19 Burmese political prisoners released; more to come

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Saturday, November 20, 2004

YANGON, Myanmar – Nineteen Burmese political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Min Ko Naing, have been freed by Burma's military junta after it declared their imprisonments invalid, the Associated Press reports.

The releases came after the current regime under Soe Win dissolved the National Intelligence Bureau run by Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt, who was ousted last month. The Burmese state-run television and radio network claimed that the NIB had wrongly charged 3,937 prisoners.

Min Ko Naing had been imprisoned since 1988 after leading pro-democracy protests that were quickly crushed by the ruling regime. In total, three senior members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy were released. Aung San Suu Kyi herself has been under house arrest since May 2003 following a violent confrontation between loyalists and her dissidents.

At least one NLD member expressed optimism about the new development. 77-year-old Ohn Maung, an NLD member freed on Friday after being imprisoned since 1998, told Reuters "It was a pleasant surprise for all of us." He added, "I did not have to sign any undertaking and I expect most of the NLD members will also be released like me."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a statement in which he said that he is "encouraged by reports that a number of people detained for political activities are included among [the prisoners released]." He also called for the release of all remaining political opponents and dissidents, either from prison or from house arrest.

According to witnesses outside Yangon's Insein Prison, altogether approximately 200 prisoners--most serving terms for minor criminal offenses--were released Friday.

Although Burma's military regime changed the country's name to Myanmar in 1989--a change recognized by the United Nations--many national governments and a large portion of the Burmese population still use the name "Burma" because they do not recognize the legitimacy of the junta that instituted the change.

Sources

  1. Myanmar key student leader freed, The Associated Press, November 20, 2004.
  2. Aung Hla Tun, Myanmar Frees Prominent Political Prisoners, Reuters, November 20, 2004.
  3. UN hails Burma inmates' release, BBC, November 20, 2004.
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