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Conflicting signals on reform in Burma (Myanmar)

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Today's soundbites come after a series of reforms by a nominally-civilian government that took office almost one year ago, replacing a military regime in control since 1962. Some 300 political prisoners have been freed, a controversial China-backed dam in the north has been shelved, and laws have been amended to allow greater media freedom, public protests, and the establishment of trade unions.

However Burma still holds hundreds of political prisoners. Estimates vary, but the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP), run by former detainees and which tracks political prisoners in Burma, says that there are around 1,500 still in jail.

Secretary Hague said after meeting his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin in Naypyidaw that "the foreign minister has reaffirmed commitments that have been made to release political prisoners,” but the Burmese foreign minister later reiterated to the BBC the old military junta line that Burma does not have any political prisoners.

Aung Myo Thein of the AAPP says that “reform is so-called reform,” citing a prisoner amnesty earlier this week, when only about 34 political detainees were freed – after already serving much of their jail time.

The US has said that full and unconditional release of political prisoners is a necessity before it will consider lifting economic sanctions on Burma.

Aside from political prisoners, conditions in Burma's ethnic minority regions are another litmus test of the government's reformist intentions.

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