RANGOON — Police in Letpadan, Pegu Division, prevented the main column of students protesting the National Educational Law from restarting their march to Rangoon this morning, blockading them inside a monastery.
From 8.30 am, about 200 police with two fire engines, six security police trucks, two light trucks, and a conventional police car blocked the gate of Aung Myay Baik Mann Monastery, preventing the students from marching on to Thonse.
“We thought they came to block our march,” said Ye Yint Kyaw, communications officer with the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) which is helping coordinate the protests. “Some responsible persons said they had come because the Pegu border affairs minister wanted to hold discussions with student leaders.”
The police trucks moved away from the monastery’s gate at around 10 am after students said they could not negotiate if they were being impeded.
Five student representatives held discussions with Pegu Division’s Security and Border Affairs Minister Col Thet Htun on Monday afternoon and the day’s march was postponed.
Ye Yint Kyaw said authorities had also contacted Rangoon Division’s border affairs and security minister, as they were concerned over a negative public response to the protesters, including from Buddhist monks.
“They were afraid there might be conflict with those people that don’t want us to march,” he said.
Nanda Sit Aung, a member of the Action Committee for Democratic Education who attended the meeting with the border affairs minister, said that authorities on Sunday had originally agreed to allow the march to continue to Thayarwaddy and to two other destinations further on.
“This morning police arrived unexpectedly. They didn’t want us to continue our march,” he said. “They wanted us to continue staying at Aung Myay Baik Mann Monastery until March 5. We told them we were going to discuss it first.”
Nanda Sit Aung said that during the meeting on Monday, Col Thet Htun read out a statement released by the Home Affairs Ministry on Saturday, warning students to halt their protests as the education law was now scheduled to be discussed in the parliament.
The statement read in part: “If [students] again proceed to march towards Rangoon, it would not be an attempt to amend the National Education Law but would aim to shatter state stability and peace. So please stop protests. If protests continue, action will be taken under existing laws [safeguarding] state security, rule of law and regional peace.”
Following the meeting between student representatives and Col Thet Htun, the students held their own deliberations. On Monday evening, they released eight demands, including that they be allowed to continue their march to Thayarwaddy on Tuesday. From there, the students said they would continue to Yangon by car, where they will gather to hold a final protest before disbanding and returning home, according to Ye Yint Kyaw.
The students were concerned that prolonging the march may lead to the cancellation of ongoing high school exams, Ye Yint Kyaw said.
The students gave Pegu Division authorities a deadline of 7 am Tuesday to respond and said they would continue their march to Thayarwaddy regardless if no reply was received.
There are around 150 students with the main student column in Letpadan, as well as about 70 other supporters. The main road into Letpadan has been blocked—from the north and south—and entrances to the monastery remain guarded.
The core group of student protesters began their 400-mile march from Mandalay to Rangoon against the controversial National Education Law on Jan. 20. They have ostensibly won some concessions from government, including having an amended bill submitted to parliament for consideration.