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UN Investigator Calls for Release of Burmese Political Prisoners - 2004-03-26

A special U.N. investigator on Burma is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

U.N. investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro says Burmese authorities have released 151 of the 153 people arrested on May 30, 2003 in Depayin. They were attacked and arrested by government allies during a pro-Aung San Suu Kyi rally.

However, Mr. Pinheiro says more than 250 people have been arrested since then and people continue to be picked up for their political beliefs.

The investigator is calling for their immediate and unconditional release as well as for the release of some 1,300 other political opponents remaining in prison.

"I told them that I do not know a single political transition in the world since '46 where you have political transitions with political prisoners," he said. "Some of them are there [in prison] for 15 years; some students are there for 15 years."

In August, Burma's military junta announced a so-called road map for a process of political transition toward democracy.

For that to succeed, Mr. Pinheiro says, the government must involve all political parties and lift restrictions on the freedoms of expression and movement. And, he says the National League for Democracy must be permitted to reopen its offices and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi must be freed from house arrest.

Mr. Pinheiro says the Burmese government would not allow him to visit the country before this session of the U.N. Commission. So, he has not seen Ms. Suu Kyi since November when he last went to Burma. However, he says there are reports she will be released by April 16, the day of the Water Festival.

"That is the date that most people are expecting," said Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. "I hope that this will happen. It is very important that Aung San Suu Kyi is released, but the release is not sufficient. She must be released to operate...Her release is not sufficient. She must be released but the NLD [National League for Democracy] must have its office opened and that she is able to meet people, to have meetings."

On other human rights concerns, Mr. Pinheiro says he has information that the practice of recruiting child soldiers into government and rebel armies is widespread in Burma. He says he has received reports of serious human rights violations in ethnic minority areas, including Shan State, and that women and girls are vulnerable to being trafficked or exploited as illegal migrants.