A number of high-profile dissidents serving lengthy sentences in remote jails around Burma have been transferred to prisons closer to home in lieu of a possible amnesty of inmates this week.
Included among those moved is Khun Htun Oo, a Shan ethnic leader and one of Burma’s most famous political prisoners, who is serving a 93-year sentence. He had been held in Putao prison in northernmost Burma close to the China border, hundreds of miles form his family and where conditions are often harsh.
The spokesperson for his former party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, told DVB that Khun Htun Oo had been transferred to Taungoo prison in Pegu division, east ofRangoon. Sai Lek cited an eye-witness who claims to have seen the 68-year-old boarding a flight out of Putao yesterday afternoon.
An official told AFP yesterday that monk Ashin Gambira, who is in Kale prison in Sagaing division, and who is reportedly in declining health, would be moved. The same official said that renowned student leader Min Ko Naing was also transferred from Kengtung prison in Shan state, where he is serving a 65-year sentence.
When contacted by DVB late yesterday, however, an official at Kengtung prison said the dissident was still in his cell.
“The information is still being kept a secret,” he said, adding however that he had seen “medical records and other statistics [for Min Ko Naing] being prepared” in a possible presage to his transfer. There are no flights out of Kengtung on a Wednesday, so it may be that officials are waiting for a more feasible time, he said.
Nilar Thein, also a member of the 88 Generation Students group that Min Ko Naing co-founded, has been moved from Thayet prison in Magwe division to Tharrawaddy jail in Pegu, her family said. She is also serving a 65-year sentence for her role in the September 2007 uprising.
A prisoner amnesty had been rumoured for Monday, but reports claimed a last minute decision by the army-led National Defence and Security Council delayed the release, which had been considered a tactical prelude to President Thein Sein’s arrival at the ASEAN summit today.
The father of jailed 88 Generation Students leader Pyone Cho said the amnesty may now take place after the summit. “I also heard the prisoners will be released in small groups and not all at one go,” he told DVB.
Sai Lek said that the delay over the release signalled anxiety on the part of the government “that releasing all top [political] leaders and student leaders at the same time could somehow damage their work process.
“But in fact, these political leaders, student leaders and monks are capable of contributing to the betterment of our nation as well as the national reconciliation effort – so we wish for them to be unconditionally and immediately released,” he said.