News / Asia

    Burma Releases Political Prisoners

    Burmese political prisoners who were released from Insein prison walk away from the facility, May 17, 2013 in Rangoon.
    Burmese political prisoners who were released from Insein prison walk away from the facility, May 17, 2013 in Rangoon.
    VOA News
    Burma has freed at least 21 political prisoners in the country's latest amnesty that comes just days before President Thein Sein makes a landmark visit to the United States.

    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma told VOA about the prisoner release, which was confirmed by government officials later Friday.

    "We are confirming that 23 prisoners were released, but [we have] not received the complete information yet. Around 21 were political prisoners," Aung Myo Thein, the chief of the AAPP's Bangkok office, told reporters. He said details are still emerging about who exactly was freed.

    A reporter for VOA's Burmese Service witnessed the release of 10 political prisoners from the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. The exact number of those released remains unclear.

    On Monday, President Thein Sein will become the first Burmese head-of-state to visit the U.S. in nearly 47 years. The visit comes after President Barack Obama in November became the first-ever sitting U.S. president to the visit Burma.

    Washington has been re-engaging the government in Burma, which is emerging from nearly five decades of harsh military rule. The policy has upset some rights groups who say despite the changes, the country still has glaring human rights flaws.

    Opposition activists cautiously welcomed the latest prisoner release. But some question the timing and sincerity of such amnesties, which for the past year often have coincided with important diplomatic events.

    Soe Aung, an exiled Burmese activist living in Thailand, said it appears to be part of a "charm offensive" meant to gain more concessions from the White House.

    "Why is the [prisoner] release happening now? Why is it coinciding with President Thein Sein's visit?" Soe Aung asked. "Because they want the United States to remove the remaining sanctions [against Burma] once and for all. And they are using this as their PR stunt."

    Soe Aung said the U.S. and other governments that have been relaxing sanctions against Burma are "overly optimistic" about the country's progress.

    Since a nominally civilian government took power in 2011, Burma has undergone major changes, including the prisoner releases, a relaxation of media restrictions and other economic reforms. In response, the U.S. government has expanded its engagement with the military-dominated government, in the hopes that it will encourage more reforms.

    The latest example came this week, when the White House broke with nearly 25 years of U.S. diplomatic protocol in referring to the country as Myanmar, rather than Burma, as it is officially referred to in Washington.

    A U.S. national security official said the reference, which was made in a White House statement announcing the visit of Thein Sein, was a "diplomatic courtesy," but denied it represents a change in U.S. policy.

    President Obama also surprised many when he referred to the country as Myanmar during his November trip to the country.

    Burmese activist Soe Aung said many with the opposition take issue with such references.

    "Without the changes we would like to see, especially the legislative and institutional changes, the governments in the U.S. and the EU should not be rewarding the government with even small diplomatic awards, such as changing or calling the name from Burma to Myanmar, which is opposite the wishes of the people, especially in the democratic movement, both inside and outside Burma," the activist said.

    Burma is the name preferred by democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her democracy movement. Since 1989, the military authorities in Burma have promoted the name "Myanmar" as the conventional name for their state.

    Earlier this year, the Burmese government said it was offended that the U.S. still calls the country Burma, and requested that Washington change the policy in response to its recent reforms.

    But many question whether that should happen, saying the U.S. should be hesitant to be delivering too many diplomatic courtesies to a government that, despite recent amnesties, is still thought to be holding around 200 prisoners of conscience behind bars.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.