Burma: calls for calm as student activist murdered

IssueApril 2006
News by Andrew Frisicano

On 17 March, student activist and former political prisoner Thet Naing Oo was allegedly beaten to death on the streets of Rangoon by police, firefighters and members of the Union and Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

Official news sources report that he was a violent drunk who resisted arrest, while local eyewitnesses suggest that, immediately prior to his murder he had merely been drinking tea. His lawyer stated that his body showed injuries to the face, head, body, and base of the skull, indicating that he had been beaten to death.

Calling for a calm, nonviolent response to this provocative attack, Burmese student leader Min Ko Naing told Radio Free Asia that “the time has arrived for all of us to be very careful not to emulate the ways of those individuals who want to solve problems through violent means. We need to be mindful and be alert against those who challenge us in a violent way or provoke us into losing control,” adding, “I would like to say this clearly and precisely today: we will not bow our heads and take the injustice unchallenged.”

The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) called on Burma's military junta to carry out a full investigation into the killing.

Total repression

For decades Burma has been under military rule - those who oppose it are routinely attacked, sometimes tortured, murdered or “disappeared” - with its most famous opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest on and off since 1989. She currently remains detained.

In September 2005, Amnesty International expressed its ongoing concern about “a variety of human rights which are systematically denied to civilians by the Myanmar [Burmese] government, particularly those belonging to ethnic minorities. The routine military interference with the exercise of human rights includes forced labour; forcible relocation; extortion of food, money and other personal possessions; house destruction; and the denial of freedom of movement.”

In February this year, actions against the French oil giant Total took place in countries in Europe, the US and South Asia. Total is one of the largest oil companies in the world and is also reportedly the largest European corporate funder of the Burmese military regime.

”Total Oil is one of the regime's best friends,” said Mark Farmaner, Campaigns Manager at the Burma Campaign UK. “Total Oil provides the dictatorship with financial and political support. Pulling out of Burma is not only the ethical thing for them to do, it also makes financial sense, as the company's reputation is being severely damaged by their close relationship with one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.”

Belgium, don't waffle

Democrats in Burma are urging Belgian banks to divest from investments in their country. A Netwerk Vlaanderen report recently found the five largest investment firms in Belgium to have connections with businesses that operate under the repressive Burmese government. These financial investments are seen as providing support for the military junta.

Belgian citizens are being asked to support democrats in Burma by pressuring these banks to divest from the country. The campaign “Municipalities for Burma”, headed by Burmese-exile Aung Maw Zin, asks Belgians to stop supporting companies and banks with activities in Burma.

It's not the first time Belgian banks have felt pressure to make their investments ethical. Since 2003, campaigns have been working to demand that Belgian banks divest from weapon producers and strictly dedicate themselves to ethical investments (see PN2458, PN2470).