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Breaking News: 5 Prominent Political Prisoners Released in Burma (click to view PDF)

Move Called a “Cynical Ploy” in Midst of UN Security Council Debates

For Immediate Release

January 10th, 2007
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum: (202) 234-8022

(Washington, DC) As celebrities, musicians, and governments around the world press for the first ever UN Security Council resolution on Burma this week, five prominent political prisoners were released in the Southeast Asian country.

“This looks like nothing but a cynical ploy to stop the UN Security Council from taking action,” said Aung Din, policy director of US Campaign for Burma. “The regime has destroyed 3,000 villages, forced one million refugees to flee the country, locked up the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and pressed millions into modern-day slave labor. The international community shouldn’t allow these prisoners to be used as hostages.”

In the last month, Hollywood celebrities and musicians including Tim Robbins, Peter Gabriel, Suzanne Vega, and Damien Rice have called for the UN Security Council to take urgent action. Thirteen Nobel Peace Prize recipients including South Africa’s Desmond Tutu are strongly urging the Security Council to take action. Major refugee and humanitarian organizations Church World Service, Human Rights Watch, and others are also pressing for the Security Council to act.

The push for a UN Security Council resolution comes after 10 years of failed UN efforts. The UN General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights have passed a total of 29 consecutive resolutions calling for change in Burma and sent envoys on dozens of trips to the country, all of which have been ignored by the military regime.

Unlike these other UN bodies, however, decisions by the Security Council can be binding. The Council is weighing its first-ever resolution on Burma after voting to place Burma on its permanent agenda for the first time in history in September.

Burma is ruled by one of the world’s most brutal military dictatorships, led by General Than Shwe. Besides locking up Suu Kyi and over 1,200 other political prisoners, Than Shwe’s regime has destroyed over 3,000 ethnic minority villages in a scorched earth policy designed to root out all opposition to its rule. Over one million refugees have fled the country, while an additional ½ million remain internal refugees, where many are hunted down and killed like animals. The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, has called on countries around the world to impose sanctions on Burma for its use of modern-day slave labor. Many people continue to die and flee as a result of the regime’s policies, and the Associated Press reported on the slaughter, calling the situation “Southeast Asia’s Darfur”.

Aung San Suu Kyi is often referred to as “Asia’s Nelson Mandela” for her work to peacefully bring democracy and human rights to Burma. She won the Nobel Peace Prize after leading her political party, the National League for Democracy, to a landslide 82% victory in Burma’s last democratic election. The regime refused to recognize the results, and has kept her locked up for 11 of the past 17 years.

The five released political activists were student leaders during a major uprising in Burma in 1988, which the military regime responded to by killing up to 10,000 students and activists throughout the country. Some spent over 15 years in prison after suffering severe torture and were released in 2004 before being arrested again last September. The most prominent of the six, Min Ko Naing, has won numerous international awards for his peaceful, nonviolent calls for change in Burma including the Civil Courage Prize from the Northcote Parkinson Fund in the United States, the Homo Homini Award from People in Need in the Czech Republic, the John Humphrey Freedom Award from the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development in Canada, and the Student Peace Prize, widely considered the “junior” Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.

The names of those released are: Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeya, Htay Kywe, and Pyone Cho, whose brother Thet Win Aung, also a political activist, died in prison in October.