YANGON Myanmar police rounded up at least 16 student leaders ahead of the 50th anniversary of a brutal army crackdown, activists and family members said on Saturday, raising doubts about the government's reformist credentials.
The activists were picked up in four different cities late on Friday and taken to undisclosed locations on the eve of the military's suppression of student protests in 1962, the same year when late General Ne Win seized power to usher in 49 years of authoritarian army rule in the former Burma.
Among those arrested was 23-year-old Phyo Phyo Aung, the secretary of All Burma Students Union and a former political prisoner freed last year in an amnesty.
Her mother told Reuters about 20 people, led by a police officer, had taken the activist. "They said they would send her back home after questioning," she said. "We don't know where and how she is now."
Ma Nilar of the 88 Generation Student Group, which led the country's biggest uprising against military rule in 1988, said she could confirm 16 arrests had been made in Yangon and Mandalay, Myanmar's two largest cities, as well as Lashio and Shwebo in the north.
Police in the four cities could not be reached for comment.
Dozens of students were killed when Ne Win's four-month-old junta crushed the 1962 demonstrations and used dynamite to blow up the students' union building of Yangon University.
The arrests could dent the positive image of the 15-month quasi-civilian government, said the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), a group of Southeast Asian lawmakers providing support to Myanmar's democratic transition and currently visiting the country.
Mynamar has implemented a slew of reforms which have resulted in some countries suspending sanctions. The changes include the release of more than 600 political prisoners and the introduction of laws allowing demonstrations.
"This act of oppression has given us the impression that the old ways of practice are still in effect, despite all the positivity for change that we have been hearing," Cambodian lawmaker Son Chhay, AIPMC's vice president, said in a statement.
"If they are even going to arrest people before any crime has taken place, this shows that they continue to use fear and intimidation to repress."
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)