Freedom limited for ex-intelligence

Former military intelligence agents released from prison in May have been told by the Burmese government that they cannot hold religious events, suggesting that distrust of the officials, who were jailed by former junta chief Than Shwe, lingers on in the new government.

Among those released were Major Sithu, a commander in Military Intelligence (MI) 6, and Major Hla Thet Maw, from MI7. A source told DVB that both men were blocked from gathering for a traditional Buddhist ceremony to offer robes to monks.

“Maybe [the government] is concerned about the reason for their gathering – they tend to keep a watchful eye on former MI’s,” he said.

Burma’s feared intelligence organ under Khin Nyunt, the former prime minister and intelligence chief, was disbanded in 2004 by Than Shwe. The majority of its operatives, including Khin Nyunt, were charged with corruption and sedition, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

It is not clear exactly how many were released in May during an amnesty that saw all prison terms in Burma reduced by one year, although the 71-year-old Khin Nyunt and his wife remain under house arrest, while his sons are in prison.

Aung Linn Htut, former army attaché at the Burmese embassy in New York and one-time senior intelligence officer, who defected in 2005, said Thein Sein’s government is likely concerned that the former MIs would expose their dirty work under the former junta. Many of Thein Sein’s cabinet held top positions in the State Peace and Development Council, which disbanded following elections last year.

“It’s their paranoia,” Aung Linn Htut said. “When we gather, we immediately get each other’s message, even when we talk on phone – we know who’s heading in which direction.

“Mainly, they worry that [the former MIs] will expose their past wrongdoings. It’s mostly paranoia.”

Khin Nyunt, whose sentencing was attributed by analysts as an attempt to thwart his growing international influence and threat to Than Shwe’s iron-fisted rule, was handed a 44-year term under house arrest, while his two sons were given 51 and 68 years respectively.

The prison amnesty in May was widely condemned after it became clear that few of the nearly 2,100 political prisoners in Burma were released, despite consistent pressure on the Burmese government from world leaders.

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