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Hostages and scapegoats for how lon

Subject: Hostages and scapegoats for how long? 

Editorial & Opinion 

      Hostages and scapegoats
      for how long?

      In Burma if you ask someone which prison
      would you prefer, the answer is: there are
      only two prisons; the one with walls and the
      one without. Moe Aye writes on the frequent
      arrests and the plight of the relatives. 

      The spokesman of the ruling Burmese junta
      said: ''We didn't arrest any members of
      Parliament and members of the NLD
      [National League for Democracy]. We just
      invited them to discuss the situation of
      Burma. We are taking good care of them,
      they are just in our guesthouse.'' He
      continued, ''Whether they are sent back to
      their homes depends on the activities of the

      It really looks like a dirty political kidnap and
      a big lie to the international community.
      Many NLD members and members of
      parliament are now in custody and military
      interrogation centres. Members of the NLD
      from Botahtaung, Pazundaung, Tamwe,
      Seikkan and Dawbon townships have been
      kept in military interrogation centre 14 since
      the first week of September. Those from
      Bahan, Kemmendine, Sanchaung, Latha,
      Lanmadaw and Kamaryut townships have
      been kept in military interrogation centre 7.
      Many NLD youth wing members who are
      considered hard-core are being kept in
      Insein prison. 

      Some members of parliament have now
      been put in Insein special jail and some are
      in military interrogation centre 6. Just a
      handful of members of parliament who have
      already resigned from their posts are in the
      junta's guesthouse and a few were sent
      back home. Some are now facing charges
      under section 5 (j) of the Emergency
      Provision Act. Some have already been
      sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
      Some are in the custody of their respective
      township police. All MPs have had to
      choose one of two ways; either to go to
      prison or to sign testimonies and
      documents which state that they do not
      support the NLD's activities and the
      Committee Representing People's
      Parliament. It may be that those under
      detention will at the very least be pressured
      by unlawful methods and be forced to
      resign from their representative positions
      and from the NLD. 

      At the same time many student activists are
      in police custody at ''Aung-tha-pyay'', the
      special police branch's headquarters, as
      well as in military intelligence interrogation
      centre 12. There may be no more places in
      the custody and interrogation centres at the
      moment to put those who have committed
      murders, drug-deals, rapes and all types of

      It is now clear that all custody and
      interrogation centres in Burma are not for
      criminals but for political activists.
      Meanwhile, there are many political
      prisoners who have already completed their
      unfair punishment, but have not yet been

      A woman, whose husband is a member of
      parliament and still in prison despite having
      completed his years of sentence, said, ''I
      don't think that my husband will be released
      from prison under this situation. When I
      asked the authorities why my husband was
      not released, they told me that it depends
      on the activities of NLD. I understand that
      my husband and others who have finished
      their unfair punishments are being used as
      'political hostages' by the junta. All people
      who hunger for democracy are being used
      as scapegoats''. 

      In reality, there are many political prisoners
      who had already completed what should
      have been their prison terms before Daw
      Aung San Suu Kyi's trip out of Rangoon, the
      NLD's demand to convene the people's
      parliament and the students' hit-and-run

      All the people of Burma under the junta
      have to live with the term ''by force''. Forced
      labour, forced relocations, forced
      examinations, forced rallies, and arbitrary
      sentences are now familiar not only to the
      people of Burma but to the international

      When asked by a reporter which prison he
      had had to live in, Ye Tay Za, a prominent
      student activist and former political prisoner
      replied, ''Which prison do you mean? There
      are only two prisons in Burma -- the prison
      with walls and the prison without walls''. 

      His answer clearly states the situation of
      Burma. All activists have to go to the prison
      with walls and the rest have to live in the
      prison without walls. 

      During the junta's forced rallies, the junta's
      hired men accuse Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
      and the NLD of destroying the country's
      future, but they never acknowledge that the
      NLD was the winning party in the May 1990
      election. Although the NLD constantly
      demands a genuine dialogue, not power
      transfer, the junta refuses not only dialogue
      but also every reasonable demand. 

      The problem is that the junta has no
      intention of accepting the NLD as a winning
      party in the May 1990 election. The junta
      ignores the fact that as long as they don't
      recognise the result of the May 190
      election, the country's situation will be
      getting worse and worse. However, they still
      claim that they are the only ones who really
      love the country. 

      When the daughter of State Peace and
      Development Council secretary (2) General
      Tin Oo died in a bomb explosion at their
      house on April 6, 1997, the state-run
      newspaper accused Daw Aung San Suu
      Kyi, as a Peace Nobel Laureate, of not
      being compassionate because she had not
      sent a condolence letter to General Tin Oo.
      They forgot to explain why U Tin Maung
      Win, U Hla Than, U Saw Win, (all are
      members of parliament from the NLD), U
      Maung Ko (a member of Central
      Committee of the NLD) and Mr Leo
      Nichols, honorary consul for Norway,
      Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland, died in
      custody. The junta never sent condolence
      letters to their families. Worse, their
      families did not have not the right to see
      their loved ones' funerals. 

      There are many political prisoners who
      died in prison because of poor medical
      treatment and harassment. The junta never
      thinks to sympathise with those whose
      relatives died in prison and interrogation
      centres and to send condolence letters to
      them. Although there were many innocent
      students shot dead during the 1988 popular
      uprising, far from sympathising, the junta
      never allows anybody to hold the memory of
      them. Anyone who tried to hold the memory
      was accused of trying to destroy the
      country's stability and was sent to prison,
      charged under section 5 (j) of the
      Emergency Provision Act. 

      The junta accuses 'the lady' (what the
      Burmese military calls Suu Kyi) of trying to
      persuade western countries to impose
      economic sanctions on Burma. However, it
      still neglects to explain to its own people
      why the Golden Land turned into the least
      developed country and the International
      Monetary Fund declared that it would not
      grant loans or have financial dealings with
      Burma any more. Although the junta has a
      huge budget for the extension of the
      military, the secret police, interrogation
      centres and prisons, there is a small budget
      for social welfare, medical care and
      education. But they are still crying that they
      are paving a path to democracy. 

      A tourist who recently visited Burma said
      that he met with many ordinary people and
      asked many questions about what he
      wanted to know. When he asked one civil
      servant about the junta, he was told, ''We
      don't like the junta completely. At the same
      time, we don't want to see an uprising like
      1988. The junta and the people have
      different reasons for not wanting another
      uprising. The junta fear to face an uprising
      because of losing their power. We fear
      because of losing innocent people. The
      junta is now taking advantage of our fear.
      But I believe there is a limit to how long the
      people can go on without taking action.
      Much of our people's patience has now
      nearly run out''. 

      When he asked another civil servant why he
      attended a mass rally to denounce Daw
      Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, he was
      told,'' Before the mass rally, we all had to
      sign an agreement that we would attend
      whatever it was. We also had to sign that if
      we were absent, we would be fired from our
      jobs. We felt so sad hearing the
      denouncing of our lady and the NLD. We
      voted for the NLD because we believe in
      the lady. During that pretend mass rally, we
      felt ourselves to be scapegoats and robots.
      However, when the high-ranking officers at
      the rally called out slogans denouncing the
      NLD, we did not shout these slogans as we
      were expected to do. I do hope we all will
      be united in not attending such a forced
      mass rally''. 

      According to sources, all businessmen
      have to donate to the junta. They are
      threatened that if they refuse to donate,
      their work permits and licences will be
      withdrawn. The term ''forced donation'' has
      also become familiar to all Burmese

      The source said, ''Many ordinary people
      are watching what the 10 member
      committee [the Committee Representing
      People's Parliament] will do and are
      waiting for their guidance. At the same
      time, they wonder why the committee
      delays doing what they should do''. It's also
      clear that the junta is now taking all kinds of
      advantage of the situation of the people of

      For the civil servants and workers, the junta
      is using job dismissal as a weapon. For the
      students, bans from continuing their studies
      and closure of the schools at any time have
      become the conventional armaments of the
      junta. For the political prisoners, their prison
      terms no longer depend on their original
      sentences, but depend on the activities of
      the NLD. For the NLD members and
      members of parliament who are in the
      so-called guest house, the way back to their
      homes seems to depend on the 10
      member committee representing the
      elected members of parliament, according
      to the junta. 

      Strongly holding onto power, constantly
      telling lies, and being unwilling to accept the
      results of the May 1990 election, the junta
      has been oppressing its own people as
      hostages, scapegoats and robots for over
      ten years. However, whether they end up in
      a life of being scapegoats and robots
      depends not only on the NLD, but also on
      the people of Burma who voted for the NLD
      in the May 1990 election. 


      Moe Aye is a pseudonym. He contributed
      this article to The Nation