Burma Denies U.S. Report of Student Deaths
Burmese and Thai officials have disputed a State Department report that as many as 50 Burmese students may have died in police custody.
“Rumors about arrests and deaths of students in government custody . . . are absolutely unfounded and malicious,” Kyaw Sann, a Burmese government spokesman, told reporters in Rangoon on Friday, commenting on a Voice of America account of the State Department charge.
In a Saturday broadcast, Rangoon Radio called the report “slanderous,” declaring: “There have been no instances of the authorities interrogating or arresting students after they have been handed back to their parents” under a government amnesty program.
In Washington on Thursday, spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said the State Department is investigating “credible reports that a number of Burmese student returnees, who fled Rangoon after the Sept. 18 military takeover, were subsequently arrested and died while in the military regime’s custody.”
“We do not have hard information on the precise numbers involved nor actual evidence of deaths, but we’re sufficiently concerned,” Oakley said.
Under an arrangement worked out last month by the Thai and Burmese governments, student protesters who fled Rangoon to the Thai border areas after the military seized power were promised safe passage without retribution if they returned home. On Dec. 26, about 80 of the thousands of students who reached the border area were flown back to Rangoon from the Thai provincial city of Tak.
More than 1,800 others reportedly have turned themselves in at military reception centers in Burma under a promise of amnesty. Any who have not come in by Jan. 31 will be treated as insurgents, the Rangoon junta warned.
Jetn Sucharitkul, a spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry, said of Oakley’s statement: “Although we have not heard such a report, we would say that this is rather impossible, for the Burmese leader (Gen. Saw Maung) promised safety for students returning to Burma through Thailand.”
Oakley did not say whether the students involved in the reports reaching Washington took part in the airlift or were among those who surrendered to authorities at the Burmese reception centers. The Burmese and Thai denials appeared to be directed only at those who were flown home from Tak.