Burmese 'Struggle' Amid Economic Crisis

A Burmese dissident freed after serving more than 18 years in jail says he and many others outside the prison walls are now struggling to survive.

2009-02-24
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Undated photo of Zaw Myint Maung. Courtesy Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Courtesy Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
BANGKOK—A Burmese dissident just freed from prison after more than 18 years says everyone he knows is simply struggling to survive.

Zaw Myint Maung, a medical doctor elected to parliament in 1990 as a member of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), was freed this week by the ruling junta as part of a general amnesty, after 18 years and three months in prison.

"I have a lot of things to make up for with regard to my family," he said in an interview after returning to his home in Amarapura, in the central city of Mandalay.

...Everyone was complaining about the financial crisis. Everybody is struggling."

Zaw Myint Maung

"Yesterday, all my friends and acquaintances came to see me...From the time I got back in the morning until 9 p.m.," he said. "As we have aged, physically, each of us has changed. But if we look at all of them from the mental point of view, what I saw was that at present everyone was complaining about the financial crisis. Everybody is struggling."

"I can say for sure that everyone is struggling to survive. My political colleagues are struggling, just as my friends and acquaintances are struggling. So from the social and humanitarian point of view, most people are struggling. This is what I have been able to see."

Zaw Myint Maung was released from Myitkyina prison on Feb. 22.

He was sentenced to 25 years for attending meetings of the provisional NLD government in 1990, and later to 12 more years for writing a letter to the United Nations from Insein prison in Rangoon "about the sufferings ordinary prisoners had to endure."

'Inconveniences'

"There have been a number of inconveniences at home," he said.

"My wife has had to struggle for 18 or 19 years, so when I looked at the situation as soon as I got back, I could see that I would have to make up for all of the all the inconveniences that have occurred during my absence."

"So when the head of the household has been away from home for such a long time my wife has to bring up our children on her own... I have never eaten together at the same table with my young daughter," he said.

"When I got back she was at school, and when she came back from school, she was tired. Since we have never had any kind of an intimate relationship between father and daughter, she may be feeling a bit uncomfortable, just as I feel awkward in this situation."

The Burmese regime announced the release of more than 6,000 inmates Friday after U.N. rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana ended a five-day visit during which he called for the progressive release of "prisoners of conscience."

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, who began her latest detention in May 2003, is among more than 2,000 people jailed in Burma for their political or religious beliefs, rights groups say.

The military junta denies the existence of any political prisoners, saying all detainees have committed crimes.

State-owned MRTV said on Friday the prisoners were being released for the "social consideration of their families" and to take part in elections promised for 2010, part of a seven-step "roadmap to democracy."

Western governments dismiss the roadmap as a charade, and human rights groups accuse the regime of seeking to eliminate all political opposition ahead of the election. Special courts have sentenced scores of dissidents to lengthy prison terms of up to 65 years in recent months.

The most prominent activists have been sent to the furthest corners of the country, making it almost impossible for relatives to deliver food and medicine to them, raising the possibility of the prisoners dying behind bars.

Zaw Myint Maung was one of three dissidents freed from Myitkyina prison in northern Kachin state.

Original reporting by Kywa Min Htun for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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