Fri, Jan 12, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar releases five dissidents

CYNICAL PLOY?Anti-junta pressure groups agreed the move was to deflect attention from US efforts to get the UN Security Council to press the military rulers on reforms

AGENCIES , YANGON AND WASHINGTON

Myanmar student leaders Pyone Cho, left, Ko Ko Gyi, center, and Min Ko Naing are pictured in the home of Min Ko Naing in Yangon on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Myanmar's military junta released five high-profile dissidents yesterday that it arrested in September at a time of intensifying international pressure on the ruling generals to take concrete steps on the road to democracy.

Their release by the military rulers, who also freed 40 political detainees last week as part of a mass prisoner release to mark the 59th anniversary of independence from British rule, was sudden and unexpected.

"We were all sent back home at about 1:30am this morning," said Min Ko Naing, a leader of a pro-democracy student uprising in 1988.

He confirmed that he and his colleagues were in good health.

Asked why he thought they had been released, he said: "As we all know, it is mounting pressure at the UNSC," referring to US efforts to have the UN Security Council put pressure on the generals.

Anti-junta pressure groups agreed the release was timed to deflect attention from efforts by the US to get the Security Council to press Myanmar this week into easing repression and beginning a promised transition to democracy.

"This looks like nothing but a cynical ploy to stop the UN Security Council from taking action," said Aung Din, policy director of the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma.

The US on Tuesday introduced a draft resolution to the Security Council urging Myanmar's rulers to initiate democratic reforms, release all political prisoners and stop using rape as a weapon of war.

The other freed activists are Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Htay Kywe, Ko Pyone Cho and Ko Min Zeya, all of whom played prominent roles in the nationwide 1988 protests in which several thousand people were killed after the army moved in to quell the dissent.

Since 1988, each has spent between nine and 15 years behind bars. Within the country, they are viewed as the most prominent anti-junta figures after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate who is under house arrest.

"Ko Htay Kywe and I were kept at the same place but in different buildings. We came to know that we were there together only after our release," Naing said.

"The rest were kept somewhere else. But we all were treated well," he said.

"We are determined to keep on working for the emergence of national reconciliation and democracy in our country through dialogue. We will continue all our campaigns," he said.

The present junta suffered a landslide election defeat to Suu Kyi's National League Democracy in 1990, but ignored the result.

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