Freed Burmese Dissident Urges Talks

Veteran opposition party member Win Tin has called for substantive talks with Burma's military regime on the future of his country, after his release from a 19-year jail term in Rangoon's Insein prison.
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Win Tin speaks on the phone with RFA from his home in Rangoon following his release from prison, Sept. 23, 2008.
Win Tin speaks on the phone with RFA from his home in Rangoon following his release from prison, Sept. 23, 2008.

BANGKOK—Before his release, 78-year-old opposition activist Win Tin refused to sign a gag order from the military regime, saying he would be happier staying behind bars. The authorities let him go anyway. Minutes after his release, he vowed to keep fighting for democracy in Burma.

"What I believe is that there is a need for negotiations. There are matters to be discussed. There are demands to be made, changes and amendments to be made and coordinated," poet and former journalist Win Tin said.

Win Tin, who was released alongside a handful of other political activists, was a key adviser ahead of the 1990 parliamentary election campaign for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the parliamentary poll but was never allowed to take power by Burma's military regime.

He said he had rejected outright an attempt to silence him made by prison authorities on the day of his release.

"They took me to the reception room of the prison and read out the 401 paper to me," said Win Tin, referring to a standard release letter signed by political prisoners pledging not to speak out publicly or to become politically active.

I told them that when I get to the outside I would talk."

Win Tin

'Put me back in prison'

"I told them that I would not sign that paper and that if they wanted to put me back in the prison, they could do so," Win Tin said.

"I told them that when I got to the outside I would talk. I wanted to talk, and that there will be people who will want to ask me questions. In the end, they told me that if I wanted to talk, I could do so, and do whatever I wanted."

Win Tin was held for the last 12 years of his jail term in solitary confinement after being sentenced to 21 years' imprisonment in 1989 following a crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy movement.

He was charged with harboring a criminal after a colleague whose partner received an illegal abortion stayed in his home.

Win Tin was given an extra seven years on his sentence for describing the harsh conditions in Insein prison in 1996 written testimony to the United Nations.

Upon his release, Win Tin described his overall health as good but noted that he was suffering from a heart condition, as well as respiratory and prostate problems.

The military junta forced the NLD to expel Win Tin in 1990 because of his status as a criminal, but Win Tin has vowed to continue to work for political development in Burma.

"I am a politician. I will have to continue to be involved in politics. But how I will be involved in politics, I cannot say," he said, although he expressed willingness to be involved again with the NLD.

Support for Aung San Suu Kyi

He also pledged unswerving support for Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is herself under house arrest at her Rangoon home.

"The leadership of Daw Suu is the most important point. That is why I say that Daw Suu’s leadership must be supported," said Win Tin, who firmly believes democracy will come to Burma.

"They will achieve it for sure. They will get it because the people desire it," he said.

"The military government is the one who is preventing this. They are giving their pseudo-democracy by breaking the people’s necks, legs, and arms and giving them wrinkled and warped democracy. But the people’s desire for democracy is so strong, so whatever you say, democracy will be achieved soon."

"The NLD is an organization formed legally on the basis of democracy, so whatever we will do will be done in a political manner," he said.

Asked about the Burmese government's new constitution, ratified in May after a sham election, Win Tin said the convention had first been proposed by the NLD ahead of the 1990 poll, when Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to set up a national assembly charged with the specific task of building a new constitution.

Win Tin said that while he rejected the junta's constitution, "We do not discard the concept of the national convention. After all, it is a concept that was decided and approved by the NLD itself."

He called for greater national scrutiny of the recent convention. "Who are the people who drew up this constitution at this national convention? Who laid down the principles? How did they go about drawing this constitution?"

Original reporting in Burmese by Khin Maung Soe. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive director: Susan Lavery. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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