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Burmese activists on Thursday continued a symbolic campaign in towns and cities across Burma, in which they handed out white armbands to passers-by, denouncing the use of government-hired thugs who were part of the violent crackdown against students and their supporters earlier this month.
The white armbands are emblazoned with the words: “We are students. Respect our rights.” The campaign began on Friday, 13 March, in Rangoon when the white armbands were first distributed to people in Maha Bandula Park, as well as at railway stations and jetties around the city, and is continuing in Mandalay, Rangoon and in Irrawaddy Division.
The government received widespread condemnation for soliciting the service of mobs of vigilantes, who wore wearing red armbands emblazoned with the word “duty”, who on 5 March helped police to violently disperse a protest in Rangoon city centre held in solidarity with education activists in Pegu Division’s Letpadan. Many observers have pointed fingers at the notorious pro-government Swann Arr Shin organisation as the instigators of the melee.
The Swan Arr Shin are infamous in Burma for their role in repressing public protests, often through intimidation and violence, such as during the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
Following the events in Rangoon, Khin Maung Swe, chair of the National Democratic Force party, told DVB that the use of Swan Arr Shin is a well-known tactic of the government.
“As the government in recent days has encountered challenges, it seems to me that they want to put an end to the protests. So instead of using uniformed forces, they are using the Swan Arr Shin: getting members of the public to use violence against each other,” he said.
However, Information Minister Ye Htut denied knowledge of this strategy. He told DVB: “That word ‘Swan Arr Shin’ does not exist nowadays. The Rangoon Division government, as a regional administration, carried out the necessary measures to maintain security and the rule of law within their jurisdiction. You should ask them which groups the men in civilian clothing belong to, and what kind of policy determines their operation,” he said.
To track the chronology of the student protests, visit the DVB interactive map.