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THE NATION: LETTER FROM BURMA/Japan
- Subject: THE NATION: LETTER FROM BURMA/Japan
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 19:54:00
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
He was officially ''released'' less than 48
hours before his death, that is to say, when
it was obvious that his last moments were
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
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
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,
(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
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 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
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
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