RANGOON — A group of Burmese activists is boycotting a Silver Jubilee event next week to commemorate the country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising because former military generals from the government have been invited to attend.
Members of the All Burma Federation of Students Unions (ABFSU) have resigned from the jubilee’s organizing committee and will not participate in the event next week, saying that the former generals participated in the crackdown on student protesters 25 years ago and should be forced to apologize to the families of victims.
“We decided not to attend the event, and even to resign from the working committee for the event, after we hosted last week’s meeting,” Kyaw Ko Ko, a leader from the ABFSU, told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “The majority of our group voted not to attend because military generals who were involved in the killings will be there.”
Burma has embarked on a platform of political reform since President Thein Sein, a former general and third-ranking member of the previous regime, took power in 2011. Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to run for Parliament last year, while hundreds of political prisoners have been released and pre-publication censorship has been abolished, but activists say the government has failed to adequately address past rights abuses.
During a ceremony in Rangoon this week to honor prisoners who died at the Great Coco Island penal colony, Kyaw Ko Ko urged the Burmese people to fight for greater reform, saying the military had retained its hold over the current quasi-civilian government.
“During the 88 Uprising, our comrades sacrificed their lives for human rights and democracy,” he said. “We should not forget their sacrifices. The government should not ignore what these people have done for their country.
“Without recognizing that our comrades paid with their lives, how can we say this government has moved forward with real change?”
Members of the 88 Generation Students Group plan to celebrate the Silver Jubilee at the University of Yangon from Aug 6-8, and have invited Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann along with Khin Aung Myint, speaker of the Upper House.
Ant Bwe Kyaw, a spokesman for the Silver Jubilee event, said the ABFSU participated in planning meetings and understood that government officials would be invited.
“We hosted a meeting all together with them and agreed already to invite government representatives, ethnic armed groups and civil society groups,” he said. The event is intended to promote peace and national reconciliation. They knew about it.”
Despite the country’s political and economic opening, some critics doubt the commitment of a government dominated by men who once wore military uniforms. Under the former regime, thousands of politicians, activists and monks were imprisoned for their political beliefs, while protesters were gunned down in the streets during mass demonstrations.
The 1988 Uprising was a historic popular uprising against the military dictatorship of Gen Ne Win, who ordered the military to shoot the peaceful protesters, with at least 3,000 people killed. The nationwide pro-democracy movement broke out on Aug. 8, 1988, and hundreds of thousands of Burmese joined demonstrations in Rangoon, the former capital.