Burma lets students trickle back

January 14, 2000


Burma's universities, closed by the country's military junta in 1996, are steadily reopening, according to the government.

But education authorities have been accused of deliberately relocating university departments away from Rangoon to prevent further student unrest.

The 100-plus universities and colleges in Burma (Myanmar) have been shut since protests at police handling of a quarrel between students and restaurant workers in December 1996.

They have been hotbeds of unrest since British colonial rule, but became a thorn in the side of the junta following the bloody suppression of the pro-democracy movement in 1988. From then until 1996, universities and colleges were open for about 30 months, but were constantly raided by police.

Now universities are being reopened in stages, with all campuses expected to be operating by May. The government is believed to have agreed to reopen them because of intense pressure from foreign governments, including Britain.

"Medical and dental institutes and technical colleges are open and diploma classes, masters courses and doctoral courses are being held regularly at universities," said Brig-Gen David Abel, a cabinet minister and the nation's economic supremo.

Surprised students were told to enrol at universities and technical colleges throughout the country after obtaining permission from neighbourhood police and local government authorities.

Tens of thousands were offered places in colleges outside the capital Rangoon because the government has relocated the campuses of the top colleges.

"It will now be much easier to crack down on student protesters," said Soe Aung, director of foreign affairs for the All-Burma Students' Democratic Front. "It is ridiculous to say the moves are for the convenience of students. Many will miss out because they will not be able to afford to go far outside the main cities."

It is believed there are about 100,000 students eligible to attend classes.

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