Friday, January 13, 2012

‘We don’t need food, we need news.’


Friday, 13 January 2012 20:35 Myo Thant

(Interview) – Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party chairman Khun Tun Oo, who was arrested in 2005 on charges of treason and "inciting disaffection toward the government,” was sentenced to 93 years imprisonment. He was released today under the amnesty. Mizzima reporter Myo Thant interviewed Khun Tun Oo, 67, on the new government, ethnic affairs and his future plans.

Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party chairman Khun Tun Oo. Photo: Facebook
Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party chairman Khun Tun Oo. Photo: Facebook
Question: Did you know about your imminent release?

Answer: They didn’t tell us in advance, but we heard the amnesty news last evening, and we thought that it was strange and significant. And then at about 8:30 p.m. last night the prison staff came and told us the news.

Q: Did you have to sign any agreement for this release?

A: No, I didn’t sign any paper.

Q: How do you feel now?

A: I don’t have any feeling, and I am not happy because they arrested us and we did not commit any offence and they imprisoned us though we are innocent.

They arrested us and charged us with high treason. How could the chairman of a party like the SNLD commit such a crime? They told us that they came to arrest us on Khin Nyunt’s [the former intelligence chief] order. If I really committed this high treason crime, they could shoot me on the spot. And then they told us that we were imprisoned for forming the Shan State Consultative Council. Many other ethnic people formed such councils, but they arrested only our ethnic Shan people.

Q: The government has released prisoners four times now?

A: They had already given a promise to Hillary Clinton to release political prisoners and they want to take the Asean chairmanship so they have to release us; it was inevitably. The government has altered its course, and they have to take this democratic path.

Q: In the presidential order for amnesty, it states that the prisoners are released for national reconciliation. What do you think?

A: I believe only 55 per cent in that. I can’t believe 100 per cent in it because they signed a cease-fire agreement with the Karen yesterday but the fighting is still going on in Kachin State, so I can’t believe fully in them.

Q: There was military rule when you were arrested and now we have a new civilian government? What about that…

A: I can’t say our country has been significantly changed but I see many media people now and I think this is one of the changes and developments I can see.

Q: You mean the increase in media means development and progress?

A: As you know, media gives us news. There is a saying in prison, ‘We don’t need food, we need news.’ We knew what was going on outside through the media only. So I am very pleased and encouraged to see progress in media circles.

Q: What changes did you see in prison life after this government assumed power?

A: We could read all the journals published and we could watch TV too but we had to listen to radio secretly. The prison staff treated us well and we saw significant change in our prison life in 2010.

Q: Another change we can say is the NLD decision to contest the election.

A: I don’t want to give any comment on the NLD’s decision to contest in elections, but I think the NLD decided to do so to stand firmly with people and I hope they will and can stand for the people.

Q: Your SNLD party was also the brethren party of the NLD in the 1990 general election. What is your opinion on the future and the prospects of the SNLD?

A: In my opinion, if the SNLD does not become a legal party, we cannot publish even a statement or a document. The SNLD might reregister, but we have no time to stand for the by-elections. We can do political activity only after getting a legal status for our party. I have to discuss these matters with my colleagues.

Q: Now the government is trying to reach a peace agreement with armed ethnic groups.

A: What our ethnic people want is equality and the self-determination right, but not to secede from the union. We know about that disease and we have already had the medicine for that. So they need to resolve these political issues, not only sign peace agreements.

Q: Do you think the government will discuss these political issues?

A: As I said, I gave only 55 per cent marks to this government.

Q: What will you do after your release?

A: I have no specific plan yet and as for SNLD affairs, I must consult and discuss with my colleagues on the central committee.         

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