At least 20 student leaders were detained in Myanmar Saturday, ahead of a rally to commemorate a 1962 suppression of a student movement, an activist said, in the biggest crackdown of its kind since the dissolution of the junta.
The detentions raise questions about the true extent of Myanmar's reforms since it dropped outright military rule last year in favour of a quasi-civilian government led by reformist president Thein Sein.
Five student leaders were held in Yangon and others were taken in for questioning by police in three other locations across the country, according to an activist.
"Apart from those five arrested in Yangon... five student activists (were arrested) in Shwebo, six in Mandalay, four in Lashio," Thet Zaw, one of the leaders of a student uprising in 1988 that was brutally suppressed, told AFP.
Kyo Kyo Gyi, another veteran of that uprising -- known as Generation '88 -- said the five held in Yangon were "taken for no reason", adding that "the authorities said they wanted to talk with them".
Saturday's anniversary of the bloody 1962 crackdown on students protesting against military rule in Yangon University was expected to draw veteran activists as well as younger pro-democracy supporters.
The day after the crackdown (July 8) the student union building was destroyed with dynamite by the junta while some injured students were hiding were still inside.
Ceremonies to remember the event were low key under the junta for fear of provoking the army, but plans were underway to hold a wider event on Saturday at the Generation '88 office.
Myanmar has undergone a series of reforms since Thein Sein took over from a military-ruled government, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and elections which propelled dozens of opposition party members to parliament.
The international community has responded by dropping some sanctions and pledging support for Myanmar's fledgling democracy.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged caution over the reforms, despite their fast pace, also calling on the reform-minded government to release those still in custody from the junta era.
Lawmakers from her National League for Democracy party are currently in Naypyidaw, the capital city, attending a parliamentary session as they move from the role of dissidents to the heart of political decision making.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who returned last week from a triumphant tour of Europe, is due to join the session on Monday.
Thein Sein has repeatedly warned of obstacles to democratic progress, but has focused on ethnic conflicts and the recent deadly communal violence in western Rakhine state.
Source: AFP Global Edition