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Detained cyclone aid workers released

Dec 4, 2009 (DVB), Seventeen cyclone relief workers and journalists associated with a Burmese aid organization who were arrested in October have been released from a Rangoon interrogation centre, their families said.

The 17 people were allegedly linked with the Lin Latt Kyae ('Shining Star') relief organisation, which has helped victims of cyclone Nargis since it hit Burma in May 2008.

Among the 17 were three journalists; Khant Min Htet, editor of the Alinka Wutyee weekly news journal, Thant Zin Soe, editor of the Foreign Affairs journal, and Paing Soe Oo, editor of the Pyi Myanmar news journal.

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) had "strongly condemned" the arrest of Paing Soe Oo after reports surfaced of the crackdown.

Government officials at the Aung Thabyay interrogation centre in Rangoon released the detainees on Wednesday.

"The parents were asked to sign a guarantee to make sure this won't happen again," said Sein Ne, father of Khant Min Htet. "The officials said they were spared from being charged in return for their relief work."

The 17 were also asked to sign a pledge that they will not make contact with foreign organisations or accept overseas money again.

Details surrounding the arrests are unclear, although it is believed that the Burmese government had accused the group of accepting unofficial funding from foreign organisations.

Relief workers who helped victims of the cyclone, which killed 140,000 people and left 2.4 million homeless, have often been the target of government intimidation and harassment.

Famously, Burmese comedian Zarganar, who is an outspoken critic of the Burmese junta, was sentenced in November 2008 to 35 years in prison after organizing relief work and speaking to foreign media following the cyclone.

Burma observers have warned that the arrest of journalists and perceived subversives would likely increase in the run-up to elections next year.

The United Nations said last month that aid is still desperately needed in the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, 18 months after it struck.

Reporting by Yee May Aung


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