Burma's Tyranny

Colleges open -- but students, profs., in political straitjackets

IT has been more than three years since the college students of Burma have been allowed to go back to school. After the bloody massacres of thousands of students and other demonstrators who took to the street in March 1988 demanding an end to the military dictatorship, the military regime of Saw Maung has been systematically wiping out the political threat of dissident students by subduing them at all cost. It has successfully chased thousands of student rebels to the border as well as repatriated, capt ured, and sentenced their main leaders to jail terms in central Burma. Since 1988, thousands of student refugees stranded along the border and inside Thailand have been hunted down and subdued by the military regime with the cooperation of the Thai authority. On May 21, Colonel Ekvichai Arthit of the Thai military regime told the press that the Thai and Burmese military officials met and established an agreement of repatriating 20,000 illegal Burmese immigrants, including the dissident students, to be implemented before the end of May.

The Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific documented that since the end of last year nearly 50 students who are recognized as persons of concern by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees have been arrested. They were detained in the immigration detention center for five months by Thai police. In April, they were taken to Ranong port where they were led handcuffed into an awaiting boat to be sent back to Burma. One student stabbed himself and the rest jumped into the water rather than face arrest and disappearance in central Burma like thousands of students who were sent back during the last three years.

In order to make sure that no repeat of the political protest of 1988 occurs, students, parents, and teachers are forced to sign papers guaranteeing that the students will not engage in any act of sedition or demonstration against the military regime. The penalties for failure to meet this anti-sedition order are arrest and loss of job and property.

As a consequence, many parents have opted against sending their children back to colleges. Those students who signed the paper and decided to attend colleges are under the watchful eyes of the military intelligence. Students, parents, and teachers must pay the price in terms of ``physical and psychological insecurity'' or wear the straitjackets of ``unfreedom'' forced upon them by a government that has lost all legitimacy and respect in and outside Burma.

Along with colleges claiming the ``successful'' implementation of restoring ``law and order'' by the appropriately named State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) government, all civil servants are forced to answer 33 questions. The questions are about political views or support of the domestic political organizations (the main opposition party of National League for Democracy, NLD, in particular), minority insurgent groups, the parallel government formed by the runaway winners of the May 27 elect ion, the army, those who are married to foreigners for political leadership (aimed at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who is married to an Englishman), the drafting of the Catch 22 perfect constitution, and foreign subversive organizations (Amnesty International, BBC, VOA) that are interfering with Burma's internal affairs.

The answers, which the civil servants are forced to sign, cannot and must not deviate from the official views and arbitrary decrees of the SLORC in rejecting all opposition and supporting the military regime. Obviously, the quest for the right answer from the civil servants by the SLORC is that it is the only legitimate government recognized by the people of Burma and the world.

At the same time, the NLD which won the May 27 election by a landslide, has been virtually decimated by the SLORC in arbitrarily dropping the names of its foremost leaders who have been arrested - Suu Kyi, Tin Oo, Kyi Maung and others - from its roster and arresting more of its candidates who won the election.

The plight of the Burmese has been accentuated further by a lack of or delay in official international sanction against the military regime. The capacity of the military regime to earn foreign exchange for purchase of arms has been augmented by the willing Asian and Western corporate investors in Burma's oil, gems, forestry, and fishery. Thus far, time, money, and weapons have been on the side of the military oppressor circumscribed by the dynamics of world politics.

Whether or not the opening of colleges and universities under duress may re-ignite a political uprising against the military regime will ultimately depend upon the collective spirit of the youthful students and people of Burma. From a historical perspective, the focal point of protest against the unjust rule has always been the Rangoon University campus, dating back to the time of British colonial rule. They are now back on their home turf again to meet and express in secret their grievances and frustra tion against the ominous military rulers. It may be that the military has made another political mistake similar to holding the May 27 multi-party democratic election which gave an opening to the people of Burma to express their wish and will. Indeed, the Burmese struggle for freedom is far from over.

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