The Karen National Union, currently holding peace talks with the government, issued a statement supporting protesters opposed to the new National Education Bill, approved by the country’s parliament, but yet to be ratified by President U Thein Sein.
The KNU said in its statement that the government’s use of force against ‘peaceful’ protesters is excessive.
“The security forces are using force and the tendency to use violent repression in blocking the peaceful march to Rangoon of the main Campaigners for Democratic Education, who resumed their march on March 3, 2015, from Aung Myay Beikman Monastery in Letpadan Town.”
In its four point statement the the KNU said it “would like to urge the authorities concerned to embark on peaceful consultation in resolving the issue, without resort to violent repression against the Campaigners for Democratic Education.”
Opposition groups said they were concerned that government forces appeared to be using thugs dressed in civilian clothing to target and beat protestors. Photographs in social media and in Burma’s mainstream media feature men armed with heavy sticks beating student protestors.
The men are identified with red armbands that display in white text the word ‘duty’ in Burmese. A former opposition activist (who asked not to be named) told Karen News that the use of these men is reminiscent of rule under the military dictatorship.
“These thugs are a flashback to the ‘Swan Arshin’ used by the military regime to intimidate and beat up civilians opposed to them.”
A Rangoon police chief quoted in the Burma media claimed the men who beat the student protesters and also helped police this week to disperse striking garment workers, were vigilantes who wanted to maintain law and order.