Myanmar launches probe into student protest crackdown

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar state media Wednesday announced an inquiry into a Yangon protest crackdown, the first of two recent violent confrontations with student demonstrators which sparked international alarm and raised fears of a return to junta-era repression.

Both protests are demanding for reforms in Myanmar's controversial education law and are spearheaded by the students, who have long been at the forefront of political action in the former military-run nation's turbulent history.

The investigation will probe "whether security forces acted properly in dispersing the protesters" who gathered downtown on March 5 in the nation's main city, said the Global New Light of Myanmar.

The official statement comes a day after baton-wielding police beat student activists and arrested 127 people at a second student protest site in the central town of Letpadan.

The United States, European Union and Britain have all raised their concerns over the arrests and the use of force to break up peaceful rallies.

In chaotic scenes on Tuesday, police armed with batons lashed out at students and activists in Letpadan, ending over a week of stalemate at the protest site where some 150 demonstrators - including several monks - had been corralled by security forces trying to prevent their planned march south to Yangon.

The crackdowns have sparked outrage among rights groups and activists, who have accused the government of using excessive and aggressive tactics, raising particular fears over the involvement of men in plain clothes in Yangon on March 5.

The men, wearing red armbands and thought to have been deputised civilians, were seen beating protesters alongside police, according to witnesses.

Civilians working alongside security forces to break up protests were a feared feature of life under military rule.

The inquiry into the recent violence will assess "whether the authorities responsible acted in line with legal procedures, while also seeking measures to prevent such cases in the future," state media said Wednesday. Its findings will be submitted to the president by March 31.

Myanmar's quasi-civilian government, which replaced outright military rule in 2011, has ushered in a number of major reforms that have lured foreign investment back into the isolated nation.

But observers fear democratic reforms are stalling as the country lurches towards a landmark election later this year.