Calls mount for Shan leader’s release

Protests yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the arrest of imprisoned Shan political leader Khun Htun Oo, whose health is reportedly deteriorating.

Burmese and Shan pro-democracy activists were yesterday outside the UN office in Tokyo, Japan, calling for the 68-year-old’s release. Echoing them were members of his now-defunct Shan National League for Democracy (SNDP) party who said their leader’s freedom must be realised before the junta can convince the world that it is transitioning to civilian rule.

“We cannot trust the junta claims that the country is marching towards democracy,” said Mai Kyaw Oo, a representative for the National Democratic Force (NDF) in Japan, who hails from Shan state.

He added the recent appointment of Shan politician Sai Mouk Kham to vice president was little more than window dressing, given the number of ethnic representatives that remain behind bars.

Following Khun Htun Oo’s arrest in 2005 he was sentenced to 93 years in jail, and is currently interned in the remote northern Putao prison close to Burma’s border with China. Burmese authorities had accused the politician, whose party came second in the 1990 elections, of plotting a coup against the ruling generals.

He claimed however that he was merely organising what he billed an ‘advisory council’ to guide other Shan parties in the country’s National Convention. State media at the time said however that the group was “launching movements to disintegrate national unity and solidarity”.

The SNLD’s general secretary, Sai Nyunt Lwin, was also arrested and handed an 85-year sentence, while 74-year-old Hso Ten, chairman of the Shan State Peace Council who was also involved in the alleged plot, was given 106 years.

Khun Htun Oo is believed to be suffering from diabetes and heart disease, conditions that have been exacerbated by his lack of access to adequate medicine. His cell in Putao, where weather conditions can be harsh, is cramped, making exercise difficult.

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