Statement of Canadian Friends of Burma – January 13, 2012
OTTAWA - The Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB) is pleased by the release on Friday of a large number of political prisoners including student leader Min Ko Naing, respected Shan politician Khun Tun Oo, and monk protest leader Ashin Gambira. It appears that more than 500 political prisoners were released today. Purged Military Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt and 60 of his loyalists were also freed from detention.
"It’s great to see Min Ko Naing, Khun Tun Oo and so many other political prisoners released today, but we can't forget that many of the unjust laws which saw these people imprisoned are still in effect, the struggle for a free Burma will continue and we must push to ensure that the rest of the political prisoners in Burma's jails are free" says CFOB executive Director Tin Maung Htoo.
It’s clear these political prisoners were released because of both domestic and international pressure against Burma's rulers. Their release today is an important victory for Burma's opposition, but this does not mean the struggle for democracy is over by any means. Even after today's mass release there are an estimated 500-600 political prisoners remain in jail.
All of the political prisoners released over the past few months could be jailed again at any time as there is still not a truly democratic system in place in Burma. CFOB will continue to push to see these laws changed and real a federal democratic constitution put in place that respects the rights of all citizens including ethnic minorities.
We are particularly pleased by the role Canada played in highlighting the illegal detention of Min Ko Naing, a key player in Burma's 1988 student-led uprising. In 1999 Min Ko Naing was the co-recipient of the John Humphrey Freedom Award from the Canadian government's international human rights watchdog Rights and Democracy.
CFOB recently launched a nation-wide campaign in Canada with a number of Canadian civil society organizations including trade and labour unions for the release of all political prisoners in Burma. Thousands of postcards have been signed and sent to the Burmese Embassy in Ottawa. CFOB thanks all Canadians who are concerned with the situation of political prisoners and joined in calling for their release.
Army's brutal war against Kachin people continues
While we celebrate the release of a large number of political prisoners we can’t forget that Burma's armed forces are currently waging a brutal offensive against ethnic Kachin in the north of the country. At least 60,000 Kachin refugees are thought to be currently trapped in a small strip of territory along the China Burma border and are facing increasingly dire conditions, the results of a conflict most of the world is completely unaware of.
In June 2011 some 3 months after Burma's nominally "civilian" government officially took power, Burma's army began its offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the thousands of civilians who in live in KIO territory.
The Army's decision to unilaterally end a 17 year cease fire with the KIO has brought much suffering to thousands of people in the north of country. Despite the fact that in December President Thein Sein issued a public order calling on the army to stop its offensive against the Kachin, the army continue its aggressive campaign which has included summary executions and rape of civilians.
While the government has recently reached agreements with the Shan State Army South and the Chin National Front and held talks with the Karen National Union it appears the generals are seeking to continue a divide an conquer strategy by refusing to seriously consider returning to their truce with the KIO. Over the past months the army's conflicts with the Kachin have resulted in some of the heaviest fighting in Burma in two decades.
The Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB) is federally incorporated, national non-governmental organization working for democracy and human rights in Burma. Contact: Suite 206, 145 Spruce St., Ottawa, K1R 6P1; Tel: 613.237.8056; Email: email@example.com; Web: www.cfob.org