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Aung San Suu Kyi Calls for Release of Political Prisoners - 2002-08-07

Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, says the release of political prisoners remains the key to political reform in Burma. She made the statement following recent efforts by the United Nations to open dialogue between the military and the opposition.

Aung San Suu Kyi says all political prisoners in Burma should be freed and political organizations should be allowed to operate freely.

There are at least 260 members of the opposition National League for Democracy, NLD, still in jail. Human rights activists say hundreds of other political prisoners also are held.

Since the United Nations began brokering talks between the opposition and the military government in late 2000, about 300 political prisoners have been released. "The release of political prisoners is important," Aung San Suu Kyi said, "because it means a return to political normalcy. Unless political organizations are free to go about their work unhindered and unintimidated by the authorities, we can never say that we have started the process towards changed democracy."

Aung San Suu Kyi called on the government to stop arresting people for expressing their opinions. "So we repeat, again and again, we reiterate, that the release of political prisoners is the most important thing for all those who truly wish to bring about change in Burma," she said.

Her comments follow fresh efforts by U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail to push the government to hold substantive talks with the NLD. Mr. Razali, who endeded a four-day visit to Rangoon Tuesday, says he expects the government and Aung San Suu Kyi to start talks very soon. While no timetable has been set, the talks are likely to start within the next two months. Some donor countries are considering new humanitarian aid to Burma if there are signs of real dialogue on reform.

Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong, a Chulalongkorn University political scientist, says Aung San Suu Kyi seems willing to adopt a less strident stance against the military if it benefits the country. "I think from this point onward, I believe that Aung San Suu Kyi would try to allow a lot of things to change from what she has opposed before," he said.

In the past, Aung San Suu Kyi has opposed humanitarian aid, so that the government could not use it. Now she says, providing it is transparent and benefits the Burmese people, aid could be allowed.