Myanmar student leader arrested after months on the run

YANGON (AFP) - A Myanmar student leader who has been on the run since March protests calling for education reform has been arrested, police said on Friday (Oct 30), the latest detention over rallies that saw dozens arrested and sparked international alarm.

The arrest of Kyaw Ko Ko, president of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, comes as the former junta-run state prepares for landmark general elections on Nov 8.

While the polls are being heralded as the fairest in decades, rights groups have expressed fears over the government's increasing crackdown on free speech.

Kyaw Ko Ko was arrested over a protest in Yangon seven months ago supporting student activists in the central town of Letpadan, whose rallies were brought to an end in a violent crackdown by authorities.

"Student leader Kyaw Ko Ko was arrested yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. He's now under interrogation," said a police officer in Yangon, who did not want to be named. He did not provide further details including where the student leader was arrested or being held.

Around 54 students are currently detained and awaiting trial near Letpadan as rights groups accuse Myanmar of returning to tactics of suppression used under military rule.

Earlier this month, two Myanmar activists were arrested over Facebook posts about the military in a country where the army retains massive sway despite outright military rule being replaced with a quasi-civilian government in 2011.

President Thein Sein's government was widely praised for its raft of political and economic reforms, leading to the removal of most Western sanctions, but is increasingly coming under fire for backsliding on human rights issues.

In a rare call in September, Myanmar's national human rights body urged the government to take legal action against police who beat up education protesters in Letpadan.