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12/7/04 - BURMA'S POLITICAL PRISONERS - 2004-12-08

Despite the announcement by Burma's military rulers that they are suspending the sentences of nearly nine-thousand prisoners, it appears that only several hundred have been freed. Student leader Min Ko Naing, imprisoned since 1989, was released, but very few others imprisoned for their political beliefs were set free.

International observers note that there are more than one-thousand-three-hundred political prisoners held in Burma. But at the same time, junta leaders made it clear that Burmese democracy activist and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi will continue to be held. The junta's continued refusal to release her and all other political prisoners dims hopes for any progress toward democracy in Burma. Her National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory in 1990, but was prevented from taking office by the junta.

Aung San Suu Kyi was detained again in May 2003, when a convoy carrying her, her deputy U Tin Oo, and other party members was attacked by Burmese government thugs. She was held in a secret location until September, when she was placed under house arrest. Here is U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher:

"We're certainly deeply disappointed. The junta continues to ignore international calls for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, and all the political prisoners, and we call on them again to do so immediately and unconditionally."

The people of Burma, Mr. Boucher said, deserve to be free:

"We call on the Burmese junta to engage the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups in a meaningful dialogue leading to genuine national reconciliation and to the establishment of democracy. They need to allow the National League for Democracy to reopen its offices and to let their people come out and man those offices so that they can exercise their fundamental rights".

The U.S. stands firmly with Burmese democrats in the struggle for freedom in Burma. As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “Tell all true Burmese patriots that we are with you. Keep faith, for Burma’s day of democracy will come.”