Prominent Dissident Released in Myanmar

Min Ko Naing, 42, whose real name is Paw U Tun, is one of about two dozen political detainees believed to have been released.

One of Myanmar’s best known and longest-imprisoned political dissidents has been freed as part of a general release of almost 4,000 prisoners granted by the country’s ruling junta, a family member confirmed Saturday.

Min Ko Naing, 42, whose real name is Paw U Tun, is one of about two dozen political detainees believed to have been released since Thursday, when the junta announced it was suspending the sentences of 3,937 prisoners whom it said had been improperly charged.

There was no indication, however, that Myanmar’s most famous prisoner, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, would be freed from house arrest at her Yangon residence. She has been detained since May last year after a deadly clash between her followers and government supporters.

Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party said it believed 600 people had been released Friday, of whom just 20 were political prisoners and only five of them belonged to the party.

It urged that the releases continue. There were no reports of any new releases Saturday.

Min Ko Naing’s family member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the charismatic activist was back home in Yangon after being released from a prison in Sittwe in northwestern Myanmar.

Min Ko Naing was a university student in the Myanmar capital and was a leader of a 1988 popular uprising against military rule, in place since 1962.

For his political work he adopted the pseudonym Min Ko Naing, which means “Conqueror of Kings.” As founding chairman of All Burma Federation of Students Union, he called in August 1988 for students throughout the country to struggle peacefully for democracy.

After the military violently suppressed the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations, he was arrested and in March 1989 sentenced to 20 years in jail for his political activities.

The sentence was later commuted to 10 years, but he was kept in detention under a law that allows imprisonment without charges or trial.

State-run radio and television announced Thursday night that the amnestied prisoners had been wrongly charged by the former National Intelligence Bureau, dissolved by the junta last month.

The bureau had been headed by former Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt, who was ousted Oct. 19 and later accused of corruption and insubordination.

His ouster was widely seen as a setback for efforts at political reconciliation in Myanmar, and sullied the junta’s already poor image.

The releases came just before Myanmar was to attend a summit meeting this month of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where its hard-line polices were expected to face scrutiny from its neighbors.

The releases have drawn international approval, but also calls for the freedom of all political detainees, usually estimated to number over 1,200.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan considered the junta’s action “an important step towards creating an environment conducive to genuine national reconciliation in Myanmar,” U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.

Annan called for the release of all political prisoners, as did spokesmen for the U.S. and British governments.

Their freedom is a major demand of the United Nations and Western countries critical of the junta’s poor human rights record and its failure to hand over power to Suu Kyi’s party, which won a 1990 general election.

The U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based group that lobbies for regime change in Myanmar and has extensive sources inside Myanmar, said Min Ko Naing’s eyesight had deteriorated badly in prison.

The anticipated release of another prominent prisoner, journalist Win Tin, had not yet taken place by late Saturday. Win Tin, 74, has been serving a 20-year sentence at Yangon’s Insein prison after being imprisoned in July 1989. An NLD member, he has reportedly suffered from ill health, including heart problems, while in jail.

Author: Associated Press

News Service: Associated Press

URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-4627306,00.html