like Thein Sein Gov’t is diplomacy bankrupt.


  10. bully burmese police brutally beat up unarmed students as in old days in 1988. Only way to overcome this kind of oppression is to arm overselves and repel the corupt regimen. Come on ABSDF

  11. What a situation, after reading all the articles in today’s buliton of Irrawaddy, there is one big question I keep asking myself. ” Where is “Su Kyi in all this matter?”

    With all the awards, accolades that she has received & the praise for many other things regarding apparently for all her beliefs for the people to “ACHIEVE” open, accountable,& democratic government, I am yet to see her appear or have a say in this “Unfair, Ruthless, Violent, Abusive” crack down against all these groups that have “SUPPORTED” her.
    Especially all the “STUDENTS” who’s support was the “STRONGEST”.

    Like I have previously posted in my other comments, I still say, and believe that Su Kyi is another “PUPPET” that has changed her “STRIPES” since she has ACHIEVED” her “GOAL” of becoming a member of Parliament.

    Now she is just a front person “DANCING” to the tune of THEIN SEIN”S so called freely elected fake “DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT”.( Military Powered & Controlled).
    I notice in some other news articles Su Kyi & Thein Sein sitting down laughing with each other, enjoying each others company in “PLUSH EXCLUSIVE” surroundings @ the expense of the “PUBLIC” who had faith and beliefs in her.
    She has got to where she had planed to get to, with “FALSE PRETENSE” nothing else matters now.

    The public have got to “WAKE UP” and realize of the game she is playing.
    Su Kyi, now has all the “PRIVILEGE & FREEDOM” received all the “ACCOLADES” with the huge support on the backing of the public, having “TRUST”on the crest of her “FATHER”, her true “COLOURS” are now showing.

    Now, Su Kyi has adopted the saying, that goes like this…”OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND”.
    She does not have to do anything, all of THEIN SEIN’S” thugs will do all the “DIRTY” work for a merely payment & they don’t have to get their hands “DIRTY”.

    So, I say, People wake up, all of you have been “Coned” from the very start.
    All of you are left to your resorts with no help from any one. How soon does she “FORGET”, who her STRONGEST supporters were

    These groups need “SU KYI’s help and assistance, SU KYI I dare you to do so…….

    May the Lord Buddha Help you all.

  12. Now that President Thein Sein ( the good part of the Government ) has ordered an investigation into the 5.3. Yangon Police and Thug riots ( the bad part of the Government ), and clear against PM Myint Swe colonial law ruling in 2014,– the commission must not forget to raise the question of ” Child Soldiers / Child Police Thugs ” as proven and seen in all pictures. At least this was a total NO GO for Mr Clean ( 2004 Khin Nyunt or 2007 The Monks ) , not even the Colonial Power would have sent in 1890 children into such a war against a ” peaceful demonstration “…../// tomorrow we will read than in state news paper that President Thein Sein ordered same investigation into Bagan region events of 10.3. — surprising that Bago Government with a highly Diplomat as PM U Nyan Tun as former Foreign Minister was not able to over rule his Security Minister nor the Ministry of Home Affairs. It looks all as how we can read about Karen state between 2005 and 2008 at Harvard report. Interesting also Sithagu Seyadaw of having no commends on all the police activities,— maybe to high paid already to much to loose – where a Buddhist Monk should have nothing to loose and not be attached to anything.

  13. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

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