Independent Mon News Agency
At least one hundred students in Moulmein staged a protest to complain about lack of electricity on Friday. Electricity was restored the next day, say local sources, while the owners of student hostels were also ordered to purchase generators.
Students began gathering in Myaing-tha-yar Quarter at about 9 pm, said a student who was singing with his friends outside a student hostel for girls. About 30 students passed on motorcycles and called the singers to join them, said the source, but they did not join.
Hostels in Myaing-tha-yar Quarter have been the primary housing for students since Burma’s military junta abolished on-campus dormitories in 1996.
By the time the group arrived at the Mandalay Quarter Township Electricity Department a half hour later, however, it had swelled to at least 100 students riding on the back of motorcycles. Though the office compound was closed, the students shouted demands and threw stones.
About twenty minutes later, the group moved on to the Ngante electricity station, which distributes power to Mon State’s capital city. This time they were met by the station’s on-site guards, who heard their demands and then asked them to leave.
“More than 100 people on motorbikes arrived at the [Ngante] office compound,” a source who spoke with a Ngante staff-member told IMNA via phone. “They did not do anything angry but police told them to go back. However the students did shout and ask for electricity.” A student who joined, meanwhile, estimated the number of protesters to be almost 150.
The group next went to the headquarters of the Southeast Command, which controls Burmese army battalions in Mon State. The students, however, dispersed quickly after arriving at the headquarters, which are surrounded by a large fence and armed soldiers posted at the front gate.
Though electricity supplies are frequently inconsistent and weak, the students appear to have been set off by their desire to study for approaching exams and frustration with trying to do so in the dark.
“Now grade 10 students and university students are near sitting their exams. So if we don’t get electricity, it is very difficult for us and especially for the students to study,” explained a hostel owner. Exams for 10th standard students are on March 11th, while university students have exams all week.
“We did not get electricity for 3 days,” said a student. “It was difficult for us to get water [because our pump did not work], it was difficult for us to study. And it was very close to our exams.”
Electricity supplies resumed the next morning. According to a Myaing-tha-yar resident who works in another quarter, the renewed electricity supply is citywide. “Since the students protested, we’ve had electricity every day,” said the resident.
Student hostel owners, meanwhile, have been ordered to purchase generators to provide electricity to students when future supplies are inconsistent.
At 8 am on Saturday, the Myaing-tha-yar Quarter headman summoned hostel owners to a meeting. According to a source who spoke with a hostel owner present at the meeting, the owners were each made to sign a paper promising to purchase generators within the next week. Not all hostel owners were present at the meeting, he added.
To date, there have been no reports of repercussions for students who participated in the protest. No arrests have been made and there is yet to be an increase in police presence around the Moulmein University campus, say students.
Earlier in the month following Mon National Day, students were required to sign papers promising to not create disturbances or participate in protests. Professors and tutors at Moulmein University were also required to sign notes promising to take responsibility for 20 students each and ensure they did not protest.