New Arrests Dim Hopes Raised by Burmese Prisoner Release

New Arrests Dim Hopes Raised by Burmese Prisoner Release

CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- The arrest last week of Ohn Kyaing, a 69-year-old former journalist and member of the Burmese opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), suggests that recent hopes concerning the Burmese military regime's willingness to cooperate with the international community were premature.

Kyaing's arrest comes little more than a week after the junta announced the release of 9,002 prisoners as a goodwill gesture, perhaps targeting world opinion in anticipation of nationwide elections in 2010. Seven prisoners of conscience were among those set free, including U Win Tin, the country's longest serving political prisoner. Tin, who was a key adviser to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had served over 19 years in prison for his role in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Other political prisoners released included prominent writer Aung Soe Myint and four members of the opposition NLD.

The United States welcomed the move, as did U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. And while both called for the release of more political prisoners, in particular Aung San Suu Kyi, there was a sense that international pressure on the Burmese junta might be bearing fruit. A Sept. 24 U.N. statement said that the release of prisoners was one of the issues discussed by U.N. Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his August visit. Another statement on Sept. 23 said that one of the topics discussed by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana during his visit in early August was "the progressive release of all political prisoners starting with the elderly, those with health problems and long-serving prisoners."

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