|Burma: A Thorny
Question for the Region
By Zin Linn, Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)
January 3, 2004
Much to everybody's surprise, the Burmese military junta
has recently stepped up its arrests of people for peaceful
dissent against the regime in many places around the country.
On 22 December 2003, the residences of eight members of the
National League for Democracy (NLD) from Mandalay Division
were raided by the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). A
mobile-phone, approximately one hundred-thousand Kyat, books
and papers were confiscated and taken to an undisclosed location.
Those detained in the raids include Daw Tin Myint (F), Ma
Hninn Pa Pa Hlaing
(F), U Than Win (M), U Win Kyi (M), U Myint Oo (M), U Hla
Oo (M), U Hla Soe
(M) and Ko Aung Aung (M). To date, family members have not
been allowed to meet with the detainees.
Most of the detainees were also victims of the Depayin attack
on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters on 30 May when
they were arrested and only recently released. The crackdown
occurred shortly after the sixth visit of the UN Special Rapporteur,
Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, and the second visit by two
Amnesty International (AI) representatives. Also, three unidentified
persons were arrested in Rangoon on 24 December 2003. According
to a reliable source in Rangoon, the detainees had cooperated
in gathering evidence relating to the Depayin ambush to present
to the UN Special Rapporteur and the two AI representatives.
In addition to the above-mentioned arrests, three other NLD
members from Tennasserim Division were arrested in mid December
by the local MIS. They are Ma Than Soe (F) from Longlon township
and Nyi Nyi Lay (M) and Phoe Pe (M) from Tha-yet-chaung township.
Their whereabouts is still unknown. Moreover, two civilians,
Nyi Soe from Tha-yet-chaung and Aung Minn from Pu-law in Tennasserim
Division were accused of participating in anti-government
political activities and later arrested by Captain Tin Maung
Win of Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No 262 in December.
According to the Washington-based Radio Free Asia, three
Buddhist monks from
Mahadhammikayama Monastery in Magwe were put on arbitrary
trial and sentenced to 27 years imprisonment each on 24 December
2003. The three monks, U Ottara, U Khemasara and U Kauthanla,
who were studying Buddhist scripture at the monastery. The
MIS accused them of being agitators, attempting to instigate
a religious riot.
Actually, the international community wants to see action
that clearly demonstrates the State Peace and Development
Council's (SPDC) genuine readiness to allow political freedom
for all Burma's citizens, including the inclusion of ethnic
nationalities representatives in Burma's political
future. The SPDC also needs to demonstrate this readiness
by releasing all political prisoners and allowing political
parties to become involved in the future of the nation. But
the military junta has failed to respect the advice of the
international community and continues to act in its usual
way contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On 22 December 2003, after a 17-day visit to Burma, an Amnesty
International delegation called on the government to release
all prisoners of conscience and cease arresting people for
peacefully dissenting against the regime. At a press conference
in Bangkok the delegation issued a statement outlining a range
of serious concerns substantiated during the visit, and called
on the military authorities to take urgent steps to improve
the human rights situation, which has deteriorated significantly
since the 30 May violent attack on the NLD.
AI, which first visited Burma in February 2003, has documented
the arrest of scores of people for non-violent political activities
since May 2003, many of whom are now confirmed to have been
sentenced to long terms of imprisonment under repressive legislation.
At the time, AI strongly urged the SPDC to permit an independent,
impartial, and effective investigation into the 30 May events,
and to bring those found responsible to justice. The continued
absence of such an investigation fuels the climate of impunity
in Burma. Neglecting all suggestion from international organizations
and well-wishers, the junta is strongly pursuing its 'iron-fist'
policy and the political prisoners' list continues to grow.
In the fifteen years since the nation-wide civil uprising
in 1988, little progress has been made in the areas of democracy
and human rights in Burma. The UN Special Rapporteur Prof
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has repeatedly criticized Burma's Junta,
saying its political reforms were going simply too slowly.
He occasionally suggested the generals speed up change and
insisted that all political prisoners must be freed as a sign
of sincerity. But, as long as the generals dilly-dally on
the issue of releasing political prisoners, it is clear they
still have no intention to restore democracy and embark on
a process of national reconciliation in Burma.
The launching of a concerted effort among international community
to free political prisoners in Burma is laudable. This issue
is not only intertwined with regional politics, but it is
also connected with global humanitarianism. For that reason,
world leaders should consider pressuring the SPDC to free
all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally. It
can be argued that military regime takes advantage of releasing
prisoners in small numbers in order to reduce international
pressure, especially from those who have brought sanctions
against the regime. However, the regime should understand
that building an appropriate political atmosphere foundational
for national reconciliation and the unconditional and immediate
release of all political prisoners detained arbitrarily and
inhumanely is part of this process. The release of all political
prisoners can also spur the country’s economic revival,
which is on the verge of collapse.
But the junta has not only repeatedly declined to release
of all political prisoners but has also stepped up its arrest
of its citizens for expressing dissenting opinions. In doing
so, the junta violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and challenges decisions on "Burma Issue"
by the UN.
Any announcement made by the military regime concerning national
reconciliation will continue to be meaningless unless there
is political space for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. This
means the Nobel laureate and her colleagues must be released
from detention and must be free to travel and communicate
with each other, NLD members and supporters. The Burmese people
have not been allowed to participate in the nation's political
processes. The junta must take the voices of the Burmese people
into account in any process of political reform in Burma.
At the same time, the regime has no rights to discard the
result of the 1990 general elections in which people made
clear their desires for the future.
The current spate of arrests and imprisonments may be the
outer manifestations of the military regime's inner thinking.
World leaders of today should make a concerted effort to help
build the tomorrow of the Burmese people. Without the world
leaders' genuine sympathy and sincere help, Burma may continue
to be a thorny question of the region.