New Doors are Opening in Burma
By AUNG ZAW Monday, January 16, 2012


With the release of several prominent political prisoners by the Burmese government last week, hope is beginning to replace doubt for a freer and better Burma. The release of political prisoners has injected new energy and boosted the spirit of reconciliation in the nation.

Thein Sein, who made the final decision to free the prisoners, has now won the support and confidence of the people and cemented his leadership position despite the fact that he came to his post though the controversial rigged election in 2010.

People even cheered “Long Live Thein Sein” in front of Insein Prison, something entirely unimaginable at this time last year.

As was clearly intended, opening the prison gates also opened the door for Western nations to adjust their relationship with Burma.

The US immediately announced that it would normalize diplomatic relations with the Southeast Asian nation that it had not long ago isolated and labeled a “rogue” state.

Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

Norway followed suit, saying that it would no longer urge Norwegian companies to refrain from trade and investment in Myanmar, although it would continue to align itself with the EU sanctions regime.

Other Western nations will likely offer reciprocal gestures to President Thein Sein’s bold decision as well. When meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that France and the EU would respond “positively and in concrete terms” to the reforms made by the Burmese government.

Thein Sein’s release of more than 200 political prisoners on Friday also wiped away the disappointment of his meager Independence Day amnesty on Jan. 3, when most had expected a substantial number of prisoners to be set free.

It is now believed that the ruling body known as the National Defense Security Council (NDSC) was unable to reach a consensus by Independence Day. However, presidential aides assured the local and international media on Jan. 5 that there would soon be surprises.

In addition, before the release of the small first batch of political prisoners, Home Affairs Minister Ko Ko, an NDSC member, had a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. Political analysts believe that he informed her of the new release date and the reason for the delay.

Interestingly, she afterwards said that the Burmese military is still wielding important power, there are dangers to look out for and reform is not unstoppable.

Then last week, Thein Sein exercised his executive power to free the prisoners under article 401 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states that the president may suspend the execution of a prisoner’s sentence or remit the whole or any part of a prisoner’s punishment .

Political observers note that this means the release is conditional, and political prisoners could still be required to serve the remainder of their sentences if the government so decides. While it is unlikely that Thein Sein would choose to lose face by detaining them again in the near future, there is no guarantee that a successor to his position would feel the same reluctance.

Regardless of the terms, however, the release of several prominent pro-democracy activists, including 88 Generation Students group leader Min Ko Naing, was extremely welcome news.

Upon being released from Taungoo Prison, Min Ko Naing was first mobbed by supporters and then picked up right where he left off in 2007. Despite the fact that excessive political rhetoric could land him back behind bars, Burma’s most brilliant orator inspired the crowds as they cheered “Long live Min Ko Naing.”

“We were involved in the movement since 1988 because we wanted to help wipe away your tears, but we ourselves had to cry when we saw the atrocities,” Min Ko Naing said emotionally soon after stepping out of prison.

He even had to spend overnight on the road to Rangoon, as people along the way stopped his entourage and asked him to give speeches. The former student leader spoke eloquently about unity, reconciliation and the ethnic conflicts.

Upon arrival in North Okkapalapa in Rangoon, Min Ko Naing said that the Burmese people were smart and could no longer be manipulated and cheated.

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Moe Aung Wrote:
Thank heavens for our younger leaders. Reminiscent of an older era in our history when the older diarchy politicians such as Dr Ba Maw and U Saw collaborated with the colonial govt for self administration and reforms, the younger Dobama Thakins such as Aung San and Than Tun pushed for a radical program and full independence.

Phillip Wrote:
I think everything is going too fast. I hope it doesn't implode.

Tettoe Aung Wrote:
It could be new doors but what if they are 'trap doors'? You could called it 'reforms delusion' but without any 'legal framework' to fall back on everything that are said to have been 'change' are just resting on 'flimsy' basis of trust. Which I might add the military regime is not very good at. It's more like having sex without any kind of protection and hoping that you might not get and STD (sexually transmitted disease). The risk are high and we just have to hope that the sky might not fall in.

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bullet The ‘Rule of Law’ in Burma

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