News / Asia

Top Burmese Official to VOA: 'Future Will Be More Peaceful'

VOA interviews U Aung Min, September 20, 2012
VOA interviews U Aung Min, September 20, 2012
VOA News
A high-ranking Burmese official says the government will do more to end fighting with ethnic groups and help refugees return to their lands.

In an interview with VOA's Burmese Service Minister for the President's Office U Aung Min says the Burmese government will make good on pledges to end ongoing skirmishes, especially in Kachin state.

"Yes. The president already promised there will not be offensives apart from some defensive actions.  I also tell you the army is strictly following the orders.  There will be no open season offensive.  I guarantee it," said U Aung Min.

Aung Min says, already, the military is taking steps to minimize the potential for conflict.

"Now the position of the troops are overlapping.  There have been some misunderstandings and some shootings.  My objective is to make the troops withdraw from their positions so they are at least five kilometers apart as required in the primary cease-fire agreement.  Only then can people sit to negotiate more," he said.

Aung Min came to Washington to attend the Congressional Gold Medal award ceremony for Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying he is proud that a Burmese citizen was awarded such a high honor.

But his visit also comes at a crucial time.  

Burmese President Thein Sein is due in the U.S. next week to address the U.N. General Assembly.  The United States has also been considering the relaxation of some of the tough sanctions that were imposed on Burma because of the former government's poor human rights record.

Questions about Burma's human rights record remain.

Prisoner Releases in Burma:

February 2009: 6,313 prisoners freed, 24 were political.

September 2009: 7,114 prisoners freed, 28 were political.

May 2011: 14,578 prisoners freed, 55 were political.

January 2012: 651 prisoners freed, all were political.

September 2012: 514 prisoners freed, as many as 90 were political.
The Burmese government this week announced it is releasing 514 prisoners - including an estimated 90 political prisoners - as part of a general amnesty. But activists and rights groups have responded cautiously, saying hundreds of prisoners are still being held despite the government's promises to release them.

There have also been questions about Burma's treatment of refugees, many of whom fled to Thailand to escape fighting between the government and ethnic groups.

Human Rights Watch estimates 140,000 refugees are bunched in often overcrowded camps along Thailand's border with Burma.

Aung Min said the Burmese government is doing what it can to speed up the homecoming process.

"If the areas are secure enough, they will be coming back," he said. "When they come back, they will get back their own, original lands where they used to live.  For us, what we are going to do for them is to make sure the land is safe enough, for example, de-mining and making sure there is food security, and then providing them with food and shelter at least for a year."

Aung Min says the process is voluntary, but that refugees who wait too long to return may miss out on some services and benefits.

He also says returning refugees will not be forced to return to farming - that the government plans to establish industrial zones that will allow the refugees to earn a living by working in textile manufacturing or other industries.

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