Burmese rights groups have launched a campaign to collect over 800,000
signatures for a petition to the United Nations. The petition calls on
the U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to make releasing political
prisoners in Burma his "personal priority."
Representatives of Burmese rights groups on Friday told journalists they were aiming to collect 888,888 signatures to petition the United Nations chief.
The number of signatures is to symbolize August 8, 1988, when hundreds of thousands of Burmese protested for democracy, only to be violently silenced by the military.
Rights groups say 3,000 people died in the crackdown that followed and hundreds were arrested.
Soe Aung, a Burmese activist and the spokesman for the campaign, acknowledges U.N. efforts on recent prisoner releases, but says Ban Ki-moon must work harder.
"It is his duty as head of the United Nations," said Soe Aung. "The United Nations is to help the people not only the leaders or the heads of the states. So, if he's not working hard enough, and then we will have to push, keep pushing them or him."
Burma's military-run government released 29 prisoners following visits this year by the U.N.'s envoys on Burma and human rights.
However, Soe Aung says national reconciliation in Burma, which the U.N. supports, is impossible without the release of all political prisoners.
Over 2,000 are now behind bars and rights groups say they are routinely tortured and refused medical care.
Moe Zaw Oo was a youth leader in the National League for Democracy, which won Burma's 1990 election only to have the military refuse to recognize the victory. He was arrested and imprisoned for nine years.
"When we entered into the prison we were severely beaten by wardens, prison wardens," said Moe Zaw Oo. "Prison wardens lined up both sides and we have to walk through the line. And, they beat us from both sides."
More than 150 Burmese rights groups are working together on the signature campaign.
They hope to reach their target number of signatures by May 24, the date that National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi should legally be released from house arrest.
Burma's military-run government routinely extends her detention.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has not been allowed to leave her house for most of the last 18 years.