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Sep 30, 2008 (DVB), On 23 September, veteran journalist and National League for Democracy member U Win Tin was released after more than 19 years behind bars, and he has vowed to continue to fight for democracy.
His release has buoyed party members and pro-democracy activists and his speeches since his release have garnered widespread support.
But can U Win Tin's release help bring about a resurgence of the NLD? Can he lead a united front? How is he planning to deal with the military government? Could his release bring an end to the political stalemate in Burma?
DVB asked U Win Tin for his views on the current political situation in Burma and the future of the pro-democracy movement.
U Win Tin emphasised the number of political prisoners still in detention despite the recent releases and criticised the way that he and the few other political inmates had been released in the amnesty along with criminal detainees.
"I can’t accept the manner in which they released me. Our demand is the comprehensive release of political prisoners. You might have heard (the term) ‘Choot-hlut-twayh’. The release of all political prisoners, that’s it. We can accept nothing less than this. There are many people who have been detained unfairly in prison. Even now, Zarganar and the like are inside prison. Min Ko Naing and the like are on trial now. There are many people. Min Ko Naing and the like are refusing to be handcuffed.
"Similarly, there are many politically active youth, who are not well known, languishing in prison. In this kind of situation, they are not thinking of releasing political prisoners systematically, but are mixing them up with all kinds of people (criminals) in a foolish manner. There were only three or four political prisoners who signed [pledges prior to release] and there were 100 others. I can’t accept his kind of behaviour."
DVB asked U Win Tin why he would not accept the new national constitution and the 2010 elections.
"My attitude is, firstly, I can’t accept the recent national convention. We accept the national convention as a concept. In 1989, Daw Suu herself went to Panglong monument [in southern Shan State, symbol of the union, where her father Aung San signed a treaty of union with ethnic leaders in February 1947] and Ko Phoe Thu read [a treatise] on behalf of Daw Suu. Included in the treatise was the point that the national convention would be convened. After the election, whoever wins , I am not saying that it must be the NLD, as it was at the time when the NLD was going to fight the election , it said that the winning party must convene the national convention. Now they are convening it, but not in the way that we would. We would take our mandate from the people, under the supervision and leadership of parliament. But what they are doing now is implementing the orders of the military council handed down from the top. That’s why I do not agree with it.
"Basically, I can’t accept the constitution. I won’t give the specific details of what I can’t accept as I don’t know some of the issues yet and I have to learn more. If I have to say what I know, one of the basic reasons why I could not accept the constitution is that article 6 says the army must take a leading role in national politics. I can’t accept that. As I can’t accept this article 6, I can’t accept this constitution. I can’t accept the national convention. I can’t accept the constitution, and I can’t accept the election that comes out of it either. That’s all I have to say."
While U Win Tin's comments are not markedly different from recent NLD statements, his decisive tone has energised party members and supporters, NLD member U Ohn Kyaing said.
"I am very, very glad. He met with our chairman [Aung Shwe] yesterday. The two leaders are saying that they will work together in unity. I heard that as I was near them. It is better and we are happy."
Ohn Kyaing was one of the organisers of relief efforts after Cyclone Nargis and is a writer under the pen name Aung Wai.
Party chair U Aung Shwe invited U Win Tin and U Khin Maung Swe and Dr Than Nyein, who were also released, to resume the positions they had held within the party before their arrests.
U Win Tin said the newly-released activists had accepted their positions willingly.
"U Khin Maung Swe and I were invited to resume our work on the Central Executive Committee. Dr Than Nyein was re-appointed to the Rangoon division committee vice-chairmanship. We have accepted it, because we have been living by the 'three rally rounds' slogan: ‘Rally round the NLD, rally round the leadership of Daw Suu and rally round parliament’. We have to wait and see. We have many things to learn and discuss.
"I am very encouraged. People are all very active. When I see them so, I feel very encouraged. It is not only the NLD which is very active, other political parties, ethnic national groups and the CRPP, student and youth organisations, veteran politicians and the other political groups are all very active."
U Win Tin’s release also revitalised the Committee Representing the People's Parliament, according to CRPP secretary Aye Thar Aung.
"I got to know U Win Tin’s political beliefs and attitude quite well while I was imprisoned and I spent several months with him in Rangoon general hospital," Aye Thar Aung said.
"Although he is quite old, I hope that we can do more with his wisdom, his talents and his ideas, especially now that they have been re-appointed to their positions on the CEC and I am encouraged by their acceptance of their former positions. When they are on the CEC, the cooperation between the NLD and ethnic national organisations and other organisations and the working relationships will be smoother compared to the past, and we will be able to work together more."
DVB asked U Win Tin for his interpretation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's refusal to meet United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his visit to Burma last month.
"I tell them that the message sent by Daw Suu is to protest when it is necessary to protest. For example, she refused to meet with Gambari. Concerning the refusal, I don’t know what the government said, what its excuses were or what was written in the newspapers. For all I know, it could be a protest against Gambari, it could be a protest against the [SPDC], it could be the protest against the UN negotiations; I don’t know. What I do know is that Daw Suu wouldn’t protest if there was no reason to protest. She is protesting because she has reason to protest. If we have reason to protest we have to protest. We have to express our desires. That is the message sent to us by Daw Suu, that’s what I said [at the NLD 20th anniversary ceremony]. That’s a very important and notable attitude."
With some optimists hopeful that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could be released following her appeal against her house arrest, DVB asked U Win Tin whether he thought there was any prospect of dialogue in 2009 and if felt he could lead the way to a solution accepted by all parties.
"Let me tell you a little story. When fascist Japan took the Philippines, a democratic [radio] station stopped. And when Allied forces retook it in 1945, that democratic station reopened. The first words of the broadcaster were: ‘Let’s pick up from where we left off’. What it means is, let us continue and resume the words that ceased, became silent, were muted during the fascist era.
"I was in prison for almost 20 years. I could say nothing. Let me resume my work , I worked for democracy before and I am still working now and I will continue to work for democracy. I don’t know how much energy, mental power or physical strength I have. But please come and help me, criticise me, support me and energise me. I will do as much as I can. I am not saying it because I am a leader, mind you. I will join hands with you to do it.
"At this time, [the regime is] chopping off the head so that there is no leader. The NLD has not been completely dismantled yet but it can’t do much. Similarly, Daw Suu and others, as you know, have still not been released. I wonder if she might be released this year. I don’t know if she will. But I assume that she won’t be released yet. So in this kind of situation, one thing I can say is that I will work for democracy.
"As I said before, when the broadcasting station which was closed down by the fascists was opened again, like the person said, ‘let us pick it up from where we left off’. That's what I want to do. Come and help me. Come and criticize me. Come and support me."
Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw