A key reform group in Burma has held talks with U.S. and China envoys to highlight the need to repeal a law that can throw former political prisoners back into jail and to bring about transparency in Chinese investments criticized over environmental and other concerns.
The 88 Generation Students' Group held a meeting Monday with U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell to lobby for support for rapid political reforms in Burma and hosted separate talks with Chinese Ambassador Yang Houlan to push for openness in Chinese projects opposed by local groups concerned over pollution and compensation issues.
Group leaders said they discussed with Mitchell concerns about Article 401 of Burma’s Code of Criminal Procedure, a provision under which hundreds of political prisoners have been given amnesty as part of recent government reforms, but that also gives the president power to restore their sentences at any time.
“Political prisoners must be freed without any conditions when they are released,” 88 Generation Students member Jimmy Kyaw Min Yu told RFA’s Burmese Service after the talks at the group’s offices in Rangoon.
“Derek Mitchell said that there shouldn’t be any political prisoners if the government is carrying out real reform and real reconciliation,” he said.
Last week, authorities used Article 401 to throw a political prisoner back into jail in the first case of its kind, ordering activist Nay Myo Zin to serve the remainder of his original sentence after he complained about the country’s police.
The U.S. has called for the release of all of Burma’s political prisoners and last year eased sanctions against Burma as a reward for the prisoner amnesties and other reforms carried out by President Thein Sein following decades of military misrule in the once-pariah state.
Many of those in the 88 Generation Students’ Group are former political prisoners, including prominent members Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi who were present at Monday’s talks.
They also discussed strengthening U.S. support for community-based groups in Burma with Mitchell and a planned trip to the U.S. to pick up a democracy award for Min Ko Naing.
Chinese investment projects
In the group’s first meeting with Beijing’s ambassador, the 88 Generation Students pressed for greater openness on Chinese investment projects in the country.
“We told them that it is very important to have transparency in any Chinese project in Burma, especially the projects that concern environmental issues and natural resources,” Jimmy said.
A number of Chinese-backed development projects in Burma have encountered opposition from local residents who said the projects had destroyed their livelihoods, including a copper mine near Mt. Letpadaung in northern Burma and the planned cross-Burma Shwe gas pipeline.
In 2011, Thein Sein suspended construction on the Myitsone hydropower dam in Kachin state, which was to supply electricity to China, after local protests.
China has invested heavily in Burma’s natural resources and power generation, including in deals that were agreed upon under the former military regime before recent reforms brought a wave of investment from other countries.
In a statement after his meeting with the 88 Generation Students’ Group, Yang said Beijing wants to strengthen people-to-people exchanges with Burma as a way of improving ties.
“China is willing to push forward the mutual beneficial cooperation and strengthen our people-to-people exchanges so that our bilateral relationship will enjoy more consolidated public support,” he said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website.
Reported by Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.