Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ethnic students win reprieve after two-day protest in Mandalay

Students sit together at the gates of the Nationality Youth Resource Development Degree College in Mandalay Friday, November 23, 2012. (The Myanmar Times / Phyo Wai Kyaw)Students sit together at the gates of the Nationality Youth Resource Development Degree College in Mandalay Friday, November 23, 2012. (The Myanmar Times / Phyo Wai Kyaw)

Minister for Border Affairs Lieutenant General Thein Htay has agreed to try and help students from a Mandalay college for ethnic minorities who protested this week after their school was transferred to Sagaing.

More than 500 students from the Nationality Youth Resource Development Degree College in Mandalay demonstrated in Mandalay on Friday, November 23 and Saturday, November 24 to express their anger over the transfer.

Lt Gen Thein Htay met with the students behind closed doors on Monday, September 24, with even teachers barred from the meeting.

Three students emerged and told journalists the minister had agreed to allow them to stay in the Mandalay campus for one month and said a resolution is likely in two or three weeks. The students said they trusted the minister would stick to his promises.

The students were transferred to Ywarthitgyi University in Sagaing on Friday, September 7. In October, they sent two letters to the president asking to be transferred back to Mandalay.

After receiving no reply, the students marched for about eight hours from Sagaing to Mandalay on the night of Thursday, November 22 and staged a sit-in protest in the college compound the following day, asking the authorities to let them take their classes back in Mandalay.

They stayed in the convocation hall and negotiated with the principal and other officials but when no resolution was reached they shifted to an area near the main entrance to the campus at about noon, where they spoke to journalists.

“We don’t understand about protests … we have never been involved in political affairs. We are just ethnic students and we feel that the responsible officials have neglected us. They never asked whether we wanted to transfer to Sagaing and did not give any reason,” Shan students Mg Hla Htun and Mg Thein Moe Aung told The Myanmar Times on Friday, November 23.

“We also heard that our school will close and be transformed into Mandalar University. If they close it and we lose our opportunity [to study], it is the same as though all minority people lose the opportunity. The top leaders regularly say that they care more for ethnic affairs now but if that’s the case why are they doing this to us? We want to understand how unhappy we are about this,” they said.

After shifting from the convocation hall, the students sat on the college’s main entrance road in the burning sun, proclaiming loudly that they would not leave until they got an official letter stating that their demands would be met. The students refused to accept any food or water during the sit-in protest.

Deputy Minister for Border Affairs Major General Zaw Win told the students their request would be passed on to the president.

“We will inform the president what you all want. We chose you [to attend] this college because we wanted to support you. If you want to return back to this college in Mandalay, we will inform the authorities again,” he said.

However, the students remained in the compound until early on Saturday, November 24, after which Lt Gen Thein Htay arrived to negotiate.

Myanmar’s two Nationality Youth Resource Development Degree Colleges opened in 2000. Run by the Ministry of Border Affairs, they offer arts, science and Associate of Government Technical Institute certificates.

In the 2011-12 academic year, 1289 students from Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan states and Sagaing and Tanintharyi regions were enrolled at campuses in Mandalay and Yangon, Lt Gen Thein Htay told the Pyithu Hluttaw in October 2011.