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Burmese education ministers and student groups have agreed to hold four-way talks to discuss the National Education Law.
The quadripartite dialogue, between the Committee for Democracy Education Movement (CDEM), National Network for Education Reform, and representatives of the government and parliament, was agreed at a pre-negotiation meeting between officials and students held in Naypyidaw on Wednesday.
Students agreed to send representatives to the meeting in return for safe passage into the town of Taungtha on Tuesday evening, after being confronted with a police blockade.
Aung Thaung, the lower house MP for Taungtha, who is known as a hardliner in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, told DVB that he had no involvement in the blocking of the protestors. “There was no attempt to stop them. I don’t know about the government sector, but we didn’t do anything,” he said. “Staging marches like this can create fear and panic among the public. We try to convince them to stop but if they don’t wish to, they are free to walk on.”
The group of student protestors are marching to Rangoon from Mandalay – a journey of at least 700km by road – to protest the controversial National Education Law.
Before the meeting, Ye Yint Kyaw, coordinator of the Committee for Democracy Education Movement (CDEM), said: “This is just a preliminary meeting with government officials, including the Education Minister, but this is not the four-way meeting that we called for. This is just a preliminary meeting ahead of that.”
The preliminary meeting on Wednesday was attended by ten student representatives of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, CDEM, and the student community in upper Burma. Government officials included President’s Office Minister Aung Min and Deputy Education Minister Thant Shin.
On Tuesday afternoon, Education Minister Khin San Yi, parliamentary Deputy Chair Nanda Kyaw Swa, Education Promotion Committee Chairperson Chan Nyein, and the joint bill committee chairperson [name unknown] met in Naypyidaw to discuss the amendment of the National Education Law as student protests gained traction across the country.
Speaking on Tuesday, Aung Sun Suu Kyi said, “In any country, negotiation is the best way to deal with problems. But resolving a problem should not be a one-sided effort. It requires cooperation, and all parties must be ready to compromise. In democracy, you cannot expect a 100 percent win – one must both give and take as this is the essence of democracy culture.”
Minister Aung Min confirmed to DVB that Wednesday’s parlay was a “pre-negotiation meeting” to discuss the proposed four-way talks.
Deputy Education Minister Thant Shin has pledged that the Education Department will take responsibility for bringing about such dialogue.
Student groups have issued a ten-point list of demands, including the decentralisation of decision-making power, permission for students and teachers to form unions, and to increase the education budget up to 20 percent.