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Burma Marks 63rd Independence Anniversary Amid Calls for Freedom

Burma marks the 63rd anniversary of its independence from Britain Tuesday, amid calls for its regime to free political prisoners and grant autonomy to its minorities.

Governments and rights groups worldwide have called for the unconditional release of Burma's estimated 2,200 jailed prisoners of conscience.

The United States last week called on Burma's military rulers to free all political prisoners and start a dialogue with opposition groups ahead of Independence Day.

Burma's central government has refused to grant autonomy to ethnic minorities, including the Karen, Shan and Kachin people.

These groups, residing in Burma's border regions, signed an agreement in 1947 with the country's interim government granting them autonomy in an independent Burma.

In a commentary published Tuesday in Australia's Brisbane Times newspaper, U.S.-based Burma analyst Nehginpao Kipgen notes that non-Burmese people in Burma's border areas had feared domination by the majority Burmese in the post-independence era.

But he says they agreed to sign the 1947 agreement after Burma's then leader, General Aung San, the father of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, promised them equal treatment. But after General Aung San was assassinated in July 1947, Burmese nationalists interpreted the minorities' demand for autonomy as an attempt to break apart the Union of Burma.

Ethnic groups in Burma's border regions have reported egregious abuse by authorities, including murder, torture, forced labor and forced relocation.