washingtonpost.com  > World > Asia/Pacific > Southeast Asia > Burma

Burma Says It Will Free Over 5,000 More Prisoners

By Darren Schuettler
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page A21

RANGOON, Burma, Nov. 25 -- Burma announced Thursday that it would release more than 5,000 prisoners, and a senior official said a top dissident who was democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's closest aide would also be freed before long.

State television and radio said 5,311 inmates would be released from various prisons, in addition to the 3,937 prisoners whose release was announced Nov. 19.

The military, which has ruled Burma in one form or another since 1962, said those to be freed had been jailed "inappropriately" by the military intelligence service headed by then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who was purged last month.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu said the recent upheaval would not derail the seven-step "road map to democracy" that Khin Nyunt announced just days after becoming prime minister in August last year. "It is the road which will lead Myanmar to democracy," Kyaw Thu said, using the name for the country preferred by the generals. "It is not the brainchild of the former prime minister. It is a plan which was carefully formulated by the senior leadership."

Kyaw Thu disputed reports that the promised release of the first batch of prisoners, which began last week, was fizzling out. Part of the reason for the slowness of the releases is the time it is taking to bring prisoners to Rangoon, Burma's capital, from jails across the country, he said.

Win Tin, 74, who was Suu Kyi's closest aide until his imprisonment in 1989, was among that first group, Kyaw Thu said.

Kyaw Thu said he did not know when Suu Kyi would be released from house arrest at her lakeside villa in Rangoon, where she is without a telephone and requires permission to receive visitors. "I don't know when this house arrest will be lifted," he said. The same applied to Tin Oo, deputy leader of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, he added.

Last Friday, the day after the government said it would free 3,937 people, more than 200 prisoners were freed. Among them was the most prominent political prisoner after Suu Kyi -- Min Ko Naing, 42, the leader of a student campaign for democracy that was ruthlessly crushed by the military in 1988.

Only about two dozen prisoners of conscience had been released so far, opposition sources said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company