Army out to quell June 4 sentiment

IN a show of force triggering memories of the Tiananmen Square massacre, six People's Liberation Army trucks roared through Beijing's centre yesterday.

The convoy of trucks, each carrying about 50 soldiers from the Beijing Military Region, was indicative of the army's heightened profile around the capital ahead of the fifth anniversary of the June 4 massacre.

Troop trucks and other army vehicles have been sighted in increasing numbers over the past two weeks, particularly in Beijing's northwestern university district, but yesterday's daylight procession past the China World Trade Centre was perhaps the most blatant demonstration of the military's presence so far.

''They did not seem to be armed, but it was still a little scary,'' said an office worker at the World Trade Centre who watched the convoy pass.

''I hadn't seen anything like that since 1989. It was weird.'' But despite the army's higher profile, military analysts said there was little to suggest that troop numbers actually had increased in the capital over the past few months. The army maintains about 50,000 troops in the Beijing municipal district.

Likewise, the People's Armed Police (PAP), which has between 30,000 and 50,000 officers in Beijing, does not appear to have acquired reinforcements in the past couple of months.

''I think they are just trying to let the people know they are there and that no one should try anything stupid in the run-up to the [June 4] anniversary,'' a Western military attache said. ''The number of military and PAP troops in Beijing at the moment should be enough to handle any disturbance.''