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LOST GENERATIONS: Culling Burma's h

Editorial & Opinion 

      Culling Burma's human

      A tradition of eliminating possible threats to
      the seat of power has exacted a terrible
      price on the country's student population. 

      ON March 2, 1998, the newly named
      Burmese junta, the State Peace and
      Development Council (SPDC), arrested 40
      political activists who were indicted as
      conspirators of the All Burma Students
      Democratic Front (ABSDF) insurgent
      group in Rangoon and charged with
      attempts to commit terrorist acts against
      the government. 

      They were also alleged to have links with
      the foremost opposition leader to the
      military rulers, Aung San Suu Kyi and her
      party, the National League for Democracy
      (NLD), and the Burma Communist Party,
      Under-Ground (BCP-UG). 

      The charges recalled the days of Ne Win's
      rule and the 1988 political uprising. 

      On April 30, 1998, the SPDC handed out
      death sentences to six of the 40 arrested
      for an attempt to assassinate members of
      the SPDC. 

      Thirty-three others were sentenced to
      between seven and 14 years of

      All of them were claimed by the government
      to be full members or recruits of the
      Bangkok-based ABSDF. 

      The government also denied that none of
      the six sentenced to death were students,
      contrary to the ABSDF's claim that two of
      them are student activists. This latest action
      of the SPDC reflects the continuing legacy
      of ancient Burmese kings and General Ne
      Win who imposed an iron rule over Burma
      for 26 years from 1962 to 1988. 

      One of the salient features of Burmese
      kingship was the absence of primogeniture
      or order in the succession to the throne and
      the annihilation of potential contenders to
      the throne. 

      The legendary tale of King Anawrahta, the
      founder of the first Burmese kingdom of the
      Pagan dynasty in the 11th century,
      appropriately illustrates this legacy. 

      Upon the advice of his Brahman royal
      astrologers, ponnars, the insecure king
      sought a minlawn, a challenger to his
      thrown, and slaughtered thousands of
      pregnant women, children and teenagers
      for successive generations without
      success. When the minlawn entered the
      Buddhist priesthood, the king invited the
      monks for a feast at the royal palace where
      he discovered the identity of the contender
      to the throne. 

      When the king asked his royal astrologers
      when would the young monk ascend the
      throne and become the ruler of the Pagan
      kingdom, the ironical answer given was not
      until after another king succeeded him. 

      The remorseful King Anawrata made
      Kyansitthar one of his generals and began
      to build bridges and pagodas for the
      atonement of his sinful mass killings. 

      Kyansitthar, which literally means in
      Burmese the left-over or surviving soldier,
      became the third king of the Pagan dynasty
      with the title of Htee Hlaing Min. 

      The relentless subjugation of dangerous
      contenders to the political throne, such as
      young student activists, is also the legacy of
      General Ne Win, one which has been
      faithfully maintained by the present military

      For more than three decades, students
      have been arrested, tortured, sentenced,
      chased and killed. 

      The subjugation of students and the
      shutdown of schools and colleges occurred
      in 1962, 1963, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1974,
      1975, 1976, 1987, 1988 and 1996. 

      The duration of these shutdowns ranged
      from six months to three years. 

      The State Law and Order Restoration
      Council (Slorc) seized power in 1988 after
      killing thousands of pro-democracy
      students and other demonstrators. 

      Immediately following the 1988 military
      coup, politically active students were forced
      to flee to the Thai border to join the
      resistance forces and set up camps and
      establish their own headquarters of the All
      Burma Students Democratic Front
      (ABSDF) at Down Gwin in the Karen State
      to continue their armed struggle against the

      Since then, the Burmese army in
      cooperation with Thai authorities along the
      border and inside Thailand has
      systematically chased, subdued and
      repatriated thousands of beleaguered
      students. The initial estimate of the number
      of student refugees at some 30 camps in
      the Karen and Mon States along the Thai
      border after the September coup of 1988
      was around 10,000. 

      In 1995, their headquarters at Down Gwin
      was overrun, at the same time Manerplaw,
      the headquarters of the Democratic
      Alliance of Burma (DAB) and the Karen
      National Union (KNU), was captured by the
      Burmese army. 

      In 1997, it was reported that the number of
      student rebels at the remaining 12 camps,
      eight of which are located along the Thai
      border, had dwindled to less than 2,000.
      The underground student organisation, All
      Burma Federation of Students Unions
      (ABFSU), reported the number of university
      students expelled and imprisoned since
      1991 by the military government as
      between 911 and 3,065 respectively. 

      The largest peaceful demonstration of
      major significance since 1988 took place in
      December 1996 on major college
      campuses in Rangoon, causing the
      government to shut down colleges and
      universities once more and they have not
      been reopened. 

      There is a saying:³A mind is a terrible thing
      to waste.²In Burma, for more than three
      decades not only the mind but also the
      body and the soul of the nation represented
      by young students and intellectuals have
      been wasted under the rule of force, on one
      hand and, on the other, the politically
      motivated national policy of rewarding the
      good-and-loyal²over³the able and

      This policy is contrary to the policy and
      practice of not only modern societies but
      also the Burmese traditional values and
      standards of conduct, which call for
      dependency on and respect for the
      able-and-learned or the educated and not
      to cut up the face of the country,
      metaphorically represented by the young
      children and students. 

      The terrible price Burma has paid for this
      inept policy of the military rulers is
      irreversible damage to human capital that
      Burma needs desperately to become a
      happy, peaceful and prosperous nation. 

      As Jefferson said:³''Nothing more than
      education advances the prosperity, the
      power, and the happiness of a nation.'' 

      Mya Maung is a professor of finance, The
      Wallace E Carroll School of Management,
      Boston College. 

      The Nation