A key umbrella students' group in Myanmar has demanded an apology from the government for the brutal crackdown on a 1988 pro-democracy uprising, as two ministers from President Thein Sein's administration attended an event on Wednesday to mark the 25th anniversary of the bloody insurrection.
The uprising was suppressed on Aug. 8, 1988 by the then-ruling military junta, and Thein Sein and several other leaders now pushing for reforms were generals in the previous administration blamed for blatant human right abuses and other malpractices.
"We have urged the current government to begin the process of national reconciliation after apologizing to the people for the crackdown in 1988," Linn Htet Naing, the vice-president of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), said in a statement.
In marking the 1988 student-led uprising, the group also called for amendments to the 2008 military-written constitution, an end to harassment and arrests of activists seeking reforms, a dialogue with ethnic groups, and the release of all political prisoners.
The ABFSU said it would not acknowledge the government’s reform process until it recognizes Aug. 8 as "People’s Democracy Day.”
The group is boycotting the main commemoration event in the former capital Yangon this week because former military generals from the government have been invited to attend the ceremonies organized by the 88 Generation group of student democracy activists formed in the aftermath of the crushed uprising.
The generals who ordered the crackdown have not been held accountable for the deaths of thousands of protesters despite Myanmar’s transition to democratic rule over the past two years, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch HRW said on Tuesday.
It urged President Thein Sein to commit to investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement 25 years ago.
In the crackdown, troops fired on peaceful protesters after a nationwide strike involving thousands of students, Buddhist monks, civil servants, and ordinary citizens had led to simultaneous protests in cities and towns across Myanmar.
Protesters fought back with makeshift weapons, and daily calls for a transition to democracy and an end to military rule continued through September.
On Wednesday, Minister in the President's Office Aung Min, a retired major general in the Myanmar army, and Livestock and Fisheries Minister Ohn Myint, a former lieutenant general, attended the commemoration event. They sat with 88 Generation leaders and donated money to the group to bear part of the cost for organizing the event.
They also visited an exhibition about political prisoners and joined a panel discussion on reforms.
Aung Min pledged that the government would forge a ceasefire with all armed ethnic groups and hold discussions with them on their political future.
"We will try to get the best result from this all-inclusive discussion," he said.
Mya Aye, an 88 Generation leader, said that at the exhibition, the ministers were able to review stage-by-stage the brutal suppression of the pro-democracy protests as well as the plight of political prisoners.
Reported by Nay Rain Kyaw and Zin Mar Win for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.