Standoff Continues at Letpadan After Govt Ignores Students’ Demands

By Nobel Zaw 9 March 2015

RANGOON — The standoff between some 100 student protestors and Pegu Division authorities at Letpadan entered into its second week on Monday after the government failed to respond to the students’ demands to let them march to Rangoon.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the students said the government should let them pass through the heavy police blockade by Tuesday 10 am or the “government will have to take responsibility for the consequences.” But local authorities and the central government had offered no response by Monday evening.

Some 500 police officers have been deployed at the site since March 3 to prevent demonstrators from passing through.

The National Network for Democratic Education (NNER), a group of education experts and NGOs that have been supporting the students’ calls for an overhaul of the Education Law, met with the Pegu border affairs and security minister on Monday, but no agreement could be reached.

“The minister said they do it [block students] on the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs. No results came out, we are still discussing to come up with the best solution for both sides,” said Thein Lwin, a member of NNER.

Min Thwe Thit, member of Action for Democratic Education, said that if the government fails to respond “we will go forward with our plan.”

Pegu residents issued their own statement on Sunday to express sympathy for the students as many were suffering from health problems because they had been forced to camp on site at Letpadan for a week. They called on authorities to resolve the standoff.

The group of students left Mandalay on Jan. 20 as part of a march to Rangoon, but temporarily halted their walk at Letpadan on Feb. 17 as the government said it was considering their demands for overhauling the Education Law.

When this did not happen the students attempted to resume their march on March 3 but were blocked by a heavy police presence.

At several smaller demonstrations in Mandalay and Rangoon last week concerned students activists called on the government not carry out a violent crackdown on the Letpadan demonstrators.

On Thursday, some 200 students and activists gathered at Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda, prompting a heavy-handed response from authorities, who deployed police and plainclothes agitators to intimidate protestors and make arrests.

Eight people were detained and released on Friday after they had been charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which prescribes sentences of up to one year for individuals found guilty of participating in an unlawful protest.