Military installs new education minister as uprising grows

Myanmar’s military has appointed a former university rector, Nyunt Pe, as education minister, an unpopular choice that has been strongly condemned by universities and students around the country.

Nyunt Pe, a former rector at Pathein University in Ayeyarwady (Irrawady) Region, was previously investigated for alleged misuse of university funds in September 2017.

He was appointed on 16 February to the State Administrative Council, the body set up to govern the country after the coup, which includes some civilian members.

Many senior civilian civil servants and elected civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) politicians, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, have been arrested.

A total of 521 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the 1 February military coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). They include NLD education minister Myo Thein Gyi.

Students from Pathein University said in two separate statements they strongly condemn anyone joining the military regime.

“As the former Pathein University rector Nyunt Pe has shamelessly accepted the post of minister of education in collaboration with the military dictatorship, the entire student [body] from the English and physics departments has blacklisted him.”

According to students, blacklisting means they do not recognise him.

Nyunt Pe has been investigated over financial irregularities in the past. Hla Myat Thway, Ayeyarwady Region social affairs minister, told a media briefing in 2017 that the Ayeyarwady Region government investigated the rector’s financial affairs after students at Pathein University staged a protest on 22 August 2017, ostensibly over the failure to build a motorcycle parking lot and a canteen on campus. Hla Myat Thway said five or six cases including this one were investigated.

“We found that there were differences in spending accounts of money collected from students. We investigated the fund for the Japan-Myanmar education symposium that was collected from students from different departments,” Hla Myat Thway told media at the time.

Later, in September 2017, the President’s Office investigated Nyunt Pe over the misuse of funds while he was rector. Nyunt Pe was then transferred to the post of director-general of the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation at the Ministry of Education in Naypyitaw under the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government in October 2017. He is said to have retired from that position at the end of last year.

“Students have been aware of his reputation when he was a rector. We protested at the corruption in the use of students’ money four years ago,” a final-year zoology student at Pathein University told University World News.

‘Not recognised because appointed by junta’

Sithu Maung, the youngest member of the Lower House of Parliament elected in November from the Pabedan Township constituency for the NLD, told University World News the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or the houses of parliament (CRPH) has not made a statement on the new education minister because it will not recognise anyone appointed by the junta.

He added that the CRPH – made up of parliamentary (Hluttaw) representatives genuinely elected by constituents in the November elections that the coup has sought to negate – had called on civil servants to join the civil disobedience movement against the military dictatorship.

“Civil Disobedience Movement means disobeying the orders and statements issued by the dictatorship. Generation Z is also involved in the revolution, determined to be the last generation to face a military coup,” he said.

Sithu Maung, one of the students who led the re-founding of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) in 2007, was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for protesting during the 2007-08 ‘Saffron Revolution’ in Myanmar, so called because it was led by monks.

He was released in 2012 after serving five years and has since been involved in student union activities to amend the 2008 Constitution, which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military and other military powers.

University raids target civil disobedience movement

Millions of protesters from around the country have formed mass street protests, even as the military has moved violently against protesters, using water cannon and firing rubber bullets and gunshots into the air.

After the Myanmar military seized power in the first week of February 2021, students declared they would not attend university under the military junta.

“We will not study under this military dictatorship. We will fight to get democracy until the end,” a fifth-year student from the department of electrical systems and instrumentation engineering at Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University (MAEU) in Meiktila told University World News.

More than 20 soldiers from the 99th Brigade broke into the MAEU campus, after smashing the gate locks on 14 February around 2.30pm, the student said.

“When they came, there were around 20 teachers and staff at the campus. The soldiers threatened them and told them to behave in an ‘educated manner’ and not do anything that will damage the reputation of the military,” he said, adding that more than 130 teachers, students and staff at MAEU had joined the civil disobedience movement.

The military and police raids are believed to be targeting university students and teachers due to their increasing involvement in the civil disobedience movement.

The military have intensified their violent crackdown against anti-coup protesters in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city.

On 12 February Mandalay police raided the home of Khin Maung Lwin, rector of the University of Medicine, Mandalay, for supporting the movement, a Facebook livestream from the rector’s daughters revealed. Police attempted to arrest the rector without a warrant but were forced to retreat when residents appeared in the streets banging pots and pans.

A second-year student from Mandalay University of Foreign Languages majoring in German told University World News that around 13 Mandalay universities had joined together and would form a student committee that would include a security team and information centre.

“The security team will be at the frontline. They will be given full suits like shields, masks and capes to protect the students when we are being cracked down on,” he said.

“Despite the junta’s use of brutal force against the people, we will continue to protest peacefully until we get our democracy,” a Mandalay university student who has been taking part in the protests told University World News.