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June 2, 2009 (DVB), In a poignant reminder of the extent to which democratic development in Burma has been crippled by the current junta, a veteran politician said yesterday that the political climate under British rule was markedly freer.
Speaking yesterday at a ceremony to mark his 93th birthday, Thakin Thein Pe, a formerly active member of the Burmese struggle for independence from British colonisation, said that quality of life for Burmese citizens has spiralled since 1948.
"When we fought for our independence [from the English], the English gave us freedom for our [political] movements," he said.
"But now under the Burmese government, we are in misery. Independence is not always good to gain."
The speech was observed by politicians, including members of the opposition National League for Democracy party, whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi is currently on trial, and a number of ethnic leaders.
The political climate under the current ruling junta has been thrown into the spotlight in the last month as the iconic opposition leader faces a possible five year prison sentence under spurious charges of breaching house arrest conditions.
Burma currently holds upwards of 2,100 political prisoners, and ranks poorly on a number of political freedom barometers.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders last year placed the country 170 out of 173 in its Press Freedom Index, while Transparency International gave it the penultimate spot, alongside Iraq, in its Corruption Perceptions Index.
Similarly, the World Health Organisation in 2000 ranked Burma's healthcare system second worst in the world, and a number of political analysts, lawyers and former Burmese politicians have said that human rights violations carried out by the junta warrant intervention from the International Criminal Court.
Britain first gained control of Burma in 1824 and occupied until independence in 1948. It was not until 1962 however that a coup heralded the start of military rule and the end of a civilian government.
Reporting by Naw Say Phaw