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Editorial & Opinion 

      BURMA/Japan's aid will
      fuel oppression, not

      LAST month I mentioned in my letter that
      Thein Tin, a writer and one of the regular
      comers to the first NLD reading circles, had
      been imprisoned without trial since 1996
      and that he was seriously ill. 

      Thein Tin died on Feb 18 at the Rangoon
      General Hospital. 

      He was officially ''released'' less than 48
      hours before his death, that is to say, when
      it was obvious that his last moments were
      fast approaching. 

      He had been suffering from cancer of the
      liver and the physicians who examined him
      must have known for some months that he
      did not have long to live. 

      Why was it not possible for the authorities
      to release him earlier so that his family
      might have had the solace of caring for him
      during his final days? 

      Death in custody is nothing new to the NLD,
      but one does not become accustomed to
      gratuitous cruelty. 

      In the meantime, Kyaw Min, the architect
      whom also I mentioned in connection with
      the reading circle, has been hospitalised
      (as a prisoner) with various ailments. 

      The rapid deterioration in the health of
      prisoners is of constant concern to their
      families and friends. 

      The International Red Cross Association is
      not allowed to inspect prisons in Burma, but
      even without such inspections we can
      confidently conclude that political and other
      prisoners in Burma are not accorded basic
      humane care. 

      Arrests and arbitrary trials, like deaths in
      custody, are nothing new to us. 

      But recently there has been a slight
      variation on an old theme. 

      Feb 12 was Union Day, which celebrates
      the coming together of the various ethnic
      nationalities of Burma in the cause of

      We celebrate it with appropriate
      statements, speeches and an
      entertainment programe centred on the
      idea of unity and mutual understanding. 

      We also set up stalls where ethnic
      handicrafts and textiles illustrating the
      diversity of cultures within our nation are

      One of our women members of Parliament,
      Nan Khin Htwe Myint, started out for
      Rangoon from her home in the Karen State
      on Feb 9. 

      On the way, her baggage, which included
      goods to sell at our Union Day celebration,
      was searched. 

      (It is quite usual for the authorities to search
      the baggage of people travelling from one
      part of Burma to another. The ostensible
      reason is to ascertain that there is no flow
      of contraband goods throughout the
      country, but there are privileged groups
      whose cars bear special number plates
      which guarantee immunity from any kind of

      After the authorities had gone through her
      belongings, Nan Khin Htwe Myint
      discovered that some things were missing. 

      She spoke about this to the officers who
      had conducted the search and an argument

      She was then arrested on the grounds that
      she had obstructed officers in the process
      of discharging their duties. 

      Within two days she had been tried and
      sentenced to two years imprisonment. 

      Her family knew nothing of what had
      happened until they heard that she was in

      Soon after her arrest, the party signboard
      was forcibly removed from her home where
      the NLD office was located. 

      On Union Day itself, some members of the
      NLD in the delta town of Bassein decided
      to commemorate the occasion by holding a
      small reading circle in the party office. 

      They were prevented from doing so by the
      authorities, three party members were
      arrested and four charges, including that of
      obstructing officers in the process of
      discharging their duties, were moved
      against them. 

      Within a week they were tried, without
      presence of counsel, and each of the
      accused was sentenced to four-and-half
      years in prison. 

      Speedy trials and heavy sentences for the
      ''crime'' of questioning official action seems
      to have replaced the old process of
      charging our members under the notorious
      Section 5(j) and dragging out the trials for

      In addition, the authorities in Bassein took
      advantage of the vulnerable position of the
      widowed and financially distressed
      landlady of the NLD office to pressure her
      to take legal action to evict the party from
      the premises. 

      The court case was as usual conducted in a
      way that had little to do with accepted
      norms of justice, and of course the decision
      went against the NLD. 

      Last month, a number of people, estimated
      at around 40, were arrested in connection
      with what the authorities viewed as a form
      of samizdat publication. 

      A couple of octogenarians were among
      those arrested. 

      They are known to have been taken to
      Insein Jail, but of course they have not been
      allowed access to their families or to

      The government newspapers have
      published an article to the effect that
      because there has been such an
      international outcry on behalf of Ohn Myint,
      one of the octogenarians, his chances of
      release were slim. 

      Such are the petty considerations that
      thwart the course of justice in Burma. 

      Under these circumstances it is difficult to
      understand how it can be thought that there
      has been an improvement in the human
      rights record of the military regime. 

      I understand that there are elements within
      the Japanese official world who maintain
      that there has been enough progress in
      Burma in recent months to justify the
      resumption of limited aid. 

      As evidence of progress, mention has been
      made of the step ''toward dialogue'' taken
      by the authorities last November. 

      This is a reference to the occasion when
      the deputy minister for home affairs
      summoned members of the Central
      Executive Committee (CEC) of the NLD to
      a meeting with less than 24 hours notice. 

      The meeting started off with the deputy
      minister declaring that his government was
      a military government and that they had as
      yet no intention of giving democracy to the

      He then proceeded to berate the members
      of the CEC for statements issued by the

      These statements, he said, were
      detrimental to the government and should
      be stopped forthwith. 

      He added that action could be taken if
      more statements continued to be issued. 

      He went on to speak about the NLD
      ''propaganda'' which, he claimed, had
      resulted in economics sanctions and a
      deterioration in the relations of the
      government with the international

      How is it possible to view an occasion
      when our senior members were summoned
      like criminals and scolded like juvenile
      delinquents as progress of any kind toward

      The Japanese government has now
      decided to provide a substantial sum of
      money toward repairs to the international
      airport at Rangoon. 

      It was explained that this sum is a mere
      fraction of the original amount earmarked
      for Burma before the troubles of 1988 and
      that the intended repairs were essential for
      the maintenance of basic safety for landing
      aircraft. However, I understand that ICAO is
      of the opinion that the safety features for
      which the Japanese money will be used are
      not essential. 

      This makes the decision of the Japanese
      government difficult to understand. 

      Aid to Burma was stopped after 1988 on
      the grounds that the military regime had
      violated human rights. 

      The resumption of aid in any form will
      doubtless be used by those with vested
      interests to claim that there has been an
      improvement in the human rights record in

      In view of the recent wave of arrests, the
      continuing inhumane treatment of prisoners,
      the unrelenting repression of political
      activities and the plight of our refugees and
      internally displaced persons, the decision
      of the Japanese government is deeply

      It is a decision that belittles human rights in
      this year that commemorates the golden
      anniversary of the Universal Declaration of
      Human Rights of the United Nation. 

      By Aung San Suu Kyi