EU 'deeply regrets' police violence against student protesters

11 March 2015
EU 'deeply regrets' police violence against student protesters
Police officers at an EU-sponsored training course conducted at the Myanmar Police Force Battalion (8) at Hmawbi, north of Yangon, on November 5, 2013. Photo: Mizzima

The European Union has criticised Myanmar after baton-wielding police dispersed a student rally and arrested dozens of protesters in a crackdown.
According to a press release on March 10, the European Union Delegation to Myanmar said it was deeply concerned to hear reports of the use of force against protesters in Letpadan.
“We call for a formal investigation to be initiated swiftly. Freedom of expression and the right to legal and peaceful assembly are fundamental values of the European Union,” the release says.
The 28-nation bloc also defended its 2013 decision to launch a 10-million-euro programme to train Myanmar police in dealing with demonstrations, saying it was part of efforts to support reform.
“The EU started training the police following direct requests from both the government and the NLD, in order to bring the MPF in line with international standards and best practices. This was needed, and as events show, this need still remains. The fundamental purpose of the training is to increase the respect of human rights, stress the importance of negotiation and – only as a last resort – consider the use of proportional force. Any actions which go against these principles are of great concern to the EU,” the release says.
“Whilst training can be given, the EU cannot make decisions on the ground. Over the last week, we have discussed recent events with the Minister of Home Affairs and the Myanmar Police Force, emphasising the need for negotiation, mutual understanding and compromise. We also stressed the importance of using trained, professional police officers in these situations, not parallel security structures which may be written into law, but lack legitimacy. It must be made clear that the EU does not train non-police forces and does not condone their use in police actions.
“We also believe that all sides must act in a lawful manner and work towards compromise to reach a mutually acceptable solution. The rule of law applies to all. Since the beginning of the EU project, progress has been made. In some cases, when EU-trained police units have been used, a difference in approach has been acknowledged, including by human rights organisations. However, much remains to be done,” the release says.
Myanmar police carted away two truckloads of protesters after violently breaking up the rally in the central town of Letpadan.
The crackdown comes just days after authorities used violence to end a rally in support of the students in the commercial hub of Yangon, prompting condemnation from rights campaigners.
The EU said the clashes showed the need for further reform by Myanmar's military-dominated government but insisted that it was right to launch the training programme for riot police.
Additional reporting from AFP