Burmese military vets new teachers

May 19, 2000

Military intelligence officers in Burma are conducting background checks on students signing up to become primary school teachers, say underground union leaders.

They say the junta is so determined to crush the potential for future teachers to influence their students that it is barring those with links to the democracy movement, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, or the political opposition from taking entrance exams.

Members of the banned All Burma Federation of Student Unions have managed to communicate the new restrictions to colleagues based in neighbouring Thailand.

They say police and intelligence officers are investigating applicants to find out if family members have been members of the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel peace prizewinner Suu Kyi, involved in the student struggle or in politics, or whether they have a criminal record.

A federation spokesman, who cannot be named to protect his identity, said:

"Teachers trained at this university go everywhere, so it is very important for propaganda purposes for the regime to make sure they are not linked to the opposition."

The spokesman, who spent almost five years inside Burma's notorious Insein prison for student-related activities and who now lives illegally in Thailand, said he feared that soon all students would face the checks. "We do not want military intelligence officers on our compounds. We want to be free."

The regime has instructed regional police and the feared intelligence officers to scrutinise those applying to join the primary teacher training course at the National Race Development University, near Mandalay, upper Burma.

Burma is attempting to reopen its universities, almost all of which have remained closed for most of the past decade following student-led pro democracy protests in 1988 in which hundreds were shot dead.

The technology institutions began reopening last year, but the junta has been cautious. It has split up university departments, opening some outside the capital, Rangoon, to prevent students gathering in force, opened them in stages, and made others attend studies outside their hometowns.

Students who join the opposition movement risk long sentences. The chairman of the banned All Burma Federation of Student Unions, Min Ko Neing, has been in prison since 1989. Some 2,000 students are currently behind bars, said the federation.

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