Monday, October 17, 2011

Political prisoner amnesty not enough: Win Tin

Monday, 17 October 2011 12:09 Myo Thant

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma’s short-lived release of political prisoners falls short of a serious effort toward national reconciliation, says Win Tin, a senior National League for Democracy (NLD) leader.

Win Tin, a former political prisoner, said the presidential amnesty is welcomed, he it is not enough.

“Some people said they felt disappointed, but they only complained a little. For me, I not really not satisfied, not just disappointed,” said Win Tin, was imprisoned for 19 years by the former military regime.

Win Tin, a senior leader of the National League for Democracy. Photo: Mizzima

Win Tin said only 218 political prisoners were included in the 6,359 prisoners to be released starting on October 12. The government has provided no official figures of the number of persons released. The amnesty was granted after approval by the National Defence and Security Council.

Win Tin said he was he was also disappointed the meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi and government representative and Labour Minister Aung Kyi, who have met three times. Amnesty was an important matter discussed in the meetings, he said.

From October 12-17, Suu Kyi, who has repeatedly called for the release of all political prisoners, has gone on a meditation retreat at a monastery in Rangoon.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma labeled the amnesty a “so-called amnesty.” It says there are about 1,700 political prisoners across Burma, including 100 political prisoners who are in ill health. According to figures compiled by AAPP-B, 220 political prisoners were released on October 12.

AAPP-B joint Secretary Ko Bo Kyi said: “They made unlawful arrests. They arrested people at their homes. Then, they sent the political prisoners to prisons far away from their homes. When they released political prisoners, they gave just 1,000 kyat to prisoners and told them to go anywhere they want. That’s the way they behave towards ordinary prisoners.”

Ko Ko Hlaing, the leader of the president’s political advisory board, in an interview with a Rangoon-based journal, The Voice Journal that the number of prisoners mentioned by foreign-based organizations is not accurate.

“How did the people in Bangkok make the list? Did the Directorate of Prison send the list to them? No. They put some names on the list just because they have heard [the names]. To speak frankly, for some people, the more names they put on the list, the more they earn,” Ko Ko Hlaing told The Voice. 

Ko Ko Hlaing, an ex-serviceman, said that some members of the government were worried that releasing political prisoners would cause unreast. According to some newly released political prisoners, only political prisoners who have served more than half of their terms were released. However, they said the government released some high profile political prisoners such as the comedian Zarganar. 

According to a source in Naypyitaw, the cabinet and the National Defence and Security Council led by General Min Aung Hlaing seriously discussed the political prisoner release, and they took time to study the profiles of 88-generation student leaders, ethnic leaders and well-known political prisoners. According to the Constitution, to grant an amnesty, the President needs a recommendation by the National Defence and Security Council.

The National Defence and Security Council comprises the president, two vice presidents, the Lower House speaker, the Upper House speaker, the commander-in-chief, deputy commander-in-chief, defence minister, foreign affairs minister, home affairs minister and border affairs minister.

“The newly released prisoners are the prisoners who served long prison-term; about 15-year terms. Only those were released. Others are still in prisons. We did not hear that any more prisoners would be released again,” said Maung Myat, who was released from Obo Prison in Mandalay. He was arrested in 1997, charged with three offenses including a charge of plotting to bomb the Tamu District Peace and Development Council office, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Before he was released, he had served 15 years.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the The Voice says that President Thein Sein is trying to bring about peace, and he deserves recognition by international countries.

However, some newly released prisoners disagree. “Now, they selected just a few political prisoners to be released. They do not release political prisoners who they think are dangerous,” said Phyo Phyo Aung, who was released on Wednesday. The government is a “shrewd government,” she said.

A newly released political prisoner, Kyaw Khin, 73, a former MP from the1990 general election, said President Thein Sein should not be judged only by his short-term performance, and his actions from 1990 until today should be taken into account.

“We have served the time [in prison], so my opinion is different than the editorial. We need to take into account the junta’s actions in the past 20 years.  We need to review things as a whole. We cannot judge just by watching their actions in the short-term. And we need to wait to know whether Thein Sein brings about peace or is just testing things,” Kyaw Khin said.

Although the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 general elections, the former junta did not transfer power after the election. In 2010, the junta held a general election, and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won a controversial victory. Former military officers who are now civilians dominate the new government.

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