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May 5, 2009 (DVB), Calls for the release of over 20 aid workers who were arrested after assisting in cyclone Nargis relief efforts last year, have been issued by a number of Burmese groups to mark the cyclone's one-year anniversary.
The cyclone, which made landfall on 2 May last year, killed nearly 140,000 people in Burma's Irrawaddy delta, and is thought to have affected up to 2.4 million people.
Relief efforts were initially hampered by the ruling State Peace and Development Council, who refused offers of international aid and warned anyone against helping victims of the cyclone.
Last year, in a wave of sentencing of activists and journalists critical of the regime's response to the cyclone, 21 aid workers were sentenced under charges ranging from sedition to the Unlawful Association Act.
"Firstly, these people were not arrested under criminal charges and also they did not do anything wrong," said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
"They were only helping the cyclone victims and it was a very graceful act according to Buddhist teachings."
His statement was echoed by the leader of 88 Generation Students group, Htun Myint Aung.
"The government not only failed in their responsibility to take the lead in aid work for the cyclone victims, but even arrested people who were doing what they can to help," he said.
"This was such a very ugly crime committed [by the government] and they should release these people immediately."
Burmese comedian Zarganar was sentenced last November to 59 years (later reduced to 35) after giving interviews critical of the regime's response to Nargis to foreign media, and for helping to coordinate relief efforts.
Six students were sentenced last month and sentenced to between two and four years each under charges of sedition for collecting and burying rotting corpses in the aftermath of the cyclone.
U Pyinyawuntha, spokesperson of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, said the aid workers should be released given that they did nothing wrong.
"They didn't commit any political crime and were only helping out collecting corpses," he said.
"I want to make a request to the government to see the same view as us and release these people immediately."
Reporting by Aye Nai