NLD chair released in prisoner amnesty

Feb 23, 2009 (DVB), National League for Democracy chairperson and labour rights activist Thet Wai has criticised the military regime's limited release of political prisoners as being only for appearances.

San Chaung township NLD chairperson Thet Wai was one of 16 political prisoners released from Insein prison as part of the military regime's latest amnesty.

He was arrested on 19 February 2008 after authorities tried to seize a memory stick from him containing information about the Burmese government's forced labour practices to be reported to the International Labour Organisation.

Thet Wai, who had about 18 months of his sentence left to serve, said his release would provide a positive opportunity for him to continue his work.

"I was arrested for ‘obstructing officials on duty’ while trying to work for the end of forced labour and providing information to the ILO about it," he said.

"As I am now free, I will continue to work with the ILO to end forced labour and I will continue to act as chairman of Sanchaung township NLD and follow the rules of the party."

Thet Wai expressed his frustration at the limited number of political prisoners released.

"They released more than 9000 prisoners before. Only 9 or 10 political prisoners were released," he said.

"Now, around 6000 have been released and I think not more than 14 or 15 political prisoners are among them. It is a bad sign," he went on.

"They are making no adjustment to the changing situation. It shows the junta has no desire to release political prisoners."

Thet Wai said he expected the United Nations and the international community in general to share his frustrations.

"The international community will be in despair like us because they are demanding the release of all political prisoners including Daw Suu, Khun Tun Oo, U Tin Oo, Min Ko Naing and the monks if we are to solve the political problems of Burma," he explained.

"We also keep our hopes up when people like [UN special rapporteur] Mr Quintana visit us for a short time," he said.

"And when Mr Quintana and the interior minister met, they hinted in the newspapers that there were good prospects regarding political prisoners."

These hopes were soon dashed when only 19 political prisoners were found to be among the 6313 granted amnesty, Thet Wai said.

"We thought that many political prisoners would be released. But when they weren't released, we were in despair," Thet Wei said.

"We are of the opinion that the military government is doing things only for show," he said.

"International leaders will see that the junta has no serious intention to release political prisoners."

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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