Burma Times- 06 March 2015
As the tense standoff between Burmese student protestors and riot police continues to go unresolved at a Buddhist monastery in the town of Letpadan and reports of police brutality emerge, students are considering a change of strategy for their cross-country march calling for education reform.
Although student leaders stated on Thursday that they will not negotiate with police until they are allowed to march the remaining 145 kilometers to the country’s largest city of Yangon, the feeling within the monastery compound on Wednesday evening was somewhat different.
With the police enforcing a ban on the students marching within the Yangon Region, and riot police and armed trucks surrounding the monastery, the students said a march to Yangon now seemed unlikely. On Thursday, police detained a number of students after a small protest in Yangon.
“We will have to find a new strategy to make it to Yangon, as it no longer appears possible by foot,” said Kyaw Ko Ko, the president of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) in an interview at the monastery on Wednesday night.
“Yet we still believe we will reach the city,” he added.
Kyaw Ko Ko has helped lead the protest march since it left the city of Mandalay in the centre of Burma (Myanmar) on January 20. The students organised the march to protest the new education bill that the students claim centralizes the education system in Burma and limits educational freedom.
Initially starting with less than 70 students, that number has grown to nearly 200 from over 30 different universities, and includes a handful of high school students.
In retaliation to the police presence at the monastery, a number of the students and monks began a hunger strike on Tuesday demanding they be allowed to march, but the strike ended Wednesday evening.
“We had to postpone the hunger strike as we fear it will make us physically weaker and weaker,” said Kyaw Ko Ko. “Not eating and sitting outside in this heat all day has caused some of the students to become ill.”
In an another attempt to end the standoff, student leaders held negotiations with police on Wednesday in an attempt to reach a compromise that would allow them to continue on to Yangon.
“Police want us to travel directly from Letpadan to Yangon by car, and they demand that we fly no flags or make any demonstrations along the way,” said Phone Piay Kywe, a student protestor and a former political prisoner who was sentenced to two years in jail at the age of 18.
“We want to march to the township of Tharrawaddy, which is on the way to Yangon. Only from there will we consider driving to Yangon, but we want to demonstrate throughout,” he said.
Tensions rose further on Thursday as reports circulated that police beat demonstrators outside the compound. The students, however, have claimed that the use of force is not something they are willing to consider.
“Pushing or forcing our way out (of the monastery) will only lead to violence. We are very careful to prevent this,” Kyaw Ko Ko sai.