Myanmar university re-openings ‘a sham’

By James East, Straits Times, 23 August 2000

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says students were forced to promise not to get involved in politics, and have only three months of lectures

BANGKOK—The re-opening of Myanmar's universities is a “sham”, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told an international team of activists who flew to Yangon this week to meet her and learn about the plight of the country's students.

Despite the military government's highly-publicised re-opening of the universities after 10 years of virtual closure, the team was told that students were being forced to sign documents vowing not to get involved in politics, had only three months of lectures in a year and suffered from a severe shortage of textbooks.

The 14-strong team met 200 people at the Yangon headquarters of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), and was told that campuses had been shifted from the capital to paddy-field locations and next to army bases to prevent them from becoming hotbeds of resistance.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) closed the universities in 1988 following anti-junta riots in which thousands of students were reportedly killed.

The team comprised activists from 10 countries—Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and the United States.

They spoke with Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as well as delegates attending an NLD education seminar, including housewives, teachers, Buddhist monks, teenagers and representatives from the ethnic minority.

Dressed in a yellow blouse and wearing flowers in her hair, Ms Suu Kyi urged the visitors to tell the world the opening of the universities was a facade.

“It is a mere surface job to make people feel that there are improvements,” she said in a video-taped recording brought out by the group.

The activists were told that many eager students attended underground lectures, a move that put their teachers at risk of imprisonment for up to 50 years.

Universities did not offer human rights and politics courses, history lecturers overlooked events embarrassing to the junta and government figures of 60,000 students nationwide were apparently exaggerated.

But the NLD claimed there were no more than 25,000 students.

On top of the backlog of students waiting to attend classes, there were many others who could not afford to travel to the campuses.

Military education institutions, however, have remained open, but to be eligible to join them, students must join the army.