Myanmar frees 70 democracy protesters

YANGON, Myanmar – At least 70 people detained by the military government following protests in Myanmar, including 50 members of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi‘s party, have been released, a party spokesman said Friday.

Their release came Thursday, the same day that Suu Kyi, detained since May 2003, met with a newly appointed Myanmar government official as part of a U.N.-brokered attempt to nudge her and the military junta toward reconciliation.

It was not known if the events were related, though the junta is under considerable international pressure to make at least goodwill gestures after crushing peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations last month. A U.N. special envoy praised the meeting as a promising first step.

The government had earlier said it detained about 3,000 people in connection with the protests but had released most of them. There are many reports they were mistreated in custody.

The junta, meanwhile, deployed hundreds of riot police, armed with assault rifles and tear gas, on Friday in Yangon, the country’s largest city, where last month’s big protests were held.

The show of force after several weeks of relative quiet appeared aimed at forestalling any activities to mark the one-month anniversary of a key day in the anti-regime uprising by Buddhist monks, activists and ordinary citizens angry at the entrenched military government.

The people released Thursday had been detained at the infamous Insein Prison in Yangon, said Nyan Win, spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

Among those released was Hla Pe, an 82-year-old party executive, Nyan Win said, adding that at least 250 NLD members remained in detention. He said 10 Buddhist monks, 14 students, and 10 female NLD members were among those freed.

Security was especially tight Friday at the eastern gate of the famed Shwedagon pagoda where monks were beaten as police broke up a protest on Sept. 26. Barbed wire was erected around the area while police and pro-junta thugs also took up positions near the Sule Pagoda in the heart of the city and other sites of earlier protests.

There were no signs that any public protests Friday, though thousands of pilgrims thronged to the Shwedagon and other pagodas. Friday also marked the end of the Lent period, an important Buddhist holiday when monks can leave their monasteries to travel after several months of monsoon season retreats.

A Myanmar reporter who tried photograph of pilgrims at the Shwedagon was immediately surrounded by nearly a dozen riot police and a police officer confiscated the memory card from the camera.

Suu Kyi’s meeting Thursday was the first one she was known to have held with “minister for relations” retired major general Aung Kyi, who was appointed to the post on Oct. 8 to hold talks with her. State TV reported that they met for more than an hour at a government guest house, a few minutes from where the residence where Suu Kyi is held under house arrest.

Although state media showed Suu Kyi meeting in circumstances usually accorded visiting dignitaries, some residents and Western diplomats remained skeptical, suggesting the move was merely aimed at easing pressure on the junta.

Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. envoy trying to broker a compromise, said the meeting was a good beginning.

“But it’s only the first step, so this should lead to early resumption of talks that will lead to tangible results,” Gambari told reporters in Japan.

“She’s very conscious of the difficulties her people are experiencing,” Gambari told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, referring to Suu Kyi. “Her concern is to put an end to the violence and that prisoners are released.”

Early this month, the government announced that junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe was willing to meet with Suu Kyi — but only if she met certain conditions, such as renouncing support for foreign countries’ economic sanctions against the military regime.

Than Shwe has only met Suu Kyi once before, in 2002

Appointing a liaison officer had been suggested by Gambari during his Sept. 29-Oct. 2 visit to Myanmar, according to Myanmar state media.

Gambari had met with Than Shwe and Suu Kyi separately during his visit.

The protest movement began Aug. 19 over the government raising fuel prices mushroomed over several weeks into a broad-based anti-government movement pressing for democratic reforms.

After the demonstrations started attracting tens of thousands of people in Yangon, troops quelled the mass protests with gunfire. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks.


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Protesters demand Suu Kyi release


  • Global protests mark Myanmar pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi’s detention
  • Myanmar’s ruling junta strongly criticized for cracking down on demonstrations
  • Day of protest featured demonstrations outside Chinese embassies in 12 cities
  • UK PM Gordon Brown calls for tougher sanctions against Myanmar regime

LONDON, England (CNN) — Campaigners held a day of protests around the world Wednesday to highlight the plight of Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and mark another year of her house arrest in Myanmar.The protests were taking place outside Chinese embassies in London and 11 other cities — one city for each year of Suu Kyi’s detention. The pro-democracy leader has been held for 12 of the past 18 years.About 100 people turned out for the London protest, some wearing white robes and masks of Suu Kyi’s face. Others had their hands bound with rope and others held chains they say are used to torture political prisoners in Myanmar.The protesters, who were joined by a group of monks in crimson robes, held posters reading “Free Aung San Suu Kyi Now” and “China’s Gain, Burma’s Pain.””The message is that China needs to do more on Burma,” said Mark Farmaner, acting director of Burma Campaign UK, referring to Myanmar’s former official name.He said China needs to use its influence with Myanmar’s leaders to continue pushing for Suu Kyi’s release.Myanmar’s ruling junta has been strongly criticized for last month’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. The government has admitted detaining more than 2,900 people from the protests and several hundred are believed to be still in custody.The day of protest also coincides with the United Nations’ 62nd birthday, and organizers said they were using that to urge action from the U.N. Security Council.”The U.N. must do more than issue statements of concern,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.In a statement earlier this month, the council said it “strongly deplores the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar” and it called on the junta to work towards a dialogue with Suu Kyi.Wednesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown threatened tougher sanctions against the Myanmar regime if it does not end the violence, release prisoners, and allow a process of national reconciliation.In an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Brown said the reconciliation process must include all opposition leaders, including Suu Kyi.The Guardian also published a letter from six female Nobel peace laureates urging more action from the United Nations. The women, who founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative, called on more U.N. pressure to release Suu Kyi and other members of the opposition.Myanmar’s junta agreed Tuesday to allow a U.N. human rights investigator to make an official visit next month. The United Nations says the visit by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Paolo Sergio Pinheiro will take place in the first half of November.Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, is also expected to return to Myanmar early next month. Bookmark with: