Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has ordered an inquiry into a protest crackdown in Yangon earlier this month, the first of two recent violent confrontations between security forces and student demonstrators in a week, state media reported Wednesday.
According to a front page article in the Global New Light of Myanmar, President Thein Sein had signed an order Tuesday to form a commission of inquiry into the violent dispersal of protesters on March 5.
The investigation focuses on a violent confrontation last week where a group of plainclothes men wearing red armbands – thought to be deputized civilians – were seen beating protesters alongside police according to witnesses. As The Irrawaddy noted then, the scene was reminiscent of the days of military rule in Myanmar when such vigilante groups were commonly employed.
The probe was announced just a day after another crackdown March 10 where police beat activists with batons and arrested over 100 people at another student protest in Letpadan, causing dozens of injuries and leading several Western governments to express their concern. US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that the United States condemned the use of force taken against peaceful protesters.
The Global New Light of Myanmar article said the commission on the earlier March 5 incident was assigned “to investigate whether security forces acted properly in dispersing the protesters, and whether the authorities responsible acted in line with legal procedures.”
The inquiry would reportedly be led by the country’s deputy minister of home affairs, Chairman Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Tun, along with other current and former officials. The commission’s report will be submitted to the president by the end of March.
Students in Myanmar have been protesting since late last year against a new education law passed in September 2014. The government had earlier been in talks with them over their specific demands, but discussions had stalled and tensions had been rising between students and security forces amid protests before violent incidents erupted over the past week.
The twin crackdowns heighten concerns among some that Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government continues to backtrack on reforms first started in 2011 just as the country is headed for elections towards the end of this year.
“The savage beating of students by police and plainclothes thugs marks an ugly return to the street violence of military rule,” said Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams in a statement.
“Burma’s reforms are looking increasingly shaky day by day,” he added, referring to the country by its previous name.