Celebrated elders of the now-defunct National League for Democracy (NLD) are touring Burma to meet with regional party members and visit families of iconic imprisoned activists.
Two of the group’s senior members, Win Tin and Tin Oo, who have both spent lengthy periods in detention, last week met with the families of Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. The two are sentenced to 65 years in prison each for their role in the September 2007 monk-led uprising.
“[Tin Oo said] he had wanted to visit us since he was released from detention but didn’t get a chance,” said Min Ko Naing’s aunt. “We were happy – the Burmese [have a tradition of] supporting and helping one another.”
Min Ko Naing, one of Burma’s most renowned political activists, is being held in Keng Tung prison in northeastern Shan state, where weather conditions can be harsh. “He gets hypertension when he is stressed,” said the aunt. “[In a letter] a while ago, he said it was getting cold there.”
The brother of Ko Ko Gyi, Aung Tun, said that his situation was similar in Mai Sat prison in Shan state, close to the border with China: “Now it is rainy season so it’s not easy to visit him. It’s really cold there – the temperature reaches to about two degrees Celsius in the winter.”
Win Tin and Tin Oo, who led a 15-member delegation, also met with the family of imprisoned comedian, Zarganar, who is serving a 35-year sentence. Win Tin said that the elections this year, which the NLD boycotted, may usher in a “more open” political environment which could see the release of political prisoners.
Since its legal dissolution as a political party in May this year, the NLD has said it will focus more on social work after two decades of vying for political space in Burma. The current ‘tour’ to more remote areas of Burma appears to be the first step in connecting with its countrywide support base after years of centralised power in Rangoon.
“[We were told] that it’s not true that the NLD doesn’t exist anymore,” said Than Ngwe, NLD member in Shan state’s Taunggyi, who met with several Central Executive Committee (CEC) members. “However, instead of just focusing on social work, we will mix social work and politics.”
Additional reporting by Yee May Aung